05/03/04 — Side issues: Discussion of lawyers’ retirement raises questions

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Side issues: Discussion of lawyers’ retirement raises questions

Richard Slozak has served Goldsboro well as city manager, and any judgment of his performance of his duties must be seen in that context.

History will record a number of significant achievements during his tenure. Notable among them has been the establishment of a sewer treatment system for which the entire county can be thankful. It will support this community’s growth for many years to come.

Slozak is known not only as a visionary but also as a leader who is loyal to his associates. That loyalty is demonstrated in a letter that he has written to the director of the state retirement system on behalf of the city attorney, Harrell Everett. In it, Slozak defends Everett’s participation in the North Carolina Governmental Retirement System.

Everett practices law in a firm which lists his name first in its title. The city budgets $60,000 a year for his compensation and sets aside another $90,000 for legal services, some of which are provided by other members of the firm. This is the way his payment would be handled if he worked on a retainer rather than as a city employee. Further, unlike regular employees, he does not receive vacation, sick pay or insurance.

Still, Slozak’s letter to the retirement system made the case that Everett is a regular employee. Only regular employees can participate in the retirement system, and Everett has participated for years, at the city’s expense and his own.

Slozak wrote that unlike other city employees, besides himself, Everett reports directly to the City Council, and that he negotiated his employee status with the council. He noted that the city pays Social Security taxes on its bi-weekly payments to Everett in addition to paying into the retirement system for him.

What prompted Slozak’s letter was a recent inquiry about Everett’s eligibility.

The city had asked the director of the retirement system in 1989 to clarify that. The response was that Everett was not eligible. Everett himself wrote to the former director of the system and asked for reconsideration.

The current director of the retirement system has a copy of a reply that was sent to Everett in 1989, reaffirming that he was ineligible.

The city’s personnel manager in 1989 was Al King, now the mayor. One of his assistants forwarded the notice of Everett’s ineligibility to the city’s finance office for action — removal of Everett from the retirement system — but no such action was ever taken. The city’s payments to the retirement system, and Everett’s, continued.

Both Slozak and Everett say they never saw the final letter saying Everett could not participate in the retirement system. Slozak also said it does not appear in city records.

It is certain that the letter existed because both King and his former assistant remember it, and the retirement system still has its copy. The fact that the letter is not in the city records is disturbing.

This is a serious matter for the city and for Everett, both of whom have invested considerably in the retirement over the years. The current director of the retirement system, Michael Williamson, wisely has turned the matter over to the state attorney general’s office for an opinion.

The result could be far-reaching. Potentially, it could affect Borden Parker, the Wayne County attorney; Dortch Langston, who also does legal work for the county; and the Mount Olive town lawyer, Carroll Turner. They also participate in the retirement system, in part with public money.

Other city and county lawyers in the state might be participating in the plan, unknown to the plan’s administrators and oblivious of the rules, or indifferent to them.

Regardless of how the issue of the lawyers’ eligibility for the retirement plan is settled, Goldsboro residents need answers to two questions: When the city finance office was notified of the ruling from the system’s director, why was nothing done? And what happened to the city’s copy of that ruling?

Slozak, as a manager who gives ample attention to detail, should be trying find out.

Published in Editorials on May 3, 2004 12:32 PM