04/02/04 — State asks job status of attorney

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State asks job status of attorney

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on April 2, 2004 2:03 PM

Goldsboro city officials have received a letter from the state retirement system asking for clarification on City Attorney Harrell Everett's employment status, and City Manager Richard Slozak said today he was working on a response.

Slozak said that he would not take the letter to the City Council because he could answer the questions.

"I'd only take it to the council if it necessitated council action," he said. "The council has the authority to cease" making retirement payments for Everett if the council members want to, he added.

The city has paid thousands of dollars toward Everett's retirement, even though state officials have said that he was not eligible to participate in the system.

The system is only for full-time employees working at least 30 hours a week. According to city records, Everett receives $60,000 in legal fees a year, plus $90,000 for legal services. The city pays about $2,500 a year into his retirement plan.

Slozak said that Everett was a full-time employee, but Mayor Al King and Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen said he was not.

Michael Williamson, director of the state retirement system, said that since the city was informed by the state 15 years ago of Everett's ineligibility, the matter will be taken to the attorney general once the state receives the city's response regarding Everett's employment status.

Wayne County makes retirement system payments for both of its lawyers, County Attorney Borden Parker and Tax Attorney Dortch Langston. The town of Mount Olive makes them for Town Attorney Carroll Turner. All three have private law practices, as well.

County Manager Lee Smith said the two county lawyers are "contractual employees." Smith said that as contractual employees, the lawyers are regarded as full-time employees, receiving W-2 forms from the county, but are exempt from the county's personnel policy.

Not all contractual employees working for the city or county receive that same consideration for state retirement. Bus drivers for the Gateway transit system are contractual employees and are not allowed to participate in the state retirement system.

The lawyers are given the retirement system payments and also health insurance as part of the contracts, Smith said. He said the practice of providing health insurance and retirement benefits for lawyers was common.

Williamson said that there is no such thing as "contractual employees" under the state retirement system.

For purposes of retirement eligibility, state law defines an employee as a person regularly employed by local or state government.

Regular, as defined by the North Carolina Administrative Code, is an employee, "the duties of which require not less than 1,000 hours of service per year." If there is a question about what constitutes regular employment, the state decides.

Williamson also said that state retirement benefits are not an option cities or counties can offer as an incentive.

The confusion about retirement eligibility appears to be mainly in Wayne County, he said. Williamson said that his office had faced this problem only twice in the past three years, while he has been director, and neither time had been with city or county governments.

Williamson said there had been some problems with an employee at the Exploris Museum in Raleigh and with an employee of a foundation at N.C. Central University. Neither was found to be eligible for retirement benefits.