11/05/04 — City attorney will fight retirement-pay denial

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City attorney will fight retirement-pay denial

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on November 5, 2004 2:01 PM

Former Goldsboro City Attorney Harrell Everett will appeal the state's decision to deny him retirement benefits.

Michael Williamson, director of the state's retirement system, said Thursday that Everett had informed his office before the Nov. 1 deadline of his intention to appeal.

Everett is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

The case will go to the state Office of Administrative Hearings. The office provides a hearing before an administrative law judge when a citizen has a dispute with a state agency.

After the hearing, the judge will make a recommendation to the state retirement system. The state retirement system's board of trustees will then decide whether to accept that recommendation.

If Everett isn't satisfied with that decision, the next step is an appeal to Superior Court in either Wake or Wayne counties.

In August, the state Attorney General's Office upheld a decision that Everett was not eligible for benefits.

The city has paid thousands of dollars toward Everett's retirement, even though 15 years ago state officials said that he was not eligible to participate in the system.

In a letter to the director of the retirement system dated Sept. 7, 1989, written on city stationery, Everett makes a case for state retirement benefits, saying he spends at least 25 hours a week on city business.

"In my opinion," Everett wrote, "this matter can be handled by your office and would not necessitate any type of appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings."

The state wrote Everett back on Oct. 20, 1989, concluding for the second time that he wasn't eligible for the state retirement plan.

Both City Manager Richard Slozak and Everett denied ever seeing a letter about this from state retirement officials.

Mayor Al King, who was the city's personnel director 15 years ago, and Darlene Cruthirds, a former records and benefits specialist for the city, both remember that the city received a copy of the state's second letter to Everett. Neither one of them knew if Everett had appealed it further.

Ms. Cruthirds, who now lives in Mississippi, worked for the city from 1979 through 1994. She said in an interview that part of the duty of the records and benefits specialist was to initiate any personnel changes involving employees.

At that time, she said, all changes she initiated were sent to the city Finance Department to be processed.

"When we received the second letter from the state saying Mr. Everett wasn't eligible, I went to Mr. King and asked him what I should do," she said. "Mr. King told me to initiate the change, taking Mr. Everett off the retirement system."

Ms. Cruthirds submitted the changes to the Finance Department, but she said the paperwork was ignored and the changes were not made.

"I would initiate the changes, based on policy and procedure," she said. "All I could do was submit the paperwork. I didn't have the final authority to make the changes."

Everett retired from his position as city attorney in late June, and paperwork was submitted to the state retirement office by the city for Everett's retirement pay. He has not received any payments from the system.

If Everett isn't successful in his appeal for the retirement money, he will be refunded the contributions that he has made on his own behalf over the years. But state law prohibits the city from being refunded for its money, except for the current year.

A spokesman for the retirement system said that it would not be possible to determine how much the city has paid in for Everett since it began making the contributions in 1974.