The Knuckleheads of the Day award
Goes to Rocky Rodriguez and Lori Parrish. They are the previous and now current Broward County property appraisers.
Mr. Rodruiguez only held the job for 8 months but used almost 200,000 in taxpayer money to give himself a bigger pension. This is according to an audit just done.
During his eight months as Broward County's interim property appraiser last year, Rocky Rodriguez paid himself an inflated $25,346 in sick leave and used another $191,000 in tax money to buy himself and eight others a bigger pension.
The payments were discovered recently by County Auditor Evan Lukic and Lori Parrish, who succeeded Rodriguez as property appraiser in January. At Lukic's suggestion, Parrish is asking state Attorney General Charlie Crist whether Rodriguez broke any laws.
Rodriguez said his attorneys have told him that he acted properly and is entitled to the money.
Rodriguez was the property appraiser's southwest Broward director and a Republican activist when Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him in April 2004 to replace William Markham, who had died suddenly. Rodriguez did not run for the job that fall and retired when Parrish took office.
Parrish discovered the payments a few weeks ago when a retired employee inquired about having the office pay for him to receive extra pension benefits. She turned the information over to Lukic, who already was auditing the office.
"There is a question here of whether it is good public policy or not," Lukic said. "The intent of the law would seem to be to stop a local official from enriching themselves."
State law prohibits officials from taking actions that result in receiving a special benefit or gain and specifically sets how much property appraisers may earn annually.
Lukic said it's common practice for government employees to use their own money to buy extra time in the state pension system, but said the use of public tax money is highly unusual.
The state retirement system is based on years of service and how much the employee earned. Employees are allowed to pay the state to count other time spent in public service toward their seniority in order to enhance future pension benefits.Records indicate Rodriguez used $16,960 in public tax revenue to buy extra retirement benefits for himself and another $174,000 to buy more time for eight other employees, including his chief deputy, Tony Hodge.
Rodriguez's lawyers said he bought the extra pension time for all office workers who served in the military. Parrish, though, said her discussions with office staff lead her to question if all employees were surveyed and that other eligible employees didn't benefit.The payments gave Rodriguez and the other eight credit for time they served in the military.
In his 2004 memo, Rodriguez authorized the pension payments to show "our commitment to our military and those who have served." He said Monday that Markham wanted to give the extra benefits before he died.
"I'm not a greedy guy," said Rodriguez, 59, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. "I wouldn't embarrass myself and my government and my community and my good reputation and my people."
By adding his two years in the U.S. Army, Rodriguez's pension payments are based on 11 years of service rather than the nine years he was employed by the Property Appraiser's Office.
Ms. Parrish was not involved with any of the above. She gets a Knucklehead award for her whiney reaction.
But his reasoning has not appeased Parrish, who was angered by a Sept. 9, 2004, memo she found in which Rodriguez authorized paying himself the extra two years of retirement.
"I've made do with used furniture and have my staff come in on the weekends with their own Pledge and paper towels to make this place presentable, and he was off spending all that money on himself. I can't believe it," Parrish said last week.
As my wife would say "Poor baby." She has to use used furniture. What a disgrace. NOT! I also have to wonder if using her employees to clean her office is improper use of taxpayer money. Broward County has gotten themselves two knuckleheads in a row for Property appraiser.
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