CLEVELAND - Cleveland City Council voted Monday to reappoint retired councilman Kenneth Johnson of Ward 4 under a controversial practice called “double dipping,” allowing him to collect retirement benefits and a salary.
The move marked the first time in the city’s history that a member was reappointed after voluntarily leaving a term.
Judge Charles Patton administered the oath of office to Johnson at Monday night's council meeting. Members of his family joined him at the council president's desk as he was sworn in.
Johnson, along with Jay Westbrook, are the second-longest tenured members of Cleveland City Council, serving since 1979. Mike Polensek is the body's longest serving member.
Johnson defended his resignation, retirement and reappointment during an interview with NewswChannel5 prior to being sworn in.
"I could have retired 17 years ago and collected a pension check all that time and I chose not to do that and it cost me a million dollars, a million, $200,000 by waiting until now," he said.
“This council has never been put in a situation like this in my 35 years,” said Councilman Michael Polensek of Ward 11.
At a caucus meeting punctuated by heated arguments about Johnson’s move, the council voted 14 to 3 to reappoint him. The move allows the 42-year public service veteran to draw on his benefits and collect a $74,000 per year salary. The 65-year-old purposefully retired last year after the state made changes to its pension system.
Voters will decide whether they want Johnson to continue as their representative when the primaries take place in September.
“Being put back in office by my peers is really the crowning achievement in our business,” said Johnson on Monday, who also defended his lackluster attendance record. According to the Plain Dealer, Johnson missed 60 percent of committee meetings between 2006 and 2008. He cited family health issues and helping constituents as reasons for his absence.
Councilman Polensek opposed Johnson’s reappointment, questioning the legality of the move.
“This is a personal issue that we should not be dealing with. There’s a way to go about this. There’s a way through state statute to go about this,” he said.
Councilman Brian Cummins and Councilwoman Dona Brady also voted against the measure.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate,” Brady said.
But a majority of council members viewed Johnson’s re-appointment as a way to take advantage of what the state offers to its public employees.
“The laws in the state of Ohio permit people to double-dip. It’s legal. It’s ethical. Many people are doing it. Many people have done it and many people wish they could do it,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland.
Cleveland City Council reconvened at 7 p.m. on Monday to make Johnson’s reappointment official through a final vote. Johnson received 13 yes votes at the Monday night meeting, Cummins, Brady and Polensek voted no while council members Zone and Reed were not present.
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