Updated: Thursday, 12 Mar 2009, 11:07 PM MDT
Published : Thursday, 12 Mar 2009, 10:59 PM MDT
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) - The mayor said halt, the governor wants restrictions, but the elected head of one big state agency told News 13 paper retirements and double dipping are just fine with him.
In a pair of recent reports News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker uncovered public employees going through the motions of retiring and then returning to their jobs to collect both a paycheck and a pension.
Some officials have said those employees and agencies are abusing the system and blocking career advancement for other workers.
One employee cited in Barker's reporting is Della Gutierrez, a long-time employee of the State Land Office who is double dipping with the blessing of her boss, Land Commissioner Pat Lyons.
"We always try to abide by the spirit of the law because we feel like this is why the law was changed for a specific instance like this where you have someone that's been there their entire career," Lyons said.
The land office generates revenue from public lands for the state and has raised more than $2 billion for education alone since 2003.
Lyons said Gutierrez plays a vital role in that and that double dipping is a small price to pay for her service.
Gutierrez is a key land office manager who oversees five of its divisions, he said.
In his investigation Barker showed that Gutierrez appeared to retire one day but immediately came back as a consultant doing the same job for the same pay but now collecting a pension on top of it.
Terry Slattery of the Public Employees Retirement Association told Barker that he did not believe Gutierrez retired at all.
Still Lyons insisted the double-dipping arrangement is less expensive than training someone new.
"That would've cost a lot more than that $72,000," he said. "She's going to get her pension anyway, so $72,000 would've been about an $85,000 job.
"So we're really we're saving the taxpayer money by bringing that expertise back."
Lyons said his office has a vital mission generating money for the public, and he can think of no one to do a better job of that as assistant commissioner than Gutierrez.
He said Gutierrez is done when he's done, which is at the end of his term 20 months from now.
"So she's got a big, big job there," Lyons said. "Most employees
fall under her."
But does Gutierrez's vital role justify faking a retirement to stay in it.
"She was hired temporarily on a temporary contract," Lyons said.
When News 13 reminded Lyons that Gutierrez never left her job, Lyons replied, "She worked a couple days a week."
However the question of whether she retired and returned without a break in service as specified in current state law has both the PERA and the Attorney General's Office investigating.
Lyons said if investigators come asking questions, he'll tell them exactly what he told News 13.