Updated: Monday, 09 Mar 2009, 11:06 AM MDT
Published : Friday, 06 Mar 2009, 11:14 PM MST
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - From the governor on down most of the elected leaders KRQE contacted Friday are demanding reform of a system that allows public employees to retire, draw a pension and still get a paycheck for their old jobs.
"I was disappointed and shocked that so many people are gaming the system," Albuquerque city Councilor Michael Cadigan said. "We need to come up with a set of rules to govern under what circumstances somebody can retire."
He and two other council members KRQE spoke to promised that by next week they would look into ways to prevent city employees from double dipping.
It's their reaction to News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker's report Thursday that exposed city and state employees faking retirement.
"I call it a fraud on the taxpayers of the state of New Mexico," state Rep. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, told Barker.
In one of several examples Barker documented: Albuquerque city employee Vicky DeHerrera who retired one day but on the next day came back to her job on the payroll of a temporary agency.
It was the same job with the same salary, but now she is also collecting a pension check.
The mayor's office arranged the deal, so News 13 wanted to ask Mayor Martin Chávez about that Friday.
He's normally very accessible, but on this the mayor turned us down saying the city charter does not allow him to talk about personnel issues.
Instead his spokeswoman issued a statement.
"Mayor Chavez does not generally support this law except for areas that impact public safety," the statement said. "However, in limited situations the taxpayer is best served by the expertise of 25 year veterans.
"The current law enacted by the state Legislature does allow for this practice. Should the laws change, of course the city will comply."
But Albuquerque City Council members told News 13 they want reform now.
"We can create policies that say, 'OK, we want transparency over this issue,'" Councilor Debbie O'Malley said. "If you're truly retiring then you need to go through that process of retiring.
"If we choose to hire you back there probably should be a period of time."
Councilor Ken Sanchez said the departments and retirees abused the system.
"They took advantage of the laws that were in place," Sanchez said. "They knew the law, they were allowed to come back to work, and yes, I do think it's abusive."
Gov. Bill Richardson agreed telling News 13 that it's time for change.
The state House on Thursday OK'ed a bill that puts new restrictions on the practice and among other things require a one year waiting period.
It now goes to the Senate.
"So we should change the law; we should restrict it," Richardson said. "There's a bill in the Legislature--that if it comes to my desk, I'll sign it--that restricts the use of these double dippers."