Jackie Pons is the kind of public official who gave Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) a very bad name.
After 30 years with the Leon County school system, ten of them as Superintendent, and a DROP-enrollee since 2014, Pons jumped several sharks and was kicked to the curb on election night. The blow to Pons’ ego is cushioned by his vested retirement rights to a $6778 monthly pension check and a one time payment of just under $200,000.
Most folks would take that money and run with what’s left of their dignity. But if Pons can get somebody — anybody — to give him a place at the public trough ’til 2019, over $400K DROPs into his goody bag, and his monthly pension rises to $7151.
Pons doesn’t place much of a premium on dignity, so he’s lawyered-up and “weighing options” if he “cannot become re-employed timely.” In his case, that’s December 31. With Santa back at the North Pole and Baby New Year in the birth canal, time’s running out for Pons.
But stranger Christmas miracles have happened. Consider the case of Department of Corrections Inspector General Jeffery Beasley. For months, the Miami Herald doggedly documented human rights abuses on his watch and under his nose in the state prison system. Continued employment at DOC was untenable, or at least no fun. Quicker than you can say “bailouts for Bubbas” Beasley surfaced as “chief of investigations” for newly-elected Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.
It’s been ten years since Lucy Morgan double-dipped her Pulitzer Prize winning plumb line into the murky waters of DROP and its myriad opportunities for mischief. Her reporting resulted in reforms that closed off the dark alleys of the Florida Retirement System, where the most extreme examples of taxpayer abuse occurred.
For most state workers, the system operates to provide a modest return on investment in a lifetime of exemplary public service. For others, it’s a game of musical chairs, where the public always loses, and always picks up the tab.