A Fairfax state lawmaker said yesterday that he will introduce legislation to block the county water authority from sweetening the pensions of retiring managers with credit for years they didn't work.
Del. Robert D. Hull (D) joined several county supervisors who said they are incensed by the utility's plan to nearly double the pension of retiring General Manager Charlie C. Crowder Jr. The extra money would come from ratepayers and workers who contribute to the agency's retirement fund.
"I think it's outrageous," said Hull, who called The Washington Post after reading an article about the proposal. Hull said he will introduce another bill when the General Assembly convenes next year to limit terms on boards and commissions, to prevent members from becoming too cozy with executives they oversee.
"The water authority is supposed to be run in the public interest, not the personal interest of some buddy of members of the authority," Hull said.
Crowder, who turns 65 this week, has announced plans to retire this year. If the utility's board approves the unusual bonus this fall, he would be credited for 24 years of service instead of the 12 he has worked. He would receive a lifetime benefit of $80,330 a year from Fairfax, adjusted for inflation, up from the $45,265 pension to which he otherwise would be entitled. Crowder also receives a $28,400 annual pension from Newport News, his previous employer.
Crowder receives $177,020 as general manager.
Water authority officials who are pushing the higher pension say Crowder deserves it. They hope to start a similar practice when they hire future executives to attract top talent to Virginia's largest water utility. Opponents say that Crowder's performance, while good, does not justify a special arrangement.
The issue has divided the water board, which governs an agency of 400 employees that serves 1.3 million residents in Fairfax and parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties.
State law governs the utility's powers. The Board of Supervisors appoints the water board, but their operations are separate. Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly said the pension proposal smacks of favoritism.
"My view is that there has to be one set of rules for everybody," Connolly said yesterday. Crowder has not returned calls to his home and office.
Water board Chairman Harry F. Day said Connolly "cannot possibly understand what may be going on" with Crowder's retirement benefits, a matter the board has discussed only in meetings closed to the public.
"I'm not interested in having people who are not part of the discussion weigh in through a reporter," Day said. He accused the deal's opponents of illegally disclosing conversations from closed meetings.
Facing criticism for awarding some high-profile payouts to retiring managers, Fairfax County officials changed the law governing its retirement plan about a decade ago to prohibit granting years of service for time an employee did not work.
Connolly said the water authority board should have notified supervisors of its plans, even though the final decision is not theirs.
"If you're getting ready to make a special arrangement for someone that is out of the ordinary, you have an obligation to inform the governing body," he said. He challenged water officials to explain why the "premier" public utility in the area has trouble attracting talented applicants.
Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock), head of the board's budget committee, said the authority "is setting a negative precedent by making up a benefit" that had not been formally negotiated when Crowder was appointed general manager.
Bill G. Evans, the longest-serving water board member with 35 years, first suggested the enhanced pension for Crowder and some future managers.
He said Hull "is free to introduce whatever legislation he wants to." He noted that Crowder is the water authority's only manager whose compensation is negotiated directly by the board. "When it comes to justifying what I've proposed, I will just not do it in the press."