The retiring chief of the Fairfax County Water Authority will receive almost twice the pension he would have been entitled to, thanks to a new policy that also guarantees his successor a similarly generous retirement package.
The unprecedented bonuses were approved Sept. 15 on a 7 to 3 vote by the board of Virginia's largest water utility, which serves 1.3 million residents in Fairfax and parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties. Opponents said they disapprove of spending public money to sweeten benefits for top managers for doing their jobs.
Supporters said extra compensation would help attract top-quality general managers who had private-sector careers or retired from other local governments.
"I am confident that fair-minded people who take the time to examine what we have done will agree that it is in the best interests of Fairfax Water," Board Chairman Harry F. Day said in statement. General Manager Charlie C. Crowder Jr. will receive $80,000 a year when he retires in December, up from the $45,265 he otherwise would be entitled to based on his length of service.
Crowder "has had a reasonable expectation that we would correct the problem with our retirement plan prior to his retirement," Day wrote. Crowder, who will be credited for 22 years of service instead of the 12 he has worked, receives a pension from Newport News, Va., his former employer.
The board received about 30 phone calls, e-mails and letters this summer urging a "no" vote on the extra compensation, spokesman Jeannie Bailey said.
The board discussed the policy in a closed session before a public vote. But member Burton J. Rubin said the public was given no notice of the vote and was denied a chance to address the board.
"It was done amazingly slickly. A shell game" to avoid public scrutiny, Rubin said.
Crowder, through Bailey, declined to comment.
The board has named Charles Murray, the utility's second in command, to succeed Crowder. Murray was hired as executive officer two years ago from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Under the new policy, if Murray, who is in his fifties, retires from the authority, his pension will be calculated based on one extra year -- up to a maximum of 10 -- for each year he serves. The Fairfax board has not negotiated Murray's new salary, Bailey said. Crowder, 65, receives $177,020 as general manager.
Del. Robert D. Hull (R-Fairfax) said yesterday that he will go ahead with his plan to introduce legislation in the General Assembly this winter that would change the state code to limit public authorities from rewarding top executives with credit on their pensions. He said he cannot stop the authority's action, though.
"No one ever assumed this problem would come up," Hull said. "I consider what the board did to be a fraudulent act. It's not commonplace."