Grendell Informs Election Officials He’s Retiring, Opening Door to ‘Double Dipping’
April 17, 2020 by John Karlovec

Judge Isn't First Geauga Elected Official to Collect Pension, Draw Salary

“What I am doing is no different from what any other resident of Geauga County who is over 65 does when they get paid for going to work while collecting social security." – Tim Grendell

Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Tim Grendell told elections officials in December he intends to retire before the end of his current term — a maneuver that would allow him to collect a pension and a taxpayer-funded salary at the same time if he wins re-election this year.

The practice, known as ‘double-dipping,’ is perfectly legal, but has drawn criticism from watchdog groups who say its ethically suspect.

“I think for most people when they think of a pension or they think about retirement, they assume that a person is in fact going to retire,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a nonpartisan government watchdog organization.

“It is astonishing that you can double-dip,” she said. “You can actually do your retirement thing at the same time that you actually have a job; a full-time and often a very well-paying job.”

Grendell, who turned 67 on April 17, confirmed he sent a letter announcing his retirement to Geauga County Board of Elections Director Pete Zeigler in December.

“What I am doing is no different from what any other resident of Geauga County who is over 65 does when they get paid for going to work while collecting social security. Under the law, time in state public service does not qualify for social security, so the state pension is in lieu of social security,” Grendell said in an email statement to the Geauga County Maple Leaf.

“Regardless who voters elect as judge in the future, taxpayers will still be paying the same amount for the performance of that position, as the salary for judge is set by statute,” he added. “If re-elected, I will receive the same compensation for performing the daily duties of probate/juvenile court judge that my opponent would, and since the salary is the same regardless of experience, taxpayers will get more bang for their buck by electing the most experienced candidate, as was the case when voters elected judges Burt and Fuhry who followed the same process.”

While Grendell explained it is his legal right to access his state pension, he said voters should be able to find out if a candidate is receiving a pension. That is the reason that while he was still in the state legislature he introduced a bill that became the law that required elected public officials to file a written declaration of intent to retire before the end of the term.

“Prior to the passing of my bill, no such requirement for this type of transparency existed,” he said. “In December 2019, I fully complied with the transparency law that I had implemented as a legislator by submitting my letter, which then immediately became a public record.”

As Grendell correctly noted, he isn’t the first Geauga elected official to ‘double dip.’ Former common pleas court judges David Fuhry and Forrest Burt received pension income while still drawing a judge’s salary. Former county engineer Robert L. Phillips and commissioner Tracy Jemison also took advantage of this perk state law makes available to public employees.

In his letter sent a letter to Geauga County Board of Election officials on Dec. 17,  Grendell said he intended to exercise his Ohio Public Employee Pension System rights before his term ends next February.

He filed for re-election on Dec. 11, but unlike past Republican primary elections, this time Republican Matt Rambo is challenging Grendell for his seat.

Rambo declined comment on Grendell’s decision.

Multiple legislative attempts made over the years to make the practice of ‘double dipping’ less lucrative have failed to stick. A 2001 law ostensibly aimed at tightening the rules actually left plenty of room for public officials to double-dip. Under the law, elected officeholders could retire and keep their jobs if they notified their local elections board 90 days before a primary election.

More recently, in June 2018, state Rep. John Becker (R-Union Township, Clermont County) introduced House Bill 708, otherwise known as Double Dippers Inappropriately Privileged (D.D.I.P.) Act, with bipartisan support. It died in the Ohio House in December 2018.

The bill would have prevented public sector employees and elected officials from simultaneously receiving a public sector paycheck and a public sector pension check.

“Receiving a corporate pension while remaining on the employee payroll is virtually unheard of in the private sector,” said Becker in a statehouse news release announcing his legislation. “Double-dipping is a privilege virtually unique to the government sector. Taxpayers are the losers by having to prop up the state retirement systems.”

Becker said HB 708 would have boosted the fiscal stability of Ohio’s pension systems by ensuring that those who chose to keep working after retirement will then continue to contribute to the retirement system.

“We received support for the bill from across Ohio,” Becker’s legislative aide Joe Michalowski told the Maple Leaf. “We simply ran out of time before the bill died.”

He added, “The DDIP Act is still under consideration for introduction this General Assembly, but we have been focused on other priorities in which constituents are interested.”

As a common pleas court judge, Grendell will earn more than $150,000 this year in accordance with Ohio law governing the compensation of judges.

Former Gov. John Kasich appointed Grendell to serve as Geauga’s probate/juvenile court judge in September 2011. He then was elected to the bench in November 2012, serving out the remainder of longtime former Judge Charles “Chip” Henry’s unexpired term ending Feb. 8, 2015. Grendell ran unopposed for re-election in November 2014.

The popular Henry was killed when a car hit him while riding his bike near his Auburn Township home in May 2011. The car’s driver, Kelly A. Cox, pleaded guilty to aggravated homicide in January 2012 and was sentenced to nine and one-half years in prison for hitting and killing Henry.