In Darby Borough, a little hell is being raised
by council's decision to finally pay Chief Bob Smythe compensation and overtime money he's been owed for years.
Mostly, it's being raised by former Mayor and Smythe-hater Paula Brown, who is objecting to Smythe getting any back pay for services to the borough rendered.
Years ago, the matter of Darby's borough police comp and overtime was investigated by a Delaware County grand jury. The grand jury found that nothing illegal had occurred and the borough has formally acknowledged it owes Smythe and other officers hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay.
What's most interesting about this case is that by paying Smythe over the course of the next three years it will goose his pension payments substantially.
"Absolutely," is what Smythe told me this morning when I asked him if his pension would be increased. How much, he didn't know, but he feels well justified in getting it.
"This is money they owe me that I've been trying to get for the last nine years and I'm finally getting it," he said.
Yes, he is. And at a very opportune time. Smythe is 63 and close to retirement. He claims to be owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $160,000.
Because police pensions are calculated at 50 percent of the average of their last three years' wages, Smythe stands to make a much nicer chunk of change, thanks to how Darby officials plan to pay him.
According to my calculations, if his base salary stays the same and the borough pays him an extra $53,000 a year over the next three years, instead of retiring with a pension of $46,000 a year, his pension will jump to $72,500. Pretty neat, huh.
Smythe said that he deserves to be treated just like every other borough police officer who was owed back money. He said Mark Delvecchio recently retired on disability and was paid his comp and overtime over three years. But it didn't figure into his pension. He did, however, retire getting 70 percent of his last year's salary for the rest of his life.
Smythe is not about to apologize for playing within the rules of the system.
"It's absolutely good for me," he said. "It was good for everybody... I think I'm taking what every other person in this place has been given under this (pension) formula. Why should I retire under anything less than what they got? It's not fair... You think I want to be retired and not be able to live, not be able to do what I want to do in my life. I don't want to retire and be poor."
There are people who could life quite comfortably on a $46,000 a year pension, plus social security. But I've gotta admit, $72,500 plus is better.
Smythe said he didn't care for being singled out, that there are a lot of people who work in other police departments in this county and for the county itself who have taken similar advantage of how public employee pension benefits are figured. He is no doubt right about that. The money he's owed came from overtime he spent policing the mean streets of Darby when he could have been with his family.
"This was when my kids I were growing up. I think of the missed vacations and missed ball games." So don't tell Bob Smythe he shouldn't get paid for his time.
When I asked Darby Borough Finance director, Joe Possenti, if the payments to Smythe would figure into his pension he said, "I don't know. As far as I know they will be."
He said a lot of towns are facing tough pension situations. Officers are going out on disability and having to be paid for 40 years. But he said his feeling was we "can't pay those guys (cops) enough." I appreciate what cops do but I feel pretty comfortable saying "Yes, we can pay them enough." And in cases of their pensions it comes down to what taxpayers can afford.
He suggested I call the borough's pension guy, Thomas Anderson, who told me that under the FOP contract, any money earned by Smythe as wages or salary, has to be calculated into his pension.
I asked him what if the borough wanted to put off paying Smythe until after he retired, like they did with Delvecchio. That way, the borough could save $26,000 a year on his pension.
"That's a legal question," he replied.
It's also a fiscal/good government question. If Smythe lives to 85 (and I'm hoping he does) the borough would save more than a $500,000, money it could spend on salaries of working police officers, not a retired one.