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    A Times Editorial

    A sorry money grab

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001

    Jim Palermo's 11th-hour money grab at a city pension is a sorry display of the good ol' boy system. The Tampa City Council should have rejected the scheme. Now it falls to the Legislature.

    Lawmakers must agree to change state law before Palermo can piggy-back onto the pension plan. State Rep. Sandra Murman of Tampa should drop the idea. Palermo had the chance to join 33 years ago but wanted to keep his career options open. He had a second chance in 1986 but chose to spend his money elsewhere.

    That was Palermo's right. But giving Palermo a third bite at the apple, now that he is nearing retirement, is the sort of favoritism that destroys employee morale. Dozens of city workers signed a petition urging the council to reject the Palermo buy-in, but only council members Bob Buckhorn and Charlie Miranda had their priorities straight. Supporters turned the vote into a popularity contest: Why not do a favor for Jimmy?

    Under the deal, contained in House Bill 895, the city attorney could make a one-time payment of $4,800 and receive a $25,300 annual pension. The payout is a fraction of what Palermo had sought. His friends on City Council and in the Legislature had urged some restraint, on the theory that a scam of smaller proportion was somehow less offensive.

    But special treatment on any scale is wrong on principle. It's not as if Palermo wasn't paid for his work. If the state changes the rules and gives him a pension now, what bones will it throw other public employees who want to redress their personal financial decisions?

    The council and Hillsborough's legislative delegation are split on the issue because of fundamental questions of fairness. Murman should respect that divide and allow this favor to fade away.

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