County attorney: Krakeel didn’t ‘game’ early retirement plan

County Attorney Scott Bennett said last week he has conducted an investigation and found no truth to allegations that County Administrator Jack Krakeel gamed the early retirement plan to his own benefit.

Two weeks ago, Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown asked for an independent investigation into the allegation, which Brown lodged without providing any supporting factual evidence.

The County Commission is expected to consider Brown’s request at its regular meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the county’s Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.

Bennett told commissioners last Wednesday that he found that a private company, Gebcorp, was engaged to create the early retirement plan and to make sure it complied with all applicable legal standards. He also noted that Krakeel’s current employment contract specifically says he shall be eligible for any proposed retirement plan.

Bennett said he didn’t see any legal scenario which would allow the county to exclude Krakeel from the early retirement plan, which is offered to employees age 55 and over who have a minimum of 20 years of service to the county. Krakeel is one of 44 employees eligible for the program, which would provide them with an unreduced retirement benefit and credit for an additional five years of service which would also increase their monthly payment under the plan.

The county is also offering a post-retirement health insurance benefit for early retirement participants until age 65, but that benefit would be limited to the employees only, not their spouses or immediate family members, according to county documents.

The estimated average increased plan liability is $86,864 per participant, and the county would be paying that contribution into the plan from its cash reserves.

Brown bristled at the report from attorney Bennett, scoffing that Bennett serves as one of Krakeel’s subordinates, thus the results couldn’t be trusted.

Bennett replied that he does not work for Krakeel, but rather he works directly for the board of commissioners.

As for the cost of the early retirement plan, Gebcorp has informed the county it would cost a one-time contribution of $86,864 per participant, and the plan is for the county to pay that contribution in a lump sum from its cash reserves.

If all of the 44 eligible employees took the early retirement option, it would cost the county $3.8 million, but it would save as much as $1.6 million in salary on an annual basis. In other words, it would create that cost savings from year to year, save for the employees who would be replaced.

Krakeel previously told commissioners that some of the retiring employees are in critical positions that must be re-filled, but a number of others could be left vacant or eliminated.

Brown joined his fellow commissioners in a 5-0 approval of the early retirement plan at the March 22 commission meeting. At the time, Brown said that he didn’t have any problems with the proposal except he would have liked to had more discussion about it earlier; at the time Brown did not inquire if Krakeel had designs on accepting the early retirement offer or not.

Brown added that he understood the matter was fast-tracked because of the pending budget negotiations the commission will undertake starting today in a special budget workshop at 5 p.m. at the county’s Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.

Brown added last week that if an independent investigator says there are no problems, he would be “perfectly acceptable to supporting it.”

Commissioner Robert Horgan said he was upset at the way Brown handled the matter, given the integrity that Krakeel has brought to his position.

“I thought it was just totally uncalled for,” Horgan said.

Commission Chairman Herb Frady said he would not recommend spending money to have a second attorney look at the matter.

“For somebody to bring that up, they just don’t know the facts, that’s all I can say,” Frady said.

Brown responded that he felt he was not attacking Krakeel by asking for the independent investigation into the matter.

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