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NC Treasurer Says CMPD Chief's Retirement Plans May Violate Rules

David Boraks / WFAE

North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell says his office could block the retirement plans of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney. The treasurer spoke Wednesday, amid concerns that the plan may violate state law. 

His comments came after the city of Charlotte announced Tuesday that Putney plans to retire at the end of the year. But he would be rehired as chief two months later to see the city through the Republican National Convention. Putney would then retire for good. 

Under state statute, public employees can only collect a pension after "complete separation from active service with no intent or agreement, expressed or implied, to return to service."

In an interview with WFAE, Folwell said the case appeared clear cut.

"Anytime that there is an intent to return to work, and when it's that well publicized, then a retirement cannot go forward," he said.

Folwell spoke just hours after the city canceled a press conference to discuss the police chief's retirement.

Possible Violations

As treasurer, Folwell oversees the state's Retirement Systems, which pays out retirement benefits to public employees. He said the state statute in question has been in place for more than four decades and is in line with federal guidelines from the Internal Revenue Service.

"The law is meant to prevent the state pension plan, which is one of the largest pools of public capital in the world, of being in violation of the federal Internal Revenue Service guidelines on return-to-work policies," he said.

Folwell also said Putney's retirement plan may also violate caps on how much a retired person can make and the number of hours they can work.

Under state guidelines, a retired public employee who returns to work can make no more than either 50% of their gross pre-retirement salary or $33,560 — whichever is greater — and can work no more than 1,000 hours a year. Otherwise, they risk giving up their retirement benefits.

Putney is currently paid $242,550 a year. Under the plan announced Tuesday, Putney would be rehired at a similar rate for a period of six months, according to a city spokesperson who spoke to WFAE about the plan.

On Different Pages

Folwell also said he's concerned his office and the city of Charlotte are not on the same page on how the law should be applied when hiring back former employees.

In a statement sent out Wednesday night, the city argued there was nothing wrong with the police chief's planned retirement and subsequent re-employment.

"The statute does not prohibit hiring back a retiree, which is a widely accepted practice across the country. The statute defines retirement but does not define the terms by which a retiree may return for limited service," the statement read.

Folwell says he'd like to investigate whether this was an isolated incident, or whether the city has potentially misapplied the law in other, past instances.

"Our No. 1 goal right now is to make sure that there is no difference in opinion between us and the city of Charlotte about what the laws are and how they should be applied," he said.

Corrected Oct. 16, 2019 - A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Kerr Putney is paid $220,000 a year. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department confirms his current salary is $242,550.

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal