On Putney's Semi-Retirement, Let's Use Common Sense

Oct 21, 2019

One good way to think about any political deal that seems sketchy or weird is to ask a simple question: Would you do it?

So let’s apply that to the case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney.

Putney has put in 27 years of service to the department, and he’s eligible to retire and draw a pension. But the city wants him to stick around through the Republican National Convention next year. So Putney proposed that he retire at the end of the year, take a couple of months off, then return to the job in March and help keep us safe until President Trump leaves town.

It’s a fairly common practice in government and business. The police department often does this with their rank-and-file officers – they retire, then come back after 30 days. It lets employees keep working while drawing their pensions, and it lets employers hold onto valued workers.

The problem is that state treasurer Dale Folwell says it’s illegal for an employee to retire with the intent of coming back. That law doesn’t appear to have been enforced much before now, but Putney’s case is different – one, he’s in a public role, and two, some media reports say he could be entitled to as much as $600,000 in a lump-sum pension.

So there seems to be a tension between the way the law is written and the way it’s been practiced over the years. That makes it a matter for the city and the state to work out. But if I had a vote, I’d toward Putney’s side for a couple of reasons.

One, we’re really going to need him next year. The GOP convention will bring protestors and counter-protesters and a president who doesn’t seem to mind throwing matches in a pile of sticks. The whole world will be watching. It’s the worst possible time to break in a new chief.

And two, to go back to the beginning: If it’s legal, wouldn’t you do the same thing?

If I could retire, cash in the pension that I earned, then take some time off to rest up for what might be one of the most stressful events in Charlotte’s history, you bet I’d take that deal. There’s only one difference. It might be hard to get me to come back to work.

Kerr Putney has promised to come back. If his arrangement clears the legal hurdles, we should let him.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.