Their View: Strip Pennsylvania’s misbehaving public officials of pensions

The following editorial appeared in The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader.

As any dog trainer can confirm, a puppy won’t learn proper behavior if you simultaneously scold it for wetting on the carpet and then toss it a treat.

Yet in Pennsylvania, when certain government officials misbehave or break laws, our justice system scrambles the message.

Extortion? Naughty boy! Now, here’s your pension.

Abused the people’s trust while in a public post? Shame! Now, here’s your pension.

Harrisburg’s lawmakers should expand and revise the pension forfeiture rules so that wrongdoers can’t hastily submit their resignations or otherwise find loopholes allowing them to collect. Until this and other no-nonsense reforms are on the books, you can expect certain cheats to flout regulations and still scamper off with lucrative, taxpayer-supplied retirement packages.

“When you let the guys and girls who break the law keep their pensions, no lessons have been learned and corruption continues as usual,” reform advocate Eric Epstein recently told WHTM-TV, the Harrisburg area’s ABC affiliate.

Epstein, of political activist group Rock The Capital, has spotlighted some of the Keystone State’s most recent absurdity, during which lump sum payments of five and six figures flowed uninterrupted to the undeserving.

Consider, for example, Seamus McCaffery, the ex-state Supreme Court justice who retired amid a scandal over the exchange of pornographic emails. He pocketed a lump sum payment of about $454,000. Plus, he’ll continue to receive a monthly annuity payment of more than $11,000. (For observers like us, this turn of events matches the tried-and-true definition of “obscenity” — I’ll know it when I see it.)

Similarly, Joseph Conti, who ran the state’s liquor control board while improperly accepting gifts from wine and spirits companies, reportedly gets to savor a $151,000 lump sum payment, plus $5,200 per month. And, before ex-state treasurer and admitted extortionist Rob McCord was sentenced for his crime, he grabbed a “refund” of about $64,000.

Rock The Capital urges state lawmakers to close loopholes in Act 140, ensuring public officials who stray from propriety will feel a financial sting.

Recently, Luzerne County’s government demonstrated what should be the norm, not the exception. It penalized McAdoo resident Stacey McGlone, seizing pension payments in restitution for her multi-year thievery.

McGlone stole an estimated $23,596 while employed in the county probation services department. Last month, the county reclaimed $17,093 from her pension contributions as well as $6,503 in interest; remaining interest went back into the employee pension fund. In addition, McGlone is required to pay taxes on the total amount used for restitution, including interest.

The consequences for every public servant in Pennsylvania should be clear: If you break the rules, you lose.