The issue is neither new nor unique to St. Louis, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Defenders of the system say it’s a matter of keeping experienced people in positions where they’re needed. But the system actually incentivizes those experienced people to (technically) retire before they necessarily would because they can start drawing their pensions while returning to the payroll. How many would just have stayed longer in their employment if that option wasn’t available?
In the early 2000s, then-Mayor Francis Slay took up what turned out to be the doomed cause of reforming that system. Among those efforts was a proposal to suspend pension payments for any city worker who was making more than $20,000 on the regular payroll. It went nowhere, stymied amid an atmosphere best summarized by an attorney at the time who noted that “lots of people leave the city and come back as contract employees,” and called it a “long and presumably proud tradition.” Long, yes. Proud? It shouldn’t be.
City employees (except firefighters) are at least limited to part-time employment while they’re drawing pensions. But since even part-time employment can be a windfall with high hourly pay rates (like that of the $60-an-hour personnel official), a more effective reform would be to cap the allowable annual pay at a modest level, as some attempted to do two decades ago.