By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
What do former Southaven mayor Greg Davis, former Department of Marine Resources director Bill Walker, former Warren County circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree and former Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner Chris Epps have in common?
PENSION: Even though former Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner Chris Epps was indicted for fraud, he will still be eligible for his state pension when he reaches retirement age.
If you answered indicted on corruption charges, you’d be only partially correct. The rest of the answer is all four are still eligible to collect their state pensions.
State auditor Stacey Pickering hopes the Legislature takes on the issue when the session begins in January. He said he’s already talked to members of the state House and Senate about getting a bill passed.
“Prison time has nothing to do with it (collecting pensions) under current law,” Pickering told Mississippi Watchdog in a phone interview. “If they’ve got their retirement in and they filed for it, they can start drawing it.”
For some of them, that represents a giant golden parachute. Pickering said some of those pensions from the troubled Mississippi Public Employees’ Retirement System can add up to more than $90,000 per year for life for these formerly high-ranking officials. The employee’s contribution was set for 9 percent of their salary for those hired before 2013 and 15 percent for those hired after that time.
A potential bill would prohibit an official who is convicted of public corruption from collecting the state’s contribution to their retirement.
“As far as the state portion is concerned, I think that should be withheld as a part of the penalty for betraying the public trust,” Pickering said.
The state auditor’s office has only been able to go after one official’s pension. Former Union County coroner Mark Golding pled guilty to two counts of fraud in 2013 after billing the Tippah County Board of Supervisors for more than $276,000 in deaths he didn’t investigate. Golding’s account with PERS was frozen by court order.
Shockingly, up until last year, public officials convicted of fraud could still run for office again. The Mississippi Legislature passed Senate Bill 2625 in last year’s session that prohibited public officials who were convicted or pled guilty to stealing from taxpayers from working for the state, a county or a municipality.