The Arizona Legislature could take up reforms intended to address "excesses" in the public employees' pension system early next year, partly because of a lawsuit over payments made to Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris, according to state Senator-elect John McComish, an Ahwatukee Foothills Republican.
"We've been looking at retirement and pension reform for a while," McComish said. "I think this has given us a little more impetus to move it to the front of the line."
Last year, the Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Watch - a conservative activist organization aimed at exposing government misconduct - sued Harris and the Phoenix Police Pension Board over payments Harris received after he retired as Phoenix's police chief in 2007.
Shortly after Harris' retirement, the city rehired him with the new title of "public safety manager." In addition to his current salary, Harris continues to receive pension payments from his time as police chief to the tune of $90,000 a year, plus he received a one-time lump sum payment of more than $500,000 in pension funds, said Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president.
Fitton said Harris is abusing the public pension system, and he should be prohibited from "double-dipping" in his receipt of government compensation. The payments were approved by the pension board.
"It's just an incredible misuse of taxpayer resources," Fitton said.
On the other hand, Chris Gentis, a former Phoenix police lieutenant who now serves as a member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee and the Ahwatukee Board of Management, said he believes Harris is not out to bilk taxpayers.
"I don't think Jack had an ill will on this. I really think in Jack's heart, he's just serving the community," Gentis said.
Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee Foothills, said Harris' situation falls into a gray area.
"That's a tough line. His title is public safety manager, but he acts as police chief, too," DiCiccio said. "If you're in the same job, you should not be paid twice. I'm hoping the state Legislature will address this issue."
McComish said there is no bill up for the Legislature to consider yet, but one or more could be forthcoming after legislators reconvene next year.
"It's a little early right now, but I know several people are working on it," he said. "Double dipping will be one of the reforms we will take a look at."
Fitton said the lawsuit against Harris is still in the discovery phase, and a trial date has not been set. In September, the City Council voted 5-3 to spend nearly $50,000 in public funds to help pay for Harris' legal defense.