The Reno City Council will decide Wednesday whether to allow its emergency manager to begin collecting both his paycheck and a public retirement check.
Reno Fire Division Chief Bob Leighton, who has been the city’s emergency manager since 2016, filed his retirement paperwork in February and is set to leave the city on April 9.
To keep him from leaving as the city is in the throes of the coronavirus crisis, the Reno City Council will decide whether to take advantage of a state law that allows “double dipping” by public employees if the city can prove a critical labor shortage exists for the position.
“Any duration of vacancy during this emergency potentially exposes the City of Reno, its citizens, and its employees to unacceptable levels of risk,” chief of staff Dylan Shaver wrote in a staff report to council.
Under state law, the council must justify that a labor shortage exists for the position by providing data on such things as the turnover rate for the position, its attempts to recruit and fill the position and the number of qualified candidates for the job.
In this case, the city says it doesn’t have the resources to attempt a recruitment and wants to rely on the special circumstances of the pandemic to justify employing someone who is also collecting a check from the Public Employees Retirement System.
“The current emergency does not provide the opportunity to on-board, train, and transition the responsibilities of this job to a new or newly promoted employee,” Shaver wrote.
Leighton, 44, was hired by the city in 1999. Firefighters hired before 2010 can retire at any age after 25 years of service.
According to data from Transparent Nevada, Leighton made $244,000 in 2019, including a base pay of $183,016, plus overtime and other special pay.
Leighton is eligible to make between $9,800 and $13,000 a month in retirement, according to a calculator on the Nevada PERS website. Under those estimates, if he collects both a paycheck and a retirement check he could make between $300,000 and $400,000 a year.
As Reno’s emergency manager, Leighton is the city’s liaison to the Regional Emergency Operations Center, which is coordinating the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and allocates pooled resources.
“In light of the current situation, having that continuity is important,” said Jon Humbert, Reno’s public information officer.
Humbert said the city is still negotiating Leighton’s final compensation package. Under the agreement, the city would likely stop making its contribution to the retirement system, which could save the city more than $40,000 a year.
“The goal is a lower budget liability for us,” Humbert said.
Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
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