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Retirement deal pays well for Hall County administrator
Shulers contract offers pay, pension and perks worth more than $300K
Hall County Administrator Jim Shuler attends Thursday's county commission meeting. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS The Times

On Dec. 31, 2006, Hall County Administrator Jim Shuler retired from his job with county government.

Two days later, he went back to work in the same job, at his same annual salary of $165,000. On the same day, he began drawing a $91,730 county pension, with taxpayers contributing an additional $22,160 to a second retirement fund.

With fringe benefits, such as life and health insurance for Shuler and his family, a $1,456 monthly allowance for an automobile and other payments, such as the county's portion of his Social Security contributions, the entire package amounts to just more than $330,000 a year. He had received all of those benefits when previously employed by the county, except for the second retirement and the pension payments.

The arrangement was approved by four of the five current commissioners and former Commissioner Deborah Lynn in late 2006.  The current commissioners who voted for the arrangement say they have no qualms about it.

However, Commission Chairman Tom Oliver, who signed the five-page contract, said he was not aware of the second retirement plan. "I did not realize we were paying extra for a new retirement fund for him, and would not have supported that," Oliver said. "I don't understand how that got involved in the program."

An entire section of the contract is devoted to the retirement issue, stating that an amount equal to 16 percent of the base salary be placed into a deferred compensation program.

Documents obtained by The Times indicate that both the plan under which Shuler retired and the new plan are administered by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

Oliver defended his actions, however, saying that the arrangement had been unanimously approved by the commission and reviewed prior to his signing.

"The county attorney said it was ready for my signature, they presented it to me and I signed it," said Oliver. He said in his role as chairman, he signs hundreds of documents each month.

The one commissioner angered by the arrangement is Bobby Banks. He was elected in 2006 and not on the commission when the contract was approved. Banks failed in an attempt to seek Shuler's ouster during Thursday night's commission meeting at which Shuler and 21 other county employees were reappointed to their positions. Banks said he first learned of Shuler's retirement arrangement in a meeting about three months ago.

That meeting, according to Banks, was to discuss county employees who were facing mandatory retirement but wanted to continue their employment with the county. He said it was at this meeting he was told that Shuler had such an arrangement.

But Banks said that his frustration with Shuler goes beyond the employment arrangement. "He has, on more than one occasion, betrayed my trust," Banks said, adding that information he told Shuler in confidence was relayed to other commissioners.

Shuler, in an interview with The Times, said he was not mad at Banks and had worked well with him since Banks took office in January 2007.

In the same interview, Shuler, 56, a Hall County native who has worked for the county since graduating from Georgia Tech in 1977, defended his decision to take retirement while continuing to work for the county.

"I earned my retirement up to a certain point and I'm going to get that," Shuler said. "People call that double dipping, but the county already paid that money and it's gone. It's not like I'm double dipping out of the county budget every year."

He contends that his regular salary and benefits would be paid to whomever held the post. "The taxpayers are going to pay that money, anyway," Shuler said. "They're going to have some kind of administrator up here and they're going to pay him."

Shuler said the car allowance was increased as a form of a pay hike. According to memos, the car allowance had been $850, but was adjusted by 4 percent of his annual salary, making the current car allowance $1,456 per month, or $17,472 per year.

Under Section 1.62-2 of the Internal Revenue Service regulations, persons who receive an automobile allowance must have "an accountable plan" for how the funds are use; otherwise, the allowance would be taxable income.

Shuler's salary in the contract was specified as $165,000, but according to documents, has been increased to $182,000, an increase of a little more than 10 percent.

Two commissioners, Billy Powell and Steve Gailey, defended both the arrangement and Shuler.

"We have the right man for the job and the most qualified person we can possibly have in that position," Powell said. "I think it's up to us (commissioners) to do what is necessary to get the best person in that job."

Powell called Shuler "the CEO of a $90 million-a-year corporation" and said that it would be impossible to replace his knowledge and experience in Hall County. "It warrants every penny he gets," Powell said.

Gailey said the idea to rehire Shuler after retirement was Oliver's. "That was Tom's idea and suggestion," Gailey said. "I think Jim is a huge asset to our county; he was born and raised here."

Gailey said the retirement benefits are a separate issue. "What I look at as a commissioner is what I'm going to have to pay someone else. The retirement is separate. A lot of people retire and go to work other places," he said.

Hall County has a number of retired workers who have been rehired into their same positions after reaching mandatory retirement. Shuler said they work primarily in key administrative and management positions.

However, some have gone elsewhere. Doug Derrer, the former county public works director who retired in December, has accepted a position in management in Forsyth County's government.

Gwinnett County does not allow retired employees to be rehired into their same positions. That is a county policy that applies to all employees, human resources director Kenneth Poe said. "We have some pretty stringent restrictions," he said.

He said Gwinnett rehires retirees primarily to help them supplement their retirement pay, usually at an entry-level position. The state of Georgia allows workers who are drawing retirement to work up to 1,080 hours per year, about 20 hours per week. State retirees do not receive benefits, such as health care coverage, and do not accrue any additional retirement. If a retired state worker exceeds 1,080 hours, retirement is suspended and the employee is considered a full-time employee again.