Warren Evans - part of Wayne County's pension problem?

A serious shortfall in Wayne County's pension fund is crippling the county and could soon hit taxpayers in the wallet. 

County executive Warren Evans says he's looking for solutions but M.L. Elrick found out he's part of the problem.

Wayne County has a budget crisis, a fiscal fiasco fueled in large part because former CEO Bob Ficano was generous in handing out pensions to top county officials.

Now Evans wants county commissioners to tack an extra $40 million on summer property tax bills so homeowners can help keep the pension problem from blowing a hole in the county's budget.

"We're not going to be part of the problem, we're going to be part of the solution," Evans said. 

But Evans isn't telling taxpayers the whole story. Eighteen years ago, several years before Ficano was in charge, Evans himself got a pretty sweet retirement deal.

"If the question is did I take an option to get out two years earlier than i would have, absolutely I did," Evans said. "Would I fault anybody for having an opportunity to do that today or tomorrow. Absolutely I would not fault them."

"It was a deal Elrick's friend and former colleague Chris Christoff first revealed in the Detroit Free Press 10 years ago. 

Evans was 48 when he decided to retire in 1997, after working in the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, he had become an assistant to Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara. 

The only way Evans could retire before age 50 was to return to the sheriff's department, which he did, for one day.

Elrick: "What did you do on the one day with the sheriff's department? Did you actually put on a uniform and report for duty?"

Evans: "I don't even remember. But obviously it was done for the purpose of getting status in a position that I already had status in for many years, for the ability to retire."

The Detroit News called it a "cheap, but legal trick."  Former Wayne County Auditor General Brendan Dunleavy, who is now a financial adviser, agrees.

"That's every bit as sweet as the kind of things that Bob Ficano offered," Dunleavy said.

Elrick: "Some people might say that this is poetic justice, that a man who took advantage of the county's pension plan is now complaining that too many people took advantage of the county's pension plan. How do you see it?"

Dunleavy: "I think a lot of people would say that."

What Evans did was perfectly legal, it was even common. And Evans says it was ok because the pension fund was flush in those days, funded at 95 percent.

Elrick: "But isn't what's right right, whether the pension system is fully funded or down on its luck like it is now?"

Evans: "Well I think right's right, and I said before, right is I don't make the rules. If the rules are there, if you're asking an employee not take advantage of the existing rules, that's kind of silly."

Elrick: "What do you make of a guy who at one time took advantage of the county's generosity, now saying the his predecessors were too generous with pension benefits?"

"I guess you'd have to say be careful what you say and what you do," Dunleavy said. "And it's really the No. 1 problem that caused the county's problem, was folks that were in positions to stop these type of pensions, didn't.

"And they were too busy saying, 'Can I get the same deal, can I get a better deal.' And that's why the county's in the position it is today,"

When Evans retired in 1997, he scored a pension of $72,800. He has since returned to the county payroll as an assistant prosecutor, sheriff and now CEO. 

In other words, he's received both a pension and paycheck for most of the years since his early retirement.

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