Tahoe PUD’s leader, who’s still collecting CalPERS pension, on for interim basis | SierraSun.com

Tahoe PUD’s leader, who’s still collecting CalPERS pension, on for interim basis

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

Retired North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw was appointed to the position of North Tahoe Public Utility District interim general manager/CEO earlier this week.

KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Duane Whitelaw is officially responsible for overseeing the North Tahoe Public Utility District — but how much he can work will be restricted until his involvement in California's retirement pension program is resolved.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the NTPUD board of directors unanimously appointed Whitelaw to the position of interim general manager/CEO, retroactive to March 1.

"Duane, from the board's perspective, we're just so happy to see you be in this position, and it's your ship to guide," board president Lane Lewis said after the vote.

Whitelaw's immediate focus areas will include upcoming union negotiations, addressing financial planning and review with the parks department, and succession planning, according to the NTPUD.

He will serve in an interim role until Dec. 31, or until an agreed-upon earlier date.

When asked why Whitelaw was hired as interim leader, instead of the official job, Lewis said it's due to the process needed to reinstate Whitelaw with the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS).

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"We're protecting his retirement in the interim until the paperwork can reinstate him with PERS," he said.

Whitelaw retired from the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, a CalPERS employer, in 2012, after serving as fire chief for 21 years.

The way CalPERS works, one must be reinstated from retirement before going back to work in a permanent position with a CalPERS employer, as is the case with the PUD, or both the employee and employer could face penalties.

"… Because of my unique circumstance of having already retired once, we have to go through this … process," Whitelaw said. "The district needs me now, so this is kind of a bridge to … full reinstatement."

THE CALPERS SITUATION

To be reinstated, one must have a firm start date or hire date from a CalPERS employer, and submit a reinstatement application that must be approved.

Further, CalPERS retirees working in any capacity for a CalPERS employer cannot work more than 960 hours in a fiscal year (July 1-June 30); must be paid an hourly rate that's within the salary schedule for the position; and cannot receive additional compensation or benefits.

The resolution to appoint Whitelaw outlines those restrictions. He will be paid $76.92 an hour with no benefits, Lewis said — but as a retired annuitant, he will receive CalPERS retirement benefits.

As of Wednesday, Whitelaw is scheduled to receive $11,021.13 on April 1 in pension benefits, said CalPERS spokesperson Amy Morgan. He'll receive the same monthly amount unless his retirement status changes.

Lewis said Whitelaw will probably work a 40-hour work week between now and Dec. 31. Since the timeframe is separated by two fiscal years, that would allow him to not exceed the 960-hour rule.

Based on 40 hours a week at an hourly rate of $76.92, Whitelaw could earn roughly $135,000 by Dec. 31 from the NTPUD.

This calculation performed by the Sun does not factor in hour fluctuations and time off for holidays or vacation, when he won't receive compensation (as those are considered benefits).

According to CalPERS, once a retiree is reinstated into active employment with a CalPERS employer, he or she stops receiving a retirement benefit allowance.

However, as an active member, one can earn additional service credit from the new employer toward a subsequent retirement.

How much the NTPUD will contribute to CalPERS will be outlined in Whitelaw's GM/CEO employment contract, which will be drawn upon his reinstatement, said Pam Emmerich, district technology and public information administrator. The amount is unknown at this time.

Upon a subsequent retirement, pension benefits will be recalculated based on total years of service, highest final pay and a benefit factor, Morgan said.

BRIDGING THE COMMUNITY GAP

The decision to recruit a new general manager was announced last November when the board parted ways with former GM Paul Schultz (who is now the PUD's assistant general manager).

Several NTPUD directors attributed the board's action to a desire for a leader who will more frequently engage the community.

"We just felt there was a disconnect between us and the public, and (Schultz) is supposed to be that connection, and that hasn't happened," director Tim Ferrell said late last year.

On Thursday, when asked if the board is confident Whitelaw will be able to accomplish the full scope of GM duties — and perform necessary community outreach — within a roughly 40-hour work week, Lewis said: "We're extremely confident that Duane will be able to maintain all the duties of the GM position."

One of the reasons Lewis cited included Whitelaw's connections within the community, having lived in the district since 1985, and his previous management positions with the NTPUD and NTFPD.

"He can hit the ground running," Lewis said. "… He doesn't have to go through that familiarization period. He knows all the players"

Whitelaw beat out four other finalists for the NTPUD GM/CEO job, whose names haven't been released.

In related business, Larry Marple, who was appointed to interim general manager during the district's search for a new leader, has resumed his former position as chief financial officer.

Further, the 5 percent annual pay increase he got during his interim role has been bumped back down, making his annual salary again $140,498, retroactive to March 1.