Onondaga County posts job ad, a move to clear the path to let undersheriff double dip

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017 - Resume

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office has posted a help wanted ad for undersheriff, a first step toward clearing the way to allow the current undersheriff Jason Cassalia to receive both his salary and his pension.

The practice of “double dipping” — getting a public salary and a pension at the same time — is generally forbidden in state law unless an agency can show there’s no one else to do the job.

Posting the job is the first step to get the state’s permission to allow Cassalia to get both a pension and a salary.

In 2016, Cassalia obtained permission to double dip: He was paid about $105,000 in salary in addition to his pension of $41,891, according to county and state records.

Cassalia, appointed as undersheriff in January 2015, retired after 20 years from the Manlius Police Department in 2011.

Why Onondaga County ad for new $100,000 undersheriff may not be a real job opening  

Under state law, retirees generally cannot make more than $30,000 a year and get his or her full pension. Retirees who hit the salary limit have to stop taking a pension or leave the retirement system while working.

But, in certain circumstances, an employee can receive a “Section 211 waiver” as long as the employer, in this case the sheriff’s office, makes a “reasonable” effort to hire someone else who is qualified but not retired — and therefore cheaper to taxpayers.

The state comptroller’s office reviews those waiver requests, which last up to two years.

Sheriff Eugene Conway told Syracuse.com | The Post-Standard on Monday that Cassalia had a two-year waiver, and so the office is starting to go through the process to get another two-year waiver. 

Like the first time, the sheriff’s office posted the job opening ad on the state sheriff’s association website and the county’s jobs website, Conway said. This year, the ad will be posted from Oct. 5 to Oct. 20. 

Conway said that Cassalia is a “very, very valuable” member of the office and he wants to do what he can to keep him here. The undersheriff’s work is excellent, he said, adding he needs to give him an incentive to stay working here.

“I just know that he’s extremely valuable to me and this operation here,” Conway said. “I don’t want to lose him.”

Conway said Cassalia has not suggested he might leave the sheriff’s office without drawing both a salary and a pension.

The sheriff said he did not get any applications last time for the undersheriff position that would have enabled him to hire someone as qualified as Cassalia for less money.

In fact, the sheriff said he didn’t recall getting any applications for the undersheriff position.

The undersheriff takes over running the office in the sheriff’s absence and also supervises the office’s Internal Affairs Unit and public information office, among other responsibilities. 

The ad posting seeks candidates with experience with the state Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, in addition to a high-school diploma. And it prefers candidates with some college and advanced law enforcement command-level training.

Cassalia’s LinkedIn page shows he is currently a team leader for the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and has earned 87 credit hours at Cazenovia College.

Conway himself has drawn attention over his double-dipping.

During his campaign for sheriff, Conway pledged that he would not take both his salary and his pension. He ended up taking his pension and salary.

Conway retired as a captain from the sheriff’s office in 2002 after 24 years. Before becoming sheriff, he had a Section 211 waiver that let him receive his salary as a police chief in DeWitt and collect his pension.

After becoming sheriff in 2015 Conway asked the state to change his classification as a retiree to let him keep a reduced pension. That would have allowed him to collect his pension until his salary hit $30,000 for the year, like other government retirees.

The state initially granted Conway’s request. But when Syracuse.com | The Post-Standard inquired, the state reviewed his case, learning he had become an elected official. Elected officials who take office after retiring are exempt from the rules that limit the pension amounts retirees can get.

The review of Conway’s pension resulted in the state sending him a check for $13,770, reimbursing him for pension payments it had withheld. He is now receiving his $30,010 pension and his $110,120 salary as sheriff.

In a letter to the editor responding to several stories and an editorial about his pension promise, Conway defended his effort to suspend his pension and follow through on his campaign promise.

According to the comptroller’s office, Conway could have stopped his pension by leaving the retirement system and then resume paying into the pension system.

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