Without discussion, the Bartholomew County Council refused to approve a recommendation that would have provided Sheriff Matt Myers a county pension immediately after his second term concludes.
The recommendation from the Sheriff’s Merit Board would have changed the vesting period for a sheriff to receive a pension back to eight years. During the administration of former sheriff Kenny Whipker (1999-2006), the amount of time was extended to eight years and one month, former sheriff and now county council member Mark Gorbett said. Gorbett served as Whipker’s chief deputy.
“If I had to do it all again, I would have made it 10 years or more,” said Whipker, who now works for the Indiana Department of Correction. “I wanted that pension for people who made the sheriff’s office a career, not for someone who works four or eight years who may collect a pension that provides them more money than a 20-year deputy when they retire.”
While addressing the council, Columbus attorney Jeff Beck, who represents Myers, claimed the additional month was added because the Sheriff’s Merit Board did not want someone who wasn’t already a local deputy to seek the office.
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“This is the most blatant abuse of the ‘Old Boys’ network that I’ve seen in my 24 years of practice,” Beck said. “It isn’t right, and the public deserves better from its elected officials.”
Beck also described pushback from council members against Myers about the pension issue.
“Some of you called (Myers) selfish and greedy for trying to get the pension vesting issue changed,” Beck said. “This is not about Matt Myers. This is about getting rid of a rule that was specifically put in place so that only sheriff deputies would run.”
Beck said if the sheriff was selfish and greedy, he wouldn’t have signed a contract with the county. Without the contract, he would have had the option of $153,052 in additional salary during his first five years and nine months in office. Myers is making $124,900 this year, according to the county auditor’s office.
Beck was referring to an option available to Indiana sheriffs that provides a salary that is at least 80% of the earnings of the county prosecutor, plus 10% of all monies collected through tax warrants.
In addition, the attorney said the county has already paid $155,350 towards Myers’ pension through Aug. 15 of this year, which he argued was just $2,000 more than if Myers had chosen a percentage of tax sale warrants plus salary.
“So he’s essentially funded his own pension at this point,” Beck said. “Overturning the ‘Old Boys’ rule will not cost the county any money, or if it does, it will be negligible because the money has already been set aside.”
After Beck completed his presentation and Council President Matt Miller asked for a motion to approve the merit board’s recommendation, the council remained silent.
“It looks like it dies for lack of a motion,” Miller said.
Myers said Wednesday he is taking the advice of his attorney and not making any comment. But the sheriff did say he has both Beck and an Indianapolis attorney aware of what took place Tuesday.
Myers will receive a pension when he reaches retirement age after serving 23 years on the Columbus Police Department prior to his 2014 election as sheriff.
While the council did not act in Myers’ favor Tuesday, they did approve another recommendation that merit board president Susan Thayer Fye called the Police Benefit Plan.
Currently, the death benefit to families of deputies killed in the line of duty is at a statutory minimum of $200 per month for a surviving spouse and $30 per month for each minor child.
On Tuesday, council members unanimously agreed to increase that amount to $1,000 per month per surviving spouse, and $200 per minor child.
The last law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in Bartholomew County was Indiana State Police Trooper Earl L. Brown. He was shot multiple times by a suspect along what is now State Road 11 on Aug. 31, 1955. The local Fraternal Order of Police post (Lodge 89) is named in his honor.