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He shows up for work every day, his name is on his office door and he draws a $140,000 annual salary. In two years, he plans to run for re-election. Yet Broward County Property Appraiser Bill Markham is officially “retired.” Last year, the 62-year-old Markham took a $279,000 lump sum pension payout under the Florida Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). He’s now collecting $6,200 a month in retirement benefits as well. The 1998 law creating DROP, which offered enhanced retirement benefits to government civil servants and elected officials, required that those taking advantage of the program retire within five years. So how can Markham, who has been property appraiser since 1968, be planning to run for re-election? Believe it or not, it’s entirely legal. He took advantage of a one-year loophole in the mandatory retirement provision that was enacted by the Florida Legislature in May 2001 and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. Lawmakers subsequently had promised to close that controversial loophole, which critics said allowed double dipping. During the last session, the Legislature amended the loophole — but didn’t shut it off. Broward County Commissioner Lori Parrish, who is considering running against Markham for the property appraiser’s job in two years, said she thinks Markham is violating the spirit of DROP. “That’s not what it was intended for,” she said. Another observer uses stronger words. “This is double and triple dipping,” said Dominic Calabro, president of the taxpayer watchdog group Florida Taxwatch. “Our Florida retirement system has been extremely generous to elected officials. This is an artificial retirement.” But Markham rejects the criticism that he’s double dipping. “I don’t feel that way and obviously the Legislature didn’t,” he said. “Elected officials are chosen by the public. The electorate has the ability to renew the contract. That separates elected officials from other classes.” The DROP program enacted in 1998 was intended to encourage experienced government employees — primarily teachers and police officers — to stay in their jobs by offering them an enhanced pension benefit. Alabama and Colorado, among other states, also have DROP programs. Facing a shortage of 25,000 teachers, Gov. Bush recently proposed extending the DROP program for teachers to 10 years from five. Under the original DROP program, after 30 years of service, employees who otherwise would have maxed out on their retirement benefits were allowed to place their retirement benefits in an account earning 6.5 percent interest annually for five years. But they were required to retire within that five-year period, at which time they would collect their retirement nest eggs — as much as $600,000. It was thought that this balanced the goals of keeping experienced employees and saving taxpayers money by not keeping highly paid officials on the public payroll indefinitely. But the loophole, quietly approved in the closing hours of the 2001 session of the Legislature, gave elected officials an advantage not shared by other government employees. It allowed them to collect lump-sum pensions as well as monthly retirement benefits and still stay in office indefinitely and run for re-election. Under that May 2001 amendment — dubbed the Jordan amendment in honor of Jacksonville Republican legislator Stan Jordan, for whom the loophole was created — about 1,900 elected officials around the state became eligible to collect pension windfalls and continue working indefinitely. That included judges, state attorneys, public defenders, sheriffs, county and city commissioners, county appraisers and school board members. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Gaston Cantens, R-Miami. It’s unclear how many elected officials besides Markham benefited from the loophole before it was modified earlier this year. A full list was not available from the Florida Retirement System, which is part of the executive branch under Gov. Bush. A spokesman for the retirement system said he could only check on individual government employees and needed a Social Security number to run a check. Broward County Public Defender Alan Schreiber said he entered DROP in 2000 and will collect a lump sum payment of $580,000 three years from now. But he said he will not run for re-election in 2004. “I wanted to get in because they may abolish the program, with all the budget cuts going on,” he said. Some elected officials are confused about the complex retirement law and the subsequent amendments. Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer, who entered the DROP program about a year ago, thought that by entering the program during the one-year window created by this year’s amendment he could stay in office and collect his DROP payment in four more years. When told the window only applies to those who cashed out during that period, he was upset. “Why shouldn’t I have access to my money when I want it?” he complained. One official who could have entered DROP but didn’t is Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz. The county’s top prosecutor, who has worked for the government for 34 years, said he decided not to enter DROP because he knew he planned to run for re-election in 2004. Like Markham, he could have capitalized on the 2001 amendment and done both. “I just didn’t want to do it,” said the politically savvy Satz. ONLY PARTIAL REPEAL The push for modifying the Jordan amendment started in August 2001, when the Miami Daily Business Review reported that Schreiber was rethinking his retirement plans due to the amendment. He told the Review that after hearing about the law, he realized he could collect his $600,000 DROP payment and still run again in 2004. At the time, most legislators said they were unaware of the loophole they had approved, as did Gov. Bush’s office. As accusations of double dipping by public officials around the state mounted, state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, vowed to push for repeal of the amendment. In the 2002 legislative session, the Legislature passed a law allowing elected officials in DROP to stay in office beyond the five years stated in the original 1998 law — but barring them from collecting their lump sums or monthly pensions until after they leave office. The change, however, was not retroactive. It provided that elected officials who cashed out their lump sum payments between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002 — the day the 2002 amendment went into effect — could collect those lump sums and remain in their jobs indefinitely. Fasano and others said the grandfathering period was a compromise necessary to win passage of the 2002 amendment. Sources who did not want to be identified said one school board member lobbied for the one-year window, while other sources said the critical group pushing for the loopholes behind the scenes was the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges. Fasano, now a state senator, told the Review this week that because some lawmakers wanted to keep the grandfathering period, “we had to compromise, or it wouldn’t have passed.” The spokesman for the Florida Retirement System was unable to provide the names of elected officials who cashed out during the one-year window. But he confirmed that Markham was one. Retiring Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr. will cash out in January after four years in DROP. He was required to step down at that time because he will have turned 70, the age of mandatory retirement. Markham is one of the most senior elected officials in Broward County. His father, Robert Markham, previously held the property appraiser’s position. Bill Markham made a fortune as a Wendy’s franchise owner and in real estate before declaring bankruptcy in 1991. Markham entered DROP in August 1998. He told the Review this week that he decided to join DROP because he wasn’t sure he was going to run for office again. “I deferred the decision,” he said. He said he opted out of the program last March. He explained that by cashing out of the program a year-and-a-half early, he forfeited an additional $135,000 he would have received if he had stayed in. The reason, he said, was that he knew the 2001 Jordan amendment would be changed and he wanted to run for re-election. The Jordan amendment allowed him to collect a partial DROP payment and still run. If Markham had known that the law would have been changed the way it was in 2002, he probably would not have cashed out of DROP early, said his spokesman, Ron Gunzburger. “Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. Despite pulling out early, Markham and his wife will receive $6,200 a month in public pension payments for the duration of their lives. Markham rejects the idea that he’s double dipping by taking the $279,000 lump sum payment and the monthly retirement benefits and continuing to work. Even if he actually retired, he contends, it would not save the state money because taxpayers would still be paying the same salary to his successor in the property appraiser’s job.

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