Grover Beach police chief to double-dip into taxpayer funds

December 17, 2014
Grover Beach Police Chief James Copsey

Grover Beach Police Chief James Copsey

Grover Beach Police Chief Jim Copsey will soon receive a salary and pension simultaneously following a decision by the city council to employ him as interim chief after he retires later this month.

Copsey is set to retire on Dec. 28, making him eligible for his California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) pension. On Dec. 29, he will become Grover Beach’s interim chief at a monthly salary of $11,071.

California law allows Copsey to serve as interim chief while collecting a pension for a total of six months. His agreement with the city allows him to do so through June 15 or until a new chief is hired.

If a new chief is not hired by June 15, Copsey could serve an additional two weeks as interim chief while collecting his retirement checks.

The practice of collecting a pension while working for the government agency from which an employee retired has become commonly known in California as double-dipping. Several local public officials have done so in recent years, including former San Luis Obispo County undersheriff Steve Bolts, who received between $640,000 and $772,000 in combined salary and retirement pay in 2010.

Earlier this year, Copsey also increased his pension by becoming Grover Beach’s assistant city manager, in addition to the city’s police chief. The additional position pays $13,230 a year, which increased Copsey’s base salary to $144,192.

The practice of promoting a public employee or granting a sizable pay increase shortly before retirement is commonly known as pension spiking.

In September, California Controller John Chiang released an audit of 11 state and local government agencies where pension spiking was occurring. The audit indicated that taxpayers and local government are on the hook to pay nearly $800 million from legal pension spiking over the next two decades. [Los Angeles Times]

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If this guy’s actually in CalPers, what they’re doing with rehiring him is illegal. State law is very clear: an annuitant cannot be rehired part-time or otherwise until 180 days after retirement date. After that, work cannot exceed half of the last work performed prior to retirement without leaving retirement status. Something here doesn’t make sense.

I am sure that there are ways to get around that — you know “special exceptions” and other loopholes.

Did the chief just up and announce he was retiring? Usually these folks set their retirement dates months in advance. This sounds like the city was not preparing for his departure and is playing catch up. Don’t they have a second in command who can hang fill in until a new chief is found?

The figure for undersheriff Steve Bolts that is quoted in the article must be his final year when the employees who invested part of their salary in mutual funds “collect” their money they saved in their 457b deferred compensation account, the money they save from their salary over 30 years, and roll it over to a private investment fund like Charles Schwab.The county website lists the undersheriff salary as $14,206 per month or $170,472 annually. Even if he double dipped he could have only earned $340,944. Not between $640,000 and $772,000.

Mitch C,

Why don’t you start complaining about the inequity of this reality. A normal person who retires on Cal Pers cannot go back to work for an employer that is on Cal Pers for six months and then once the wait is over they can only work a limited amount of hours per week and have an annual limit of what they can earn.

But, here the Chief will retire and make an obscene amount of money on pers and then be able to be paid $11,000 per month until they find someone to fill his shoes. Give me a break, Grover new that he was intending to retire and should have started to look for someone and had them in the background faze by now. No, they waste time and taxpayers monies by giving their old chief a gift until they find somene new. They could have had their commander be the interim chief and saved money. No wonder they are always in money problems.

PS: Over the past 40 years they have tried to consolidate departments and it has never happened. Pismo does not need the headache and costs that will be associated with that and Arroyo Grande really needs to heal after the past six months of problems. But, go ahead and keep stirring the pot like you have tried to do.

Any thought of consolidating departments … sharing the cost of a police chief and staff could be a cost savings for both cities involved. Grover could look to Arroyo Grande or Pismo and hire a single chief to administer both departments gaining a cost savings to both cities without lessening the police presence on the street.