Adriaens’ transition to chief of staff raises questions regarding police pension

SHERIDAN — Mayor John Heath said Wednesday that interim Chief of Staff Rich Adriaens is spending a majority of his time working at the police department to help with the transition there while also attending meetings with city department heads about an hour each morning as he moves into his new role.

Adriaens was appointed interim chief of staff by Heath July 14. Heath said he needed help juggling all the appointments and day-to-day operations of his new position as mayor and noted in a memo sent to city employees that former Mayors Jim Wilson and Della Herbst also had chiefs of staff.

Heath said Adriaens is currently splitting his time about 90/10 between police and city work and that as the months progress that ratio will change to 80/20, 70/30, 60/40, and so forth until a smooth transition can be completed at both the city and the police department.

The question of how Adriaens is spending his time has been raised because it could affect which pension plan — law enforcement or regular city employee — he is able to use.

According to Wyoming Retirement System regulations, contributions to retirement plans are based on duties, not job title or even which budget an employee is paid from.

Even though he was named chief of staff for the city, Adriaens has been allowed to continue contributions to his law enforcement pension. This caused concern among some Sheridan residents because contributions to law enforcement pensions are higher than regular pension contributions, potentially costing the city, and thus taxpayers, more money.

At his old police chief salary of $107,654.04, the city contributed $9,258.24 per year (8.6 percent of his salary) into the retirement fund for Adriaens. At his increased salary of $137,427.10, the city would contribute $11,818.08 per year into his law enforcement pension but only $10,471.94 (7.62 percent of his salary) if he was enrolled in the regular employee pension plan.

There is a provision in state statute that allows a temporary, six-month employee to not be enrolled in the regular retirement plan, but after that time if a position becomes permanent, retirement contributions must be made. Under that provision, and if he spends a majority of his time doing police duties, Adriaens is allowed to continue contributions to his law enforcement pension.

However, once his duties become primarily city-related, Adriaens must use the regular employee pension plan, which Heath assured would happen.

The Wyoming Retirement System typically requires the city to pay retirement contributions retroactively to the date of hire for a temporary position that is made permanent. This could cause problems since it would mean Adriaens would receive double pension payments, which is not allowed.

When alerted to that possibility, Heath said he would have City Clerk Scott Badley and Human Resources Director Heather Doke look into the matter with the Wyoming Retirement System and make sure everything was being done correctly.

Adriaens will be able to keep his law enforcement pension even if he switches to a regular pension plan, but he will only be allowed to contribute to the regular pension.

Heath said it is his plan to hire Adriaens permanently as chief of staff in six to eight months. He said he may wait until the new City Council is in place in January following upcoming elections to give them the courtesy of being in on that decision.

At this point, Heath said he does not wish to move to a city administrator form of government.

“I am still the CEO of the city, if you will, and he (Adriaens) does basically more of the day-to-day things that will free me up to go out into the public, ask the public what do they want to see, what can we do to better your life experience here in Sheridan,” Heath said.

Heath said the input he gathers from the public will be taken by Adriaens to the executive staff and implemented throughout city departments.

“That chief of staff is really a critical part of a new administration, like myself. I don’t have the expertise that Sen. Kinskey had, but my management background gives me an insight on how to put good people in the best positions,” Heath added.

As part of the change in leadership, police Capt. Scott Chandler was appointed interim police chief, a position he has held before in 2009 before Adriaens was hired as police chief. He also acted as interim chief before former Police Chief Mike Card was hired in 2005.

With the appointment, Chandler received a raise of $8,650 from $83,867.77 to $92,517.90. Adriaens’ raise was $30,000 from $107,654.04 to $137,427.10.

Heath added in an interview with The Sheridan Press that Adriaens’ salary is much less than it would be if the city had hired a chief of staff or city administrator, which Heath is allowed to do by statute, at a price tag of $170,000 or more from outside the city. He said that could be considered a cost savings for the city.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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