When Orange County IT chief Satish Ajmani announced his retirement earlier this month (in the wake of numerous scathing management audits) he thanked his team for a wonderful “4 years and 8 months” and told everyone his last day in the office would be Dec. 23.
Yet in last week’s formal memo to county supervisors, county Chief Executive Tom Mauk said Ajmani’s total tenure was five years, giving his final separation date as Feb. 24, 2011.
It seems that Ajmani will get to spend his last two months on vacation.
It’s a rare sight to see someone leaving government able to use that much leave at one time, especially at the end of his tenure. And it is a definitely more expensive option for taxpayers than just paying a lump sum for unused vacation and sick time.
The first thought that comes to mind is pension spiking. Especially given that Ajmani’s leave-time-enhanced separation date puts him at exactly five years of service with the county, which is the typical period used for vesting in a pension system.
But county spokeswoman Brooke DeBaca said emphatically that “it’s not pension spiking.”
So what is it?
DeBaca wouldn’t speculate beyond this comment: “Just like any other employee, Satish can cash-out or take annual leave upon retirement or separation from the county.”
She also stressed that the five-year date is irrelevant to Ajmani’s retirement because “there’s not an additional retirement benefit by reaching five years of service with the County of Orange.”
Because there’s a reciprocity agreement with Santa Clara — Ajmani’s previous employer for eight years — the official assumption is that Ajmani was vested at the Orange County Employees Retirement System rather quickly.
County officials couldn’t be specific late Monday regarding how the reciprocity agreement works between Santa Clara and Orange County but said they would give an explanation later in the week.
Voice of OC made a request to speak with Ajmani.
Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Association, said Ajmani’s retirement date “seems suspicious.”
“The whole thing is fishy,” Muir said.
Muir disputed DeBaca’s claim that all employees have the choice to cash out or use vacation and leave balances when they retire. Rank-and-file employees can cash out only, Muir said.
The county’s labor agreement stipulates that executive managers are allowed to cash out up to 580 hours of leave. That compares to a cap of 320 hours for line managers and 240 hours for regular rank and file. However, Mauk, as CEO, has the right to approve variations at his discretion.
Muir said that pension spiking or not, county taxpayers will foot a heftier bill under this scenario than if he was just cashed out.
By staying on an extra few months, Ajmani would be eligible for at least another $4,500 in a cash payout for an executive perks package for personal training and development. That package renews each January.
Also, there is the money the county now pays into Ajmani’s 401(a) retirement account and the fact that the county taxpayers will cover the employee portion of his pension for January and February, Muir said.
We’ll update you with more details when we hear from the county and Ajmani.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.