Arizona has had its share of problems with its retirement system for public safety employees, and more came to light recently with specifics about three settlements of sexual harassment claims against the former administrator of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. Improvements have been made there, but the $1.35 million paid out is a loss and can also be seen as a symptom of problems that have been felt by other agencies, local governments and taxpayers that rely on the PSPRS.
Jared Smout was fired from the position last year. According to records obtained by The Arizona Republic, three women received the settlements beginning last year and up through April. The state is somewhat fortunate: The three women combined had sought $17.5 million.
The PSPRS has forced public employers to pay substantially more per covered employee because of various problems. Such retirements are expensive because they are for police and fire personnel who cannot work as long as others, but it appears mismanagement has been part of the equation. These higher payments have put a strain on government budgets in Pinal County and elsewhere and also led to lower staffing by first responders in some cases.
The system is run by a board and administrators who have had a litany of problems. In the past, board members have had excessive reimbursements for travel and made commissions on side jobs awarded by the administrator. When he was still there, the administrator received a $43,000 retroactive pay increase to a quarter million dollars a year, but he was fired a short time later after allegations of sexual harassment and spying on employees.
The system has made some improvements, but calls have been made in the past to place it under the control of another state retirement system with a better track record. Sexual harassment awareness has existed for a long time. Arizonans should be able to expect more from government agencies that manage their tax dollars.