Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy isn’t the only person who thought the matter of retired Fire Chief Robert Farstad’s pension-padding scheme, cooked up with then-Mayor Brian Stratton’s cooperation, was settled 18 months ago when the City Council refused to approve a juicy overtime payment that would have boosted Farstad’s pension some 60 percent. But Farstad may yet have the last laugh if his appeal to the state retirement system that he was entitled to that overtime after all succeeds. For taxpayers’ sake, we hope it does not.
Farstad’s lawyer argues that several mayors over a number of years gave police and fire chiefs, and assistant chiefs, overtime payments — whether earned or not — to compensate them for taking management jobs that no longer entitled them to overtime. Those payments were apparently illegal under federal law; but even if they were made — and even if they helped boost the managers’ pensions, they were for a lot less money (six weeks’ worth of OT) than the 34-week deal Farstad and Stratton cooked up. In exchange for not paying the chief $117,000 in accumulated sick and vacation time (which aren’t used in pension calculations), Stratton agreed — without even telling the council — to count the money as overtime.
Doing so would have jacked up Farstad’s pension by 60 percent, from somewhere around $74,000 a year to roughly $112,500! And even though the council put the kibosh on the deal, and notified the state retirement system that the overtime was not approved and should not count toward Farstad’s pension, the retired chief is appealing to see if he can get a first-class seat on the gravy train after all.
He doesn’t deserve it, not only because what he and Stratton did was illegal (albeit apparently not unprecedented) and immoral, but also because, in the end, he got the city to pay him for his unused sick and vacation time.
The city owes him nothing and the state Retirement System owes him a normal pension, one based on his final year of regular earnings, not trumped-up overtime that no other department head is lawfully entitled to.
This incident underscores the need for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to redouble his pension reform efforts so gaming the system like this is impossible.