Jeramey Jannene
Data

Richest Public Pensions in State History

Here are the backdrop payments received by 1,712 county employees. 255 collected anywhere from $255,000 to $1 million -- plus a monthly pension.

By - Mar 25th, 2013 11:59 am
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In November 2000, the Milwaukee County Board approved, on a 20-to-5 vote, a plan with new pension benefits for non-union workers that were particularly lucrative for veteran employees. In February, 2001, the board voted 22-2 to extend similar benefits to union employees.

The plan was passed with no media scrutiny. In October 2001, then MilwaukeeWorld.com editor Bruce Murphy (current editor of UrbanMilwaukee.com) wrote a story detailing the benefits and wrote second story filling in more details.  Murphy’s story reported that Milwaukee County Executive F. Thomas Ament, should he serve as planned until 2008, would leave with a “backdrop” lump sum pension payment in excess of $2 million.

The issue received little attention until Murphy did a feature story for Milwaukee Magazine on the issue. This soon prompted the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to report the story on January 6, 2002, the first of a run of front-page stories devoted to the issue, reinforced by considerable coverage by TV and radio news coverage.

The resulting public outrage forced Ament to fire many of his cabinet members, sign a form foregoing his backdrop and eventually resign from office. Seven county supervisors were also recalled from office. Measured by the number of officials thrown out of office, it was the biggest political scandal in Milwaukee history.

The public’s outrage led directly to the election of Scott Walker, who served from 2002-2010, and claimed the mantle of a county reformer to run successfully for governor. But it was only under his successor Chris Abele that some reform of the backdrops was passed (with belated approval by the board), though it remains to be seen if the change will survive legal challenges.

To date, 1,712 county employees have collected a backdrop benefit, which is in addition to their monthly pension. Some 740 people have gotten at least a $100,000 lump sum benefit, 255 have gotten at least $250,000 and 40 received at least $500,000.

The list below starts with the best paid employee to date, former assistant D.A. Thomas Schulz, who collected a backdrop of $1.080 million, plus an annual pension of $67,112, and goes from richest to poorest down to Deloris Bond, a nursing assistant whose backdrop payment was less than $3,200. Two other assistant DAs, Donald Jackson and William Molitor, also collected backdrops worth more than $1 million.

Other notables include Deputy District Attorney Jon Reddin ($976,499 backdrop), former county supervisor and court commissioner John Valenti ($536,051), ex-Ament aide Tom Mollan ($447,868), former county supervisor and assistant corporation counsel Richard Bussler ($425,307), court commissioner Anthony Machi ($407,816), Sheriff Lev Baldwin ($333,450), county board research staff head Tom Kuzma ($290,407), Register of Deeds Walter Barczak ($254,767), Corporation Counsel Robert Ott ($125,454). Ott and Tom Mollan were influential proponents of the pension plan and Kuzma was an Ament loyalist who some county board leaders didn’t trust to do research on the backdrop proposal. And Baldwin was accused of making political threats to board members to make sure political officials were eligible for the pension sweeteners.

As lucrative as these backdrops are, all recipients also received a monthly pension for life, which in itself was often very generous.

Backdrop Spreadsheet

Categories: Political News

14 thoughts on “Data: Richest Public Pensions in State History”

  1. Danimal says:

    Most of the people on that list are not public figures. I fail to understand how publishing their names and a benefit they received serves the interests of those living in the urban Milwaukee area.

  2. Wes says:

    Sadly, self-serving greed exists on both sides of the aisle. The cost isn’t just in dollars.

  3. Tom says:

    Good for them! I bet you think you are cool for posting all of these names. Could you please post how much you make?

  4. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Tom – Don’t have the exact number on hand, but it was under $40,000.

  5. Steve says:

    As a public employee your salary isn’t private. Nor is your pension or the “backdrop” amount you may have received. If you have concerns with this call your legislator and ask them to restrict access to this type of information. Don’t hold your breath for their help. Good luck.

  6. capper says:

    What is worth noting is that by far, the vast majority make much less than these few. Also worth noting is how many of those people with the large takes are non-represented, meaning the county executive could have stopped those at any time, but chose not to.

    But the objective of this little exercise is to try to rile people into being against the county board so that people will willingly through themselves into the hands of the corporate special interest which make up the GMC.

  7. Frank says:

    I am assuming that most of these people also get SS checks.

  8. Steve says:

    @Capper and @Jeramey Jannene,

    I love it when different factions of the vast leftwing conspiracy collide (unions fighting local hiring requirements, environmentalists fighting renewable energy projects). I also love to watch the vast rightwing conspiracy do the same (GOP Presidential debates otherwise known as Crazyfest, choice school advocates ripping non-Milwaukee public education such as Brookfield or Appleton schools).

    I am betting Jannene isn’t in league with the GMC.

  9. Bruce Murphy says:

    One reason we decided to post this information is that it cannot be found anywhere else. Milwaukee’s pension scandal received national attention, and we felt there should be one place where you can easily reference all the information on it. This will not be the last story; we intend to do more Data stories in the future. Any recommendations will be considered.

  10. Kyle says:

    There seems to be an ongoing debate about the value of Data stories compared to the potential privacy issues. JSOnline has a searchable database of teacher salaries and benefit costs. There was a paper on the east coast that published the homes of everyone with a concealed carry permit. And searchable sex offender databases are nothing new, not to mention crime reports. Given that all that information is publicly available (if not usually publicly accessible), is it biased to make it available online?

  11. Rob says:

    Make it sortable and include each person’s start date so it’s clear how long they worked to earn their pension.

  12. Questionable says:

    So is there an alphabetical form of the list available that you could post? I know a couple of retirees who don’t seem to be on the list and I wanted to see it alphabetically before tossing around accusations of the county hiding data from you.

  13. johnny says:

    to find a name all you need to do is hit control F and enter the name.

    you can also click on the on the table; hit control A; control C and then control V in an excel database.

    these are simple commands that most elementary computer users should know.

  14. Mel says:

    Also, keep in mind that these people probably saved into the county’s qualified retirement plan (403b/401k), too. This was one of the biggest scams this state has ever seen. Hats off to Bruce Murphy for breaking (and continuing to report on) the absolute pillaging of Milw. Co. taxpayers.

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