Charlotte police chief Kerr Putney’s retirement approach could mean big payout

Charlotte police chief Kerr Putney’s retirement approach could mean big payout
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney says CMPD is continues to struggle to recruit new officers. Putney said negative publicity surrounding policing is a hurdle. (Source: JOSHUA KOMER | CHARLOTTE OBSERVER)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Jim Morrill/Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney’s unusual plan to retire at the end of the year and come back two months later could be based on a wrinkle in state retirement law — one that could give him a lump sum payment of more than $600,000.

Putney and the city announced Monday that he plans to retire Dec. 31 and return as chief in March and serve through the Republican National Convention.

With at least 27 years in law enforcement, Putney, 50, could benefit from a provision in state pension law.

Based on his service, he’s eligible for a city-paid Special Separation Allowance equivalent to a quarter of his $220,000 salary, or $55,000 per year.

If he retired with 30 years of service or more, that money would be payable in monthly installments until the age of 62.

But under a change in state law made last year, if Putney retires before reaching 30 years of service, he would be eligible to receive the allowance in a lump sum. In his case that could be more than $600,000. It’s unclear how much accrued leave time can be credited to his total service time.

If Putney planned to collect his pension upon retiring in January, a state law appears to prohibit that because of his plans to return in March.

“ ‘Retirement’ . . . shall mean the commencement of monthly retirement benefits, along with the termination of employment and the complete separation from active service with no intent or agreement, expressed or implied, to return to service,” it says. “A retirement allowance under the provisions of this Article may only be granted upon retirement of a member.”

City officials said they interpret the statute differently.

“The intention for our transition plan is a solution that is in the best interests of the city, the citizens of Charlotte and Chief Putney,” the city said in a statement. “There is no intent to circumvent the law. The statute does not prohibit from hiring back a retiree, which is a widely-accepted practice across the country.

“The statute defines retirement but does not define the terms by which a retiree may return for limited service. We plan to have Chief Putney return to the city in 2020 to run the day-to-day operations of our police department while also leading security efforts surrounding the (RNC) . . . while following all rules for retiree hire-backs. We will seek further clarification from the N.C. retirement system.”

Putney, who has spent his entire career at CMPD with the last four years as chief, said last fall that he planned to stay as chief through the GOP convention. That’s scheduled for late August 2020.

“Chief Putney made a commitment to Charlotte to lead our security efforts during the RNC, and I know that is important to him,” City Manager Marcus Jones said in a statement Monday. “Because of his experience with the city’s efforts for the DNC in 2012 and his involvement with the current RNC planning, I want him to return . . . while also helping (him) meet his personal commitments.”

Putney could start receiving his pension when he finally leaves the department after the convention, according to an expert in pension law.

In an internal police department video Monday, Putney said, “We’re going to execute what we’ve started. We’ve got to finish it.”

Jones said he plans to name an interim chief before Putney’s return, and a permanent chief after the convention.

Putney has been with the department since August 1992. Before he became chief in 2015, he served in other roles including deputy chief.