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101415-news-Debate

Cayuga County Legislator Joseph Bennett speaks during a debate for the District 10 seat on the Cayuga County Legislature Tuesday at Cayuga Community College.

AUBURN — Cayuga County Legislator Joseph Bennett is scheduled to be reappointed to his District 10 seat at Tuesday's special Legislature session after he resigned last month in order to be eligible for a pension from his job at Cayuga Community College.

Bennett, D-Auburn, resigned as a legislator on May 30 in order to receive the pension he earned from 11 years as a maintenance mechanic at CCC to comply with a state law that prohibits receiving a pension while remaining a public employee.

According to Bennett, he was advised by the state pension system, since CCC and the county government are part of the same system, that he needed a “break in service” to comply. To do so, he submitted a letter of resignation to Legislature Chairman Patrick Mahunik, D-Auburn, on May 30 before working his last day at CCC on May 31.

If successfully reappointed, Bennett, who is serving his second term after being re-elected in 2015, will have to face a special election a year early, a possibility he said he was prepared for.

“What happens happens. That's the nature of the beast, that's state law, state rules,” Bennett said. “I would hope people would put me in there at least for the one year to finish out my term.”

Receiving a pension while still working as a public employee, often referred to as "double dipping," can be a controversial practice. In 2015, for example, state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, came under fire for using a special loophole allowing state legislators who took office before 1995 to collect their pension as a legislator while still serving, despite previously condemning the practice.

In 2007, then-Cayuga County Legislature Chairman George Fearon similarly resigned from his elected position in order to receive retirement benefits from the Union Springs Central School District.

At that time, in response to concerns from other legislators and the public at his reappointment, Fearon promised to only receive benefits from the school district and not have the county contribute to his retirement.

Current Legislature Chairman Patrick Mahunik, D-Auburn, said it was unfortunate that a procedural step had to be taken for Bennett to receive his pension, and suggested the state reform its rules.

“I think someone that's worked their entire life deserves access to their pension. I don't want to put barriers up for people that serve publicly,” Mahunik said.

Without a break in service, Bennett was told his wife would be unable to receive any of his pension benefits were anything to happen to him, prompting his decision.

“I have to look after my family first,” Bennett said.

The special Legislature meeting is scheduled at 5 p.m. at the Cayuga County Office Building at 160 Genesee St.

Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2230 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin

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