Former township assessor sues Lake over retirement
BY MICHAEL GONZALEZ Post-Tribune correspondent January 15, 2014 12:50PM
Updated: February 17, 2014 8:37AM
CROWN POINT — A former public official has filed suit against Lake County, accusing it of denying him an early retirement package extended to county employees four years ago.
Former Calumet Township Assessor Booker Blumenberg’s case may force area officials to more precisely define whether an elected official is a county employee and their retirement rights.
It has been assigned to Porter Superior Court Judge William Alexa.
Blumenberg could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Trent McCain, said this week that his client should be treated as a former county employee, even if he was elected.
“There’s no reason for anyone to assume an elected official should be treated differently from a county official for retirement purposes,” McCain said. Blumenberg, who held the post for five terms — 20 years — before retiring in 2010. His paychecks came from the Lake County Auditor’s office, the same as all other county employees.
McCain said his office “has scoured” county ordinances, county employee handbooks and state law and has found no reason to declare Blumenberg was not a full-time county employee.
Lake County Commissioners Attorney John Dull and other county officials declined to comment on Blumenberg’s case, as it is pending litigation.
In 2009, the Lake County Commissioners voted to extend the first of several early retirement packages to employees over age 65 who had at least five years of continuous service. That package offered a one-time, $10,000 payment, or the retiring employees could keep health insurance by paying their active, regular employee health insurance premiums or ask the county to pay for their Medicare Part B deductibles, around $110 a month.
The offer, extended as the county was reeling from the recession, plummeting property tax revenues and property tax caps, was not popular, drawing only about 50 takers, but, for those who did, their positions would be eliminated, saving the county money in the long run, officials said then.
Blumenberg opted for the $10,000, but, in a memo to Blumenberg, attached to the court filing, Dull indicated his request would be denied. The offer, Dull noted in the memo, was for employees, not elected officials.
Elected officials are not subject to the 40-hour work weeks or 90-day probations new employees undergo, nor can their positions be eliminated.
In his court filing, McCain said Blumenberg received notice of the offer and opted to take it.
When asked why Blumenberg waited more than three years to file suit, McCain said his client “held out hope the county would do the right thing and honor its obligations to him.”
A summons was issued to county officials Dec. 9, but no hearing dates have been set.