State police chief set to get $502K plus pension

Michael Gerstein, and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to correct Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue’s annual pension amount. Incomplete information was initially supplied by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Lansing — When she decides to retire, Michigan State Police chief Kriste Kibbey Etue will leave the force with more than a half-million dollars and a $91,920.64 annual pension, according to a state document obtained by The Detroit News in an open records request.

Etue has earned more than $502,000 in extra pension benefits that she could start receiving next year in addition to her six-figure salary, a document from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget shows. Critics at the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland call the practice “double dipping.”

The additional pension benefits have taken on significance since the Detroit branch of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and others have called for Etue’s firing or resignation.

They urged the action after the state police chief shared a social media post Sept. 24 on her private Facebook page ridiculing “degenerate” professional football players for silent protests of racial injustice during the national anthem.

Gov. Rick Snyder has refused to fire Etue after the controversial the post for which Etue apologized, and has already committed to reappointing her in February. But late last week he docked her five days’ pay for violating the state police’s social media policy — the most severe punishment allowed.

Rep. John Cirkun, D-Roseville, said he doesn’t think Etue should earn such a high amount of extra pension benefits compared with other state troopers who are risking their safety to do their job. The former Wayne County deputy sheriff called the $502,152 an “exorbitant” amount.

“I’m talking about the troops on the street, they risk their lives every day. ... When you’re an administrator, you fall in a whole different category,” Chirkun said. “You’re not down in the freeway ditches on an everyday basis.”

“There’s a big disconnect there.”

State lawmakers and then-Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm created the deferred retirement program in 2004 to let state police employees with 25 years or more service start earning pension money while working if they stay in state government six years past their original retirement date. It was an attempt to save money while slowing attrition among experienced state police.

Since statement government was strapped for revenues, legislators couldn’t fund training for new classes of recruits to replace troopers who left through normal attrition. The number of active troopers fell from 1,344 in 2000 to 1,080 in 2003 before gradually falling to 1,036 in 2007, according to the Michigan House Fiscal Agency.

Trooper levels have been rebuilt as the economy and state revenues improved. The state police employed 1,121 troopers on Sept. 23, according to the agency.

“DROP is a way to maintain experienced personnel and staffing strength when hiring alone is unable to effectively address attrition,” said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner.

‘Outstanding leadership’

Since 2012, Etue has been participating in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan that allowed her to accumulate extra pension benefits for putting off retirement.

She earned $502,152 in additional deferred pension benefits through Sept. 30.

Etue could start withdrawing that money in February on top of a salary of at least $165,000 — what she is making this year, according to an MLive database. She also has her regular pension of more than $91,900 a year, which she could begin collecting after she leaves the force.

A state employee is eligible for DROP after 25 or more years of service, and pensions are equivalent to 60 percent of the average of the final two years of an employee’s salary. Etue has worked for the state police for 30 years.

In 2016 and this year alone, Etue has accrued $117,734 and $141,326, respectively, in extra pension benefits she could access in 2018.

“If she does continue to work through 2018, then she would also collect a pension after Feb. 1, 2018,” said Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Snyder’s office has said he intends to reappoint her in part because of her “outstanding leadership.”

Full or partial payments

State police employees who enroll in the DROP program can access the money as a full or partial lump sum. They can also transfer it to another account or keep it in the DROP account and continue earning 3 percent interest.

The extra pension benefits can be withdrawn in quarterly installments. But all of the money in the account must be taken out by April 1 of the year when an employee turns 70 and 6 months old.

The program started as a way to save state money on pension costs because employees who enter the program would receive less than their full pension payout for five of the six maximum years they can be enrolled, said Mitch Bean, an Eaton Rapids-based economic consultant and former House Fiscal Agency director before he left the agency in 2011. It is a form of early retirement, he said.

“They did it because they thought it would save money,” Bean said. “I haven’t seen numbers to prove one way or another.”

But James Hohman, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center, said the deferred retirement program is “just another way the state continues to underfund pensions.”

“The state government did put money aside to help pay for this expensive program, but it pays an employee twice for working — especially those who make the most money,” Hohman said. “This extra pension benefit has ended up adding to a growing state pension liability, and it’s a problem the Legislature is still grappling with.”

Etue’s pension boost

Here is how much Michigan State Police Director Kribe Kibbey Etue has earned each year in additional benefits under the Deferred Retirement Option Plan:

2012: $16,207.25

2013: $58,223.99

2014: $73,519.99

2015: $95,145.19

2016: $117,734.44

2017: $141,326.34

Balance (Sept. 30): $502,157.20

Source: Michigan Office of Retirement Services