Milwaukee County Circuit Court Clerk John Barrett announced Wednesday that he plans to retire after decades with the county – but not before returning to a former position in another county department for a day for the purpose of qualifying for free health insurance for retirees and receiving sick time and vacation day payments.
Barrett, 64, said her last day as clerk would be January 23. He said he would return to the Department of Child Support Services, where he began his county career as an attorney in 1995, before retiring from the county altogether on Jan. 24.
Returning to the department, he seeks the fully paid county health care benefits available under the county ordinance to certain members of the union representing county prosecutors.
The county determined that he was not eligible for this health care benefit.
Barrett told the Journal Sentinel that he had assumed he would be grandfathered for health care benefits, which he said was important to him given his and his family’s circumstances.
“My wife has Alzheimer’s, I have heart disease and I wish I had health insurance, especially because it’s something I thought was there the whole time I worked in the county. “, did he declare.
Barrett also said he had to “preserve my right to get it if I’m going to sue,” although he said he hadn’t decided whether or not to sue.
County officials called Barrett’s plan unprecedented.
They also said they do not believe that the state law allowing county employees to take “leave of absence” from their jobs when elected to county or state office was intended to allow someone to take two decades off.
Barrett has been on leave from the county’s Department of Child Support Services since he was first elected clerk in 1998. He earns $125,000 a year as a circuit court clerk.
“In terms of other elected officials who might have requested or done something similar, I don’t know of any precedent for that, and I would also add that from the perspective of the child support agency, on the basis of law, we have no choice in any of this,” said Jim Sullivan, director of Milwaukee County Child Support Services, of Barrett’s brief return to the department.
“A Circular and Primed Argument”
Barrett’s monthly retiree premium to insure himself and his wife until he becomes eligible for Medicare in March would be $1,558 or $1,690. After March, when they are both eligible for Medicare, that monthly premium would drop to $576 or $840, depending on the county.
A Sept. 9 notice from the Milwaukee County Corporation council’s office said Barrett was using a “circular, primed argument.” He concluded that he was not eligible for the county’s fully paid health care benefit because the benefit only accrues to those who were members of the county attorneys’ union on December 31, 2011, which Barrett was not as elected.
A footnote in the notice says Barrett had waived his right to a background payment, potentially lucrative bonuses to county workers who agree to work past their retirement dates. The payments were originally expected to cost little or nothing, but led to public fury and the ousting of a series of elected officials.
Sullivan said a currently vacant position in his department means Barrett’s return won’t result in any employees being “pushed out” of their position.
However, that means the department will have to foot the roughly $14,000 bill for vacation and sick leave without getting the work it would normally get from a child support attorney in that position, said Sullivan.
The ministry’s responsibilities include establishing paternity and enforcing child support orders. His 2021 budget was around $18 million, according to Sullivan.
Barrett is entitled to a payout of 99 hours of sick leave before he was clerk and about 5 1/2 weeks of vacation time he becomes eligible upon returning to the department this year, according to the Milwaukee County human resources director. , Margo Franklin.
Elected officials can take time off but are not given specific vacation time, Franklin said.
Today, county employees are generally not eligible for paid sick leave, but Barrett is an exception because her sick days were accrued before the county changed its policy.
Barrett said he has decided to retire now to spend time with his wife, who has progressing Alzheimer’s disease.
The Court Clerk’s Office facilitates the operations of the Milwaukee County court system, including record keeping. It has nearly 300 employees and processes more than 150,000 files each year, according to its website.
Barrett praises modernization of justice system during tenure
Barrett said one of the strengths of the job is helping people navigate the justice system.
And he cited as a success the modernization of the office during his tenure, making it more user-friendly and accessible.
“Previously, news people lived in our offices, and now they can watch on their own computers and see — almost simultaneously with the filing — the news that comes in,” Barrett said.
He anticipated a future with advances such as putting court documents online instead of forcing those seeking records to go to the courthouse to request them.
The job has become more difficult with the pandemic and staffing shortages, Barrett said.
Barrett said he was amazed at how hard his staff had worked to keep business moving as they provided services for the public during the pandemic. This included transitioning to video conferencing when in-person hearings ceased due to the virus.
A majority of the county’s 47 judges are expected to appoint someone to fill the remaining months of Barrett’s term. An election is scheduled for November for the next four-year term, with the winner taking office in January 2023.
Barrett’s brother, Tom Barrett, resigned from the city last month after serving as mayor for more than 17 years to become US ambassador to Luxembourg.