May 15, 2011
A big question at the end of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's term was what would become of her powerful chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, who some observers said had more of a direct hand in running the government than Rell did during their 6½ years in the famous second-floor suite of the Capitol.
We now have the answer — or at least a significant part of it: Moody, of Vernon, has been approved for retirement at age 51, and has begun collecting a $55,200-a-year lifetime pension, according to information obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request from the Office of the State Comptroller.
Rell and Moody, both Republicans, left office Jan. 5, the day Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was inaugurated. Lots of times, when somebody leaves as influential a post as Moody did, she lands another big job either in or out of government. This may not be the kind of score that some government big shots make when they leave office, but many people get by with less than $55,200 a year.
How does somebody retire with a pension and lifetime health benefits at age 51? In state government, there always seems to be a way — although it's a bit unusual for employees outside hazardous-duty assignments.
While employees in hazardous jobs such as the state police can retire after 20 years regardless of age, the minimum retirement for an employee in a normal job is 55, if he or she has worked at least 25 years for the state; Moody had put in nearly 29 years. (The normal age is 62 for those in Moody's category, with at least 10 but less than 25 years of state work.)
Moody was able to retire 3½ years short of age 55 on Feb. 1 under a little-known provision in the retirement statutes that the comptroller's office said is "relatively uncommon," but legal, for an employee to use.
The provision grants retirement, at a reduced rate, before age 55 for 25-year state employees under certain conditions. One condition is if they are "terminated from state service because of … lack of reappointment to a position in the unclassified service" — which is the category of state service that political appointees such as Moody fall under.
The narrowly drawn provision was inserted into the state's retirement laws in 1992. While transcripts at the State Library of 1992's legislative deliberations are a bit unclear, it appears that the provision may have been tailored for some political appointees from the recently concluded gubernatorial administration of William A. O'Neill — although a few old political hands said last week that they couldn't recall.
At any rate, the provision was inserted on the last day of the 1992 legislative session, as such provisions often are, and its approval came amid expressions of concern about people who might have been laid off. Moody wasn't laid off — she lost her job because of a change in political administrations — but she did experience a "lack of reappointment to a position in the unclassified service."
If Moody had waited until she turned 55 to begin collecting her pension, her annual benefit would have been about $5,270 a month instead of the $4,600 she has begun collecting — or $63,240 a year, instead of the $55,200 she will now receive annually. She, like other retirees, also receives lifetime state employee health insurance benefits.
Moody started building up her pension in February 1982, at age 22, as a legislative aide at the Capitol, according to the comptroller's office. In 1994, Moody was working for the state House Republicans when then-Rep. Rell became John Rowland's running mate in the 1994 election. Rell and Moody moved to the lieutenant governor's office in 1995 after their election victory, and into the governor's suite when Rowland resigned as chief executive during a corruption scandal in mid-2004.
The amount of a retiree's pension is computed on a formula involving the number of years she worked for the state, the average of her top three years of salary, and a percentage that is applied. Moody's top three years of salary began in January 2008 while she was chief of staff and averaged $157,956.
Moody could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.
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