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By Janie Har May 8, 2012

Is John Ludlow the only candidate in the race to refuse to join PERS and can he?

Wilsonville businessman John Ludlow is in a four-way race for Clackamas County Commission Chair in next week's election. He says that he is the only candidate in the race "who will refuse to join the Public Employees Retirement System."

Is he the only candidate in the race to make such a promise? Perhaps just as important a question: Are elected officials even able to decline joining the retirement system?

The Public Employees Retirement System is a hot-button issue with critics who claim it eats way too much money, hurting taxpayers to benefit public employees. The retirement program is open to participating employers, from the state of Oregon to school districts and cities.

We turned to Paul Cleary, the retirement system's executive director. He pointed to Oregon Revised Statutes 238A.100 (2):

A person who is elected or appointed to an office with a fixed term ...may elect not to become a member of the pension program by giving the Public Employees Retirement Board written notice not later than 30 days after taking office.

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The trick here, says Cleary, is that for a person to decline membership, that person cannot have been a PERS member, ever. Ludlow is a former Wilsonville city councilor and served as Wilsonville’s mayor from 1989 to 1991, but received no retirement benefits from his time in public office.

Ludlow, 63, says he has never been a member of PERS, and the Public Employees Retirement System confirms he is not a member.

The other Clackamas County commission chair candidates are members of the Public Employees Retirement System. They are county Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan, county Commissioner Paul Savas, and state Rep. Dave Hunt. They cannot opt out. Savas said he never knew he could decline to join.  

He is the only candidate who will refuse, and who can refuse, to join PERS. We expect Ludlow to keep his promise if he wins, and we rate his statement True.

Our Sources

Interview with John Ludlow, May 4, 2012
Interview with Steve Rodeman, PERS deputy director, May 4, 2012
Interview with and email from Paul Cleary, PERS executive director, May 4, 7, 2012
Interview with Dave Hunt, May 7, 2012
Interview with Paul Savas, May 7, 2012
Emails from David Crosley, PERS spokesman, May 7-8, 2012
Interview with Chris Edmonds, Lehan campaign manager, May 7, 2012
Oregon Revised Statutes, Chapter 238A

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