SAN BERNARDINO -- Yet another department head will stop working for the city within a week, but it's not because either she or the city is unhappy with her work.
Interim Library Director Deborah Clark said she's loved heading San Bernardino's library system since March 2010 and is in the middle of leading several important transitions there.
Both Mayor Pat Morris and the head of the library board Milton Clark say she's done an exemplary job.
But she isn't eligible to keep drawing a public paycheck because she's also getting retirement benefits from her previous job as director of Rancho Cucamonga's libraries, according to a letter from the California Public Employee Retirement System.
Retirees can work another job part-time - up to 960 hours per year - but since at least January 2012, state law has limited that part-time employment to 12 months in most cases.
That means Clark must reimburse CalPERS for all retirement benefits received since March 2011 or stop working for San Bernardino, and she must notify CalPERS of what she's done by Wednesday, a CalPERS representative told Clark and the city in a letter sent last month.
"I'm going kicking and screaming," Clark said, "but we're treating May 8 as my last day. "
Clark said she raised the issue with the city's then-human relations director shortly after the implementation of the law that, as CalPERS said in a January 2012 notification letter to all public agencies, changed retirement law "to clarify that this interim appointment is limited to 12 months from the appointment date," among other changes.
That human relations director was replaced by another, but both said CalPERS agreed to let Clark stay on because of the city's emergency condition - its bankruptcy filing in August - according to Clark. She said she tried unsuccessfully to get that in writing, then heard from CalPERS on April 8.
"CalPERS recently received notification that you have been working as the Interim Library Director for the City of San Bernardino since March 11, 2010, while continuing to receive your monthly retirement allowance," the letter says. "... If you wish to remain retired, you must cease employment immediately and notify me by May 8, 2013. "
Clark said she's been looking for a replacement since receiving that letter, but it's difficult in a department that's down to 12 full-time employees and where the city's bankruptcy means a replacement could soon find their job outsourced.
"It is really difficult right now to bring people on board to work for the city because you don't know if the job will be there next week," she said.
The heads of most of the city's departments have left in the past year.
Morris said there weren't many who could match Clark's performance.
"She has been a sheer genius at making an underfunded library work at the highest level of efficiency of service," he said. "I think she's an inspiring leader and an eternal optimist. "
A staff member will fill the position temporarily until the library board finds a replacement, said Milton Clark, president of the San Bernardino Public Library board.
"It's definitely a PERS issue, because we'd keep Debbie as long as we could," said Milton Clark, who is not related. "In the time she's been here, she has done a magnificent job and will be greatly missed. "
Even as she recommends shifting three more employees to part-time status and waits for expected bids from for-profit companies to run the library system at a lesser cost, Clark said she still has hope.
"I love libraries, and the system here in San Bernardino has some wonderful libraries," she said. "We're fighting like crazy to save them. "