Double Dipping Stirs Controversy in Hobbs

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

A case of "Double Dipping" has thrust one Hobbs city official in the limelight. "Double Dipping" is when a government employee retires from his or her job, collects a pension, then returns to public service, often to the same exact position.

That's just what the city manager in Hobbs is doing, just one day before it becomes illegal in New Mexico. Now, some former city employees say they were denied the very same deal.

Hobbs City Manager Eric Honeyfield has been in this office for about 2 and a half years, with a $140,000 salary. After a 6-to-1 commissioners vote, come June 30th, he'll collect retirement plus his wages as a city employee. All combined he'll make more cash than the governor of New Mexico or even the Vice President of the United States.

"Nobody, including me anticipated this law taking effect so quickly, so I had to do a lot of extraordinary measures," Eric Honeyfield, Hobbs City Manager said. "I had to buy a month of airtime, I had to retire early in order to fulfill the required 90 day sabbatical between being employed and coming back."

Some people in Hobbs are crying foul. We caught up with two former city employees who told us they were denied the exact same deal, and it was Mr. Honeyfield who told them "no."

"I was told specifically by Honeyfield, 'No the city is not going to start doing that,'" Lorna Jackson, Former School Resource Officer, said. "Now he's turning around and doing the same thing. I believe no should have been no."

Jackson worked for the school district as a school resource officer. When she decided to retire two years ago, Honeyfield told her she would not be allowed to work again as a city employee. The same thing happened to Stan Durham, who was a sergeant with Hobbs Police and decided to go work for the Lea County Sheriff after being turned down for double dipping.

"Why is the experience he's put in better than my experience that I've put in for 20 years?" Durham said. "I've put 20 years in the community and he's only put 2 years in. I'm very upset."

The officers told us the big problem is that the police department is losing valuable employees who have twenty-plus years of training under their belt.

"The people at the top are just taking care of themselves," Durham said. "Why don't they ask the people in the community what they would rather do without? The experience of the city manager or the experience of the law enforcement that are here protecting them on the streets."

Some of the people we spoke with say, as taxpayers, they don't want to absorb the city manager's big salary, but Honeyfield told us that cost won't change.

"My wage under the new contract is identical to the old wage under the former contract and in fact, includes no increases for the next 2 years," Honeyfield said.

But that doesn't sit well with a former employee.

"I think if he wants to be City Manager, his name needs to be in the hat with everyone else who wants to be City Manager," Jackson said.