Last week, the chief of Portland's fire bureau, Ed Wilson, left to take the chief's job at Lake Oswego. Oddly enough, he took a slight pay cut. But closer examination reveals why Wilson would leave his current position for a lower-paying job: He will continue to receive a $98,000-a-year pension from Portland.

Wilson's departure and subsequent double-dipping brings to light a troubling flaw in the city's pension system for the fire and police bureau: The system actually encourages top city management to depart. Pensions are meant to reward service and to keep retirement pastures green, not to pad subsequent salaries. Yet the current system keeps the revolving door at both the police and fire bureau well oiled. The police bureau alone has pushed through five chiefs in 10 years. In pensions, that's almost enough money to fund 10 new officers.

The city needs to remove the generous incentive for police and fire chiefs to move along. What about a simple stipulation stating that a departed chief cannot receive his full pension if he is employed as a city employee elsewhere? This would be an obvious problem for the new mayor to work on.

Unfortunately, Mayor-elect Tom Potter also benefits from this system. The former police chief receives a pension that will continue to be heaped on top of his $100,000 mayoral salary.

(Instead of nearly doubling his salary with his pension, the Mercury suggests that, during his tenure, Potter should channel his pension to fund new officers' salaries. With a woefully understaffed police force, this expenditure is much more important than Potter's Mexico vacations.)

However, it looks as if Potter will not be so generous with his money. Although Potter's campaign brought him out of retirement and won him a $100,000 annual salary, the campaign also cost $8,500 of his own money. Now, to make up that difference, he is asking citizens (who have an average salary of $42,000) to chip in to pay off his meager debt.

Last week, Potter's website posted a plea for more post-election donations: "With the election over," the posting reads, "Tom's campaign must erase a small amount of remaining debt. To further his vision of equal access to City Hall, we are accepting new contributions."

Portland needs employees whose primary concern is the city's benefit--not their own bank accounts. PHIL BUSSE