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Jacksonville pension reform task force at odds with police and firefighters over balance of power on board

Posted: January 29, 2014 - 9:08pm  |  Updated: January 29, 2014 - 11:17pm
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown  Bruce Lipsky
Bruce Lipsky
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown

A pension reform task force took aim Wednesday at changing how the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund board is selected, putting the task force squarely at odds with police and firefighters over the balance of power on the board.

The task force agreed with Mayor Alvin Brown that mayors should get the authority to appoint the fifth member of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board.

The five-member board is a major player in pension reform because it has negotiated for years with the city over pension benefits for retirees.

Pension task force member Tad Delegal warned that trying to change the appointment of the fifth board member would face pushback from police and firefighters, complicating the drive to get comprehensive reform.

“I don’t want to sabotage our efforts,” Delegal said.

But task force members who favored giving the mayor power to appoint the fifth member say City Hall has a huge financial stake in paying for pension benefits.

Currently, police and firefighters select two board members, the City Council appoints two members, and those four members jointly choose the fifth member.

The jockeying over who should appoint that fifth member has been intense. The Duval County Legislative Delegation voted last week to support a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would give the City Council power to appoint that fifth member.

Task force chairman Bill Scheu sought to put the task force on record against that proposed legislative change by suggesting term limits as a substitute brand of reform. But Police and Fire Pension Fund Executive Director John Keane said he didn’t think his board would support term limits because that would be contrary to state law.

Brown said as a matter of accountability, he and future mayors should be able to appoint a board member.

“It would balance out the process because all the other stakeholders have appointees on the board,” he said in an interview.

Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Amos said if the mayor or City Council gained the power to appoint the fifth member of the board, it would “stack the deck” because city appointees would comprise a board majority.

“That’s huge for us,” he said.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Lt. Bobby Deal, who is chairman of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board, said the task force’s recommendation would single out Jacksonville’s board.

“There are over 400 police and fire pension funds in Florida,” he said. “All of them follow the same format.”

The task force also recommended that when it comes time to negotiate pension benefits, the city should enter collective bargaining talks with the police and firefighter unions, rather than amend an existing agreement with the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Scheu said amending the existing agreement, which runs through 2030, would be the best way to get a comprehensive solution that covers all aspect of pension reform, including changes in retirement benefits. But Scheu said that could only happen if a recent court ruling is modified or reversed on appeal.

Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace ruled in December that the city and Police and Fire Pension Fund violated state Sunshine Law last year when they negotiated changes to the agreement.

Wallace’s ruling did not specifically say the agreement, which runs through 2030, cannot spell out pension benefits. But the legal rationale behind his open-meetings ruling is the fund has acted as a representative of the unions in collective bargaining talks, and collective bargaining agreements cannot be longer than three years.

The task force voted Wednesday to recommend the agreement end sooner in 2024.

Wallace’s ruling will face review on appeal.

The city and the Police and Fire Pension Fund filed notice Wednesday that they will appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal. In addition, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters filed a motion Wednesday seeking to void the judgment.

David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581

Comments (10)

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Ib4jax 02/01/14 - 12:26 am
Premium Member

You sound like a fireman's ex

You sound like a fireman's ex wife with an axe to grind, no pun intended. Police an firefighters have always paid at least 8% of their salary into their pension. We can't say the same thing about the city's contributions. The pensions may change but they aren't going anywhere. Don't worry, you should still get your alimony check.

Lenorajo 01/31/14 - 07:23 am

The luxurious pension plans

The luxurious pension plans for firefighters and police officers is unwarranted. I'll probably catch a lot off flack for posing this question but why should they receive such huge pension payouts after only 20 years of service? Yes the jobs do have a danger factor but these careers are not even listed in the top 10 Jobs in the USA with the highest fatalities. Most of these city employees make a pretty decent salary and I am not opposed to a pension plan- the employees need to contribute more! Why should taxpayers have to fund someone else's lavish pension when they can't afford one of their own? Also, many firefighters not only receive their salary from the city, they have plenty of time off to run private businesses to generate more income. I for one am tired of all their whining, I say cut their pensions and make them contribute more! Problem Solved!

Ib4jax 01/30/14 - 07:55 pm
Premium Member

Okay, let's bring you guys

Okay, let's bring you guys into a reality check. The Mayor's recommendation on changing the law to allow him to appoint the 5th Trustee WON'T happen this year. Current employees won't have their pension changed other than increased contribution. And finally, the pension isn't going anywhere and currently the city does not participate in social security. And unless they want unqualified new hires to enforce the law, unqualified firefighters responding to life threatening calls and house fires then they won't change the pension benefits too much. Because every department in counties adjacent to us have a better pension system then Jacksonville does now. So gt over it and get ready for a tax increase because you owe the money and can't escape the debt.

johnctaughtme 01/30/14 - 07:56 pm
Premium Member

Once again, what was the

Once again, what was the history of fund management and performance for the many decades during which the City had total and complete control of the fund? CrusaderII's questions are on point.

I hope that nobody is naïve or foolish enough to go into a courtroom and assert that nobody else has a retirement plan, or everybody else has to save for their retirement.

So many of the commenters on this issue do not trust the City to deal properly with stadium issues, downtown development, The Landing, crime, education, etc., but perceive that suddenly they will become geniuses at managing the retirements of police officers and fire fighters. There is nobody who I dislike enough to wish such upon them.

Crusader II
Crusader II 01/30/14 - 06:40 am
Premium Member

The biggest mistake

The biggest mistake Jacksonville has made is having only one Newspaper. It has been proven that they slant the news to favour there editorial opinions. We have never gotten the whole truth on the pension issue.

Questions need to be answered and answered truthfully.

1. If the city had no pension system what would the cost be to the city for Social Security?
2. Without the pension benefit would the city need to pay higher wages in order to attract qualified workers?
3. Has the city paid there required and lawful amount into the pension funds over the years on time and each year?
4. Has the city borrowed from the city pension funds?
5. How much does the employee contribute to his or her pension?
6. Is the Police and Fire Pension establish under state statue?
7. Does the pension funds receive funding from Insurance premiums and moving violations?
8. If a retired city worker has a pension and has worked or takes another job after retiring he or she pays a penalty call the Wind Fall Profit Tax is that fair?
9. If the mayor or City Council has the majority vote on the pension board how long will it take for them to rob the pension funds remember the Teamsters?

TU can you answer the questions with out slanting the story or giving an editoral?

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