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