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  #991  
Old Yesterday, 01:38 PM
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Mary Pat Campbell
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BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bre...622-story.html

Quote:
Baltimore Co. officer's widow sues over pension benefits

Spoiler:
The widow of a slain Baltimore County police officer is suing the county over his pension benefits.

In the lawsuit filed last month in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Ericka Schneider Barnes, who was married to Officer Jason Schneider, says the county should not have stopped paying her his pension benefits when she remarried in 2016.

Schneider, 36, was shot to death in August 2013 while trying to serve a warrant at a Catonsville home.

Schneider Barnes previously took her case to the county’s Board of Appeals. But in March, the panel concluded it did not have jurisdiction in the matter and dismissed the case.

Years after Baltimore County officer was killed, remarried widow fights to keep pension benefits
The officer had a son with his first wife. According to legal filings with the appeals board, Schneider Barnes and the officer’s first wife signed an agreement with the county in October 2013. It said that Schneider Barnes would begin receiving the $74,721 annual pension. But if she remarried before Schneider’s son turned 18, the payments would shift to the child until the boy turned 18 or, if he stayed in school, for up to five additional years.

In 2015, the County Council changed the pension rules to allow the spouse of an officer killed in the line of duty to continue collecting pension benefits even after remarrying.

Schneider Banes remarried in October 2016, “based on the County Council’s decision,” according to her lawsuit.

Section of road dedicated to Baltimore County officer killed in 2013 raid
The county then shifted the pension benefits to the officer’s son. County officials have maintained that the 2015 legislation was not retroactive and didn’t nullify the previous agreement.

“The County’s only interest is in protecting the child of a fallen officer,” county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said Friday in a statement to The Sun.

No hearings have been scheduled in the case, according to court records. The lawsuit asks the court to direct the county to resume the payments to Schneider Barnes and to pay her $6,400 a month since December 2016 until a court decision is made.


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  #992  
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Mary Pat Campbell
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SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA

https://www.thetimes-tribune.com/new...eeds-1.2353639

Quote:
Scranton pension board frustated by delay in transferring sale proceeds

Spoiler:
Scranton’s composite pension board is demanding the city deposit $22.9 million in sewer sale proceeds earmarked for pensions into a board-controlled account pending final distribution into the police, fire and nonuniform funds.

The board directed its solicitor Wednesday to advise the city it would file a lawsuit to force the transfer if it declines the request. The action comes amid growing concerns about lost interest and the potential the proceeds could be at risk should the city lose any of several pending lawsuits it faces.

Money earmarked for pensions has sat in an escrow account the city controls since January 2017. The account earned interest, but it paled in comparison to what it would have earned had it been deposited into the pension funds.

The end-of-year statement for the account showed it earned just $109,070 in interest in 2017, for a rate of return of just 0.47 percent. The pension funds saw a 14.1 percent return on investments in 2017.

“If the money was in last year, we could have made at least $1 million,” board member John Hazzouri said Friday.

Business Administrator David Bulzoni said the low return is tied to limitations the city had in investing the money. By law, municipalities are not permitted to invest municipal funds in high-risk investments.

“With the restrictions we had, we could not invest the dollars with the same flexibility the fund manager invests pension dollars,” he said.

The board also is concerned the money remains in an account titled to the city. That opens up the possibility that if a plaintiff wins a judgment against the city, he or she could seek to seize the funds for payment. If the account is held by the pension board, the money would be off limits for the judgment.

The city currently faces several significant lawsuits, including two class-action suits that challenge its rental registration fees and trash fees, and another suit that alleges it over-collected wage and other taxes from residents.

“I’m not going to answer to my membership if I didn’t do whatever I was supposed to do to make sure that money can’t be taken,” board member John Judge said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Judge is among board members who have called for months for the money to be transferred into a trust account the board controls. The city and pension board postponed making the transfer, however, to avoid paying additional fees associated with creating a new investment account.

David Mitchell, president of the composite pension board, said he recommended the board hold off because he believed the transfer from the city-controlled account directly into the pension funds was imminent. It has been delayed, however, because of trouble finalizing an agreement on disability pension reform.

Approval of the agreement stalled because the fire union has not yet signed off on a neutral panel of physicians who were chosen to evaluate all disability applicants.

Contacted Friday, Jim Sable, president of the fire union, said he was concerned about the fees the doctors are charging. The city now agreed to pay half the fee, he said. He said he believes that will resolve the concerns, but firefighters still must approve the agreement. They are set to vote next month.

Danielle Kennedy, the city’s director of human resources and composite board member, said assuming the agreement is approved, attorneys for the city and union must finalize it in writing. The money would then be transferred into the pension funds.

Board members said they do not want to wait any longer. They voted 7-2, with Kennedy and Hazzouri casting dissenting votes, to direct solicitor Larry Durkin to send a letter to the city advising it to transfer the money to a new, board-controlled account within 10 days or the board will sue.


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  #993  
Old Yesterday, 01:39 PM
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YOLO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

https://www.davisenterprise.com/loca...-jury-reports/

Quote:
City, county respond to grand jury reports

Spoiler:
Yolo County sharply disagreed with elements of a recently released grand jury report on the county’s child welfare services program, calling the report’s linkage of six recent child deaths to the county’s data systems sensationalized and inappropriate, and “without any supporting evidence,” in a statement released Friday.

Also on Friday, the city of Davis issued a response to a separate grand jury report on public pensions, outlining efforts the city has taken to deal with pension and retiree health benefit costs as well as efforts made to educate the public on these issues.

Both government agencies will submit formal responses to the grand jury reports as required by law.

Where blame lies

The grand jury report released on Thursday contends the county’s child welfare system, as well as county supervisors, will continue to be blindsided by reports of sudden crises involving abused and neglected children — and will be hampered in their ability to prevent such crises — unless the county improves its data analysis resources.

The report recommends that the Yolo County Board of Supervisors fund a data-analytics unit in the Child, Youth and Family branch of the Health and Human Services Agency that would give social workers the information they need to proactively prevent child maltreatment and reduce safety risks in children’s homes.

But the report also cites the deaths of six Yolo County children since 2015 as evidence that the county has not done enough in that regard.

The county disagrees, saying in a statement issued Friday that the report “tends to sensationalize the grand jury’s findings and recommendations by inappropriately and without any supporting evidence, implying that the county’s child welfare services staff somehow failed to prevent the murder of six children by their fathers in three separate 2017 incidents.”

Those cases, which followed the highly publicized death of 19-day-old Justice Rees in Knights Landing in 2015, include the September 2017 asphyxiation deaths of three West Sacramento siblings; the November 2017 sexual assault and drowning death of a 4-year-old Winters girl in Winters’ Putah Creek; and the New Year’s Eve 2017 deaths of two sisters whose father set fire to his car in a West Sacramento parking lot.

There is no link, the county contends, between those fatalities and the “continuous quality improvement and data collection findings and recommendations expressed in the report.”

“The report contains a good discussion of the seriousness of child abuse and neglect and its consequences for both children and their communities as they mature. That text is sufficient to express the important context for the grand jury’s findings and recommendations, and there is no need to refer also to six fatalities unrelated to any substantiated failure of the county child welfare system,” the county says.

“None of the six 2017 victims were involved in any way with the county’s child welfare system. Despite this, the report presents each incident as a ‘case’ in bulleted text. Presenting information in this matter seems to imply at least a degree of formal agency involvement with each family, an implication that the report encourages by stating ‘even though some of these children died before their families came to the attention of the child welfare authorities …’ The facts are simply that none of these children were involved with child welfare with the sole exception of (Justice Rees) in January 2015.”

The county further argues, “there is no verified factual basis to support the statement that ‘each death represents a failure of the system.’

“The child welfare system simply was not involved with any of these children or their families. It thus cannot be faulted for these fatalities. The report’s suggestion that ‘sometimes … inadequate communication and coordination between social services and law enforcement’ contributed to these deaths is similarly baseless to our knowledge.”

“For these reasons, the county respectfully disagrees with those specific discussions in the grand jury report believing they are unnecessary to support the grand jury’s findings and recommendations and are not supported by credible evidence.”

City issues

Meanwhile, the city of Davis has responded to another report released by the grand jury last week.

That report, on the pension crises facing the county’s four cities, recommended that cities educate residents about the impact of the pension crisis, and take additional steps to deal with it.

In response, the city of Davis released a statement of its own Friday:

“While the city of Davis will provide a more thorough formal response to the report, as required by law, once staff and the City Council have had adequate time for review, and while we wholeheartedly concur with the grand jury that transparency is critical to the public discussion on this topic, the city does believe that the issue has been a significant part of the public discourse over the past few years. The city is likewise committed to ensuring that the discussion continues into the future.”

The statement outlines some of the steps already taken in that regard, including the development of a long-term fiscal model that shows the effect of pension and retiree costs over the next 20 years as well as multiple public meetings before the City Council and the Finance and Budget Commission where the city’s pension issues have been discussed.

Additionally, as part of the fiscal forecast model starting with Fiscal Year 2017-18, the city added an entire chapter to its annual budget document specifically on forecasting. The chapter details the issues surrounding increased costs related to pensions.

City staff and City Council members have spoken about pension costs at organizational meetings, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary and the Kiwanis, and Mayor Robb Davis has written several articles over the past four years addressing pensions and post-employment benefit costs.

The City Council also has been working to educate and inform employee groups during labor negotiations and has reached cost-share agreements with several groups.

“As mayor, I have written and spoken frequently about these issues and they have been dealt with openly in at least 10 publicly noticed meetings in the last two years alone,” Davis said in response to the report.

“Starting in 2016, in several articles published in local news sources and public presentations to the Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City event and local service clubs, I laid out the challenges Davis is facing vis-a-vis pensions,” Davis said.

In addition to outreach, the City Council has been making efforts to reduce city obligations, the city’s statement said, including a $2 million payment from General Fund reserves in 2017 to pay down a portion of its unfunded liability for retiree medical costs.

The council also has negotiated with labor groups so that employees pay a larger percentage of costs than is typical for other California cities.

“Both fire and police employees contribute 12 percent of salary to cover their shares of retirement costs, 3 percent more than is required by CalPERS,” the city says.

“Two other labor groups have just agreed to pay in excess of the required 8 percent of salary if PERS costs increase beyond what is currently expected over the next few years. And, of course, employees new to the PERS system since 2013 receive reduced retirement benefits, as per the requirements laid out in the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, also known as “PEPRA.”

“Each of these actions serves to address the city’s ongoing pension liabilities,” the city statement said.

The city’s statement notes that “rising pension costs are a real issue.

“It is also a complicated issue statewide that takes time to address. The City of Davis and its City Council agree that transparency and outreach are crucial and look forward to continuing and intensifying our engagement efforts with the broader community, amongst other leaders throughout Yolo County and across the state.”


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  #994  
Old Yesterday, 01:40 PM
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Mary Pat Campbell
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MADISON, WISCONSIN

https://host.madison.com/wsj/news/lo...7dc9245b7.html

Quote:
Current, former Madison City Council members get state pension coverage — and a bill

Spoiler:
In a city as civic-minded as Madison, the 20 members of the City Council have always worked a lot — whether in all-night meetings on the budget, at presentations to neighborhood groups or in debate over nonbinding resolutions on the latest controversial national and international issues.

Now the city has come up with an estimate of the total amount of time the average council member spends on city business: 1,082 hours a year, or about 21 hours a week. And it’s triggered a statutorily mandated $177,767 city payment to cover seven years’ worth of past-due contributions to enroll some former and current council members in the state pension system, as well as bills to those members requiring them to reimburse the city for more than a third of that cost.

“Council members have always been covered individuals eligible for (Wisconsin Retirement System) benefits, if they meet the requirements,” city finance director David Schmiedicke said. “It was a matter of documenting the hours worked. That had not been provided by council members until recently.”

Under state law, local officials elected before July 1, 2011, who work more than 600 hours a year on local government business were supposed to be automatically enrolled in WRS. For those elected on or after July 1, 2011, they needed to work at least 1,200 hours a year. Since that’s more hours than the average Madison council member works, that means council members elected after that date aren’t eligible for WRS.

State law requires municipalities to enroll elected officials retroactively in WRS if they were eligible, as those elected before July 2011 were. But the law also doesn’t allow the state to demand delinquent contributions beyond the past seven years.

That’s where the city’s bill of $177,767, paid to the state Department of Employee Trust Funds, comes in. It represents city taxpayer and council member payments that should have been made to WRS from 2010 to 2017, plus $44,253 in interest.

Those elected before July 1, 2011 — eight members of the current council — are also grandfathered in under the old 600-hour threshold, according to Schmiedicke, meaning that they and city taxpayers will continue to pay into the pension system, and that upon retirement, members will be entitled to a state pension.

Meanwhile, the 2011 Act 10 — known for effectively eliminating collective bargaining rights for most public-sector workers — requires public employees to cover half of their pension contributions. They weren’t required to pay anything before that, and many municipalities covered the employee portions.

So that’s why Ald. Mike Verveer, the council’s longest-serving member, received a bill this week for $5,005.80, and why former Ald. Chris Schmidt got one for just under $4,300, and why current Ald. Paul Skidmore, on the council since 2005, got a bill for about $4,800.

+4
Chris Schmidt
Schmidt

Deputy city attorney Patricia Lauten, who has been handling the past-due WRS payments, was out of the office late last week, and other city officials didn’t know how many past and current council members received bills, or for how much.

But the group is expected to pay the city back a total of $67,039, including interest, for employee pension contributions they were supposed to be making from August 2011 to April 17, 2017, or whenever they left the council. Their employee contributions from April 20, 2010, through July 2011 are being covered by the city, as was allowed prior to Act 10. Beginning in April of last year, the city began deducting the employee portion of eligible council members’ pension contributions from their paychecks.

“It’s not common that a city elected official is included in the retirement system,” said Matt Stohr, a spokesman for the state Department of Employee Trust Funds, which administers WRS, because most don’t work enough hours on city business to qualify.

In Madison’s case, council members will draw pensions based only on the number of years they paid into the system, not the number of years they served on the council.

+4
Mike Verveer
Verveer

JOE PASKUS
If Verveer were to leave the council next year, for example, his pension wouldn’t be based on his 24 years of service; it would be based on the years of service he was paying into WRS, or nine.“They only get what they pay for,” Stohr said.

Growing stature
The council’s enrollment in the state pension fund is the latest sign of its increasing stature. It is already three to eight seats larger than city councils in five other of Wisconsin’s largest cities, including Milwaukee, and in recent years has given itself a 63 percent raise while adding key staff, including a chief of staff, and making members eligible for city health and dental benefits.

Verveer has generally supported the council’s expanding role, noting that Madisonians demand a comparatively high level of service from their elected officials.

“We are not considered a full-time professional legislative body,” Verveer said, but “we clearly put in long, hard hours. But most of us knew what we were signing up for.”

The current salary for a Madison council member is $12,979.72, or about $12 an hour based on a 1,082-hour year. The council president and vice president make $15,793.70 and $14,002.30, respectively.

Mayor Paul Soglin, however, has complained about the council’s mission creep and expanding powers.

+4
Paul Soglin
Soglin

“With no public input, the (city) council basically moved from a part-time to a full-time legislative body,” he said. “Already one of the largest councils on a per-capita basis as a part-time body, it is now exceptional in its size.”

He said it should be “downsized” to six or eight members if members are to be eligible for health and retirement benefits.

In a compromise between Soglin and the council, the council created a Task Force on Structure of City Government last year. Verveer said it will answer questions such as “Is the (city) council the right size or not?” and “Is the (city) council sufficiently supported or not?” The group has been meeting since February and is expected to deliver its recommendations by the end of the year, although task force member Skidmore said there’s “no chance” of that happening by then.

+4
Paul Skidmore
Skidmore

MADISON CITY COUNCIL
Additional compensation
Schmidt — who served on the council from April 2009 to January 2016, including as council president from 2013-15 — said he was “not thrilled” to get the bill from the city last week and questioned the legality of the timing of enrolling council members in WRS.

State law prohibits elected officials from applying pay or benefits increases to their current terms of office, meaning such changes can take effect only after the officials’ next elections.

In retroactively enrolling council members in WRS, “it creates this additional compensation that we didn’t have when we were elected,” Schmidt said. “We’re getting benefits after the fact.”

But Schmiedicke said the WRS enrollment is different from elected officials giving themselves a pay increase mid-term.

“There is no ability to individually opt-in or opt-out of the WRS,” he said. “If it is determined that an employee meets the requirements for a benefit, then they are enrolled and, in the case of the retirement accounts, contributions must be made.”
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