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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 5 years ago

Larson calls letter into question

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Longboat Key Commissioner Lynn Larson is concerned the General Employees Pension Board of Trustees has overstepped its boundaries.

In August, the board made comments and decisions at a quarterly meeting with the intention to protect the pension plan for general employees.

At that time, board members expressed concern when Town Manager Dave Bullock announced his intention to freeze pension plans by Jan. 1 and transition them to 401(a) plans.

Trustees agreed at that meeting that they would ask the Longboat Key Town Commission to hold off on imposing changes to the plan until they received more information.

The board voted 4-0 to authorize Board of Trustees Chairwoman Donna Spencer to draft a letter asking Bullock for cost comparisons between the plan he proposed to freeze versus a pension plan that would be closed to new hires while allowing current employees to continue accruing pension benefits.

Spencer, though, didn’t draft a letter to Bullock until Oct. 1, explaining she hadn’t received enough direction from the pension board’s attorney to do so.

The letter that Spencer wrote stated: “It is further requested that no changes be made to the general employees’ retirement system prior to changes, if any, to other town pension plans and prior to the requested meeting.”

Larson, a former Longboat Key Police Pension Board trustee, is questioning, in particular, the board’s decision to send a letter.

“As a former pension trustee for the police pension board, I was not aware this is a duty the trustees should be exercising,” Larson said. “I believe its duties include management of their assets to deliver the benefits that have already been assigned to the employees.”

Board Trustee Larry Linhart informed his fellow board members in August that the board should not be asking town officials to hold off on pension changes or interfering with such issues.

“This board is a function of the plan documents ... I see nothing in the plan documents that states we have the authority to undertake this (i.e. writing a letter to ask for a pension decision delay),” Linhart said. “Our responsibility is to tell the town what the proper funding is for this plan.”

Board of Trustees attorney Lee Dehner told board members they can’t interfere with any collective bargaining process, but didn’t state the board members were crossing any line.

Bullock, meanwhile, has informed general employees and the board he can’t meet to discuss proposed pension changes now that a union is being informed.

The town’s general employees are seeking to unionize, which would freeze their benefits and pensions, forcing town staff to negotiate with them before their pension plans could be turned into 401(a) accounts.

At 9 a.m. Nov. 15, town staff will hold a telephone hearing with PERC officials to discuss the unionization before the potential members hold a vote to form a union. Bullock has also said it’s doubtful he would make any changes to the general employees plan or extend any proposals to a future union until a contract is finalized with Longboat Key Fire Rescue. Any sort of changes proposed to the general employees pension plan is no longer expected by Jan. 1.

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