Fair and Balanced? E-mail
Written by Cynthia Brown   

Moments after the Fort Worth City Council in Texas voted to approve major changes in the city's employee pension plan, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officer's Association said the organization intends to file suit. Sgt. Steve Hall, noted the changes are unconstitutional under the Texas constitution, which bars reductions in vested benefits.

“We do intend to file a lawsuit," Hall said after council's vote.

Council members voted 8-0-1, with Council member Kelly Allen Gray, whose husband is a Fort Worth officer, recusing herself.

Mayor Betsy Price, who had characterized the city manager's plan as "fair," said, "this is not a vote against police. It's not a vote against any of our employees."

But Fort Worth cops had a different take.

“I am extremely disappointed with the City of Fort Worth and the elected officials,” Hall said. “The Fort Worth Police Officer's Association came to the table with the intent of working toward an agreeable solution to the City's desire for pension reform. We hired an actuary to study the funding options, educated our members and moved forward with a proposal that would have amounted to an additional $30 million dollars to the retirement fund.  This included $13 million in increased contributions from Ft. Worth officers. This fell on deaf ears. Apparently the repayment of a campaign debt and promise to cut benefits was the only option that the City was interested in.”

Hall noted that regardless of the outcome and what happens in court, he is extremely proud of his members. “They voted overwhelmingly — 98 percent of those who returned a ballot — to increase their contributions to the retirement fund. I think we are all a little shocked our money wasn't good enough.”

Ron DeLord, the former president of CLEAT who has been advising the Fort Worth POA as they struggle to hold the city to its contractual agreements, said that the anti-pension war has definitely spread to the state of Texas with a fallout that’s been swift and deadly.

“The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has been mounting attacks on defined benefit plans for several years,” DeLord said.  “The local rag — the Fort Worth Star Telegram — is their mouthpiece.”

Going back to last April, after surface bargaining over pensions with the Police Association, the city never changed its position demanding severe reductions in benefits for both new and vested officers.

The city ordinance changed non-vested and new hire benefits effective January 1, 2013 which is legal. However, the city reduced vested employee benefits effective October 1, 2013 by changing the 3.0 multiplier to 2.5 and changed the best three years to the best five years.

This would mean a 25 percent reduction in retirement benefits and officers will have to work an extra six years to receive the benefits they were promised.

At the 140-day 2013 session of the Texas legislature which starts in January it is expected that the Texas Municipal League will be pushing for a constitutional amendment that will end vested rights of public employees. Also on their agenda will be a push to get a bill passed that will prohibit using tax dollars to fund a pension.

“Fort Worth officers voted by a 98 percent majority to increase their contributions by 3 percent,” noted Ron DeLord. “Under the law the city could accept or reject the vote. The 8-0 vote rejecting the union’s offer in October was the outcome.

“There is real insult here. The Fort Worth POA has endorsed every council member except the mayor. The lesson is simple — you cannot rely on elected officials to keep their word and make a fair and balanced decision.”

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