December 26, 2008

Out with the old, in with the new

A controversial 19-member panel looking into the possibility of snatching excess pension cash to pay for other retirement benefits for city workers has been tossed on the junk heap.
“I’m not so sure a 19-member committee is all that functional,” said T.J. Barnes, who chaired it. “It didn’t seem like it was going to be worth everybody’s time.”
He called it “doomed to failure” because of its size and the “huge conflicts of interest” that many of the union-affiliated members had.
Replacing it is a seven-person GASB 45 Committee, named for an accounting rule and again headed by Barnes, will examine the prospects for saving millions for taxpayers by transferring cash from the pension funds to a new account set up to cover the future tab for health care coverage for retirees.
Mayor Art Ward said he dumped the initial committee for a trimmed-down new one because he is “trying to look for the most efficient way to address the issue.”
Ward said he made the change in the makeup of the panel because Barnes asked him to do it.
“I respect his opinion,” the mayor said.
Though it remains unclear what the city can do, it is eyeing the excess pension funds because using them would be the simplest, cheapest way to get the $72 million necessary to cover the anticpated future cost of post-employment benefits other than the pensions themselves.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that coming up with the necessary money, which doesn’t have to be done overnight, is a “problem child” for officials who don’t want to hit up taxpayers for the money if they can find an alternative.
Barnes, the chair of the city’s Republican Party, said that Bristol is one of the few cities in America that has enough pension money to consider shifting excess cash into the new health care fund.
“We’re extremely lucky to even have it as an option,” Barnes said.
“As long as it doesn’t hurt integrity of existing benefits,” he said, the proposal “can be a win-win for everybody.”
Ward said the new committee consists of trustees of the different city pension funds and also includes the Board of Finance chairman, the city treasurer and Barnes.
Barnes said that under the law, it’s the trustees “who make recommendations to do anything to those funds” so it was important to ensure they were responsible for looking into it.
Barnes said that without the change in the composition of the panel, he wouldn’t have stayed on it.
Ward said that his choice to pick 19 people for the first board “was probably more idealistic than realistic.”
Plus, he admitted, the panel would have been unwieldy and less likely to reach a consensus.
“I’m busy as can be,” Barnes said. “I’m not going to spend my time as a volunteer to accomplish nothing. We’re either going to do this or not do this.”
Barnes said that it is rare for a municipality to possess pension funds that have more money than is needed to pay off future claims – which is still the case even after the Wall Street collapse this fall.
“It’s one of the few silver bullets” available to save money for taxpayers, Barnes said, and it would be “a big mistake” not to explore using it.
“We are extremely lucky to even have it as an option,” Barnes said.
Ward said that the new committee will make its recommendation to a joint session of the City Council and the finance board, which would have the final say.

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Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why no comment from Cockayne? He is the one who called this committee what it really was - a sham. Sounds to me that the committee was illegal anyway. The beneficiaries can not be on the committee b/c of the conflict of interest. Now it will be smaller with the trustees and the conflict of interest is removed.

Thank you Ken Cockayne!!

Anonymous said...

Way to step up and admit your mistake Artie. Now we can move forward and have faith that the right decision will be made. The last committee was over represented with union leadership. There was a definite conflict of interest for more than half the committee. This was necessary. Good job correcting this problem b/f it was too late.

Thank god for Art Ward.

Steve Collins said...

I couldn't reach Ken in time today -- my fault, not his -- but will ask him for his thoughts next week. I will say, though, that TJ Barnes said Cockayne deserves credit for raising this entire GASB 45 issue and keeping it on the front burner.
Those who want to see what Ken had to say about the first incarnation of this committee can search for "GASB 45" on this blog and you'll find the relevant pieces.
I asked Ward if Cockayne would be on the new committee. He laughed and answered that no city councilors would serve on it. Then he added that he wasn't going to take my bait. Oh, well. I tried.

Anonymous said...

Why would he take the bait? He knows that he was wrong with the first committee and Cockayne was right to call him out on it. If you read this article and don't know about what happened with him and Cockayne you would think that he was just acting with due dilligence - not! He knows he was wrong and TJ called him on it too, just in a more diplomatic way - yes Cokayne can learn something from that too - but he was also obviously correct in his belief. This GASB 45 issue w/ transferring funds is a no brainer and hoepfully the committee will see it this way too.

stupid is, stupid does said...

9:40pm - and if they don't, we can assume that because they are in disagreement with you, they are stupid also? waiting for you to speak up stupid.

next year? said...

9:40PM - it is so rare, but so refreshing to see open-minded, logical, rational, compassionate and considerate presentations of thoughts and ideas to this forum - it is quite evident that you have failed in your attempt to reach that pinnacle also - keep trying though, a new year is almost upon us and you'll have 365 more of fresh, new days to stab at accomplishing something/anything.

Anonymous said...

I think its good that the mayor corrected this committee but it does make me wonder who the heck is advising him.....someone should have been able to advise him beforehand that a committee with that many people on it is going to be doomed to failure.

Concerned Conservative said...

Is "next year" responding to "stupid is..." or the person at 9:40? I guess it might show aptitude and it would add integrity if "next year" could follow the posts, the conversation and if he/she is in opposition, had a shred of common sense (which it appears he/she ("stupid...")does not.

Cockayne was correct. And who ever is advising/controlling/leading
TJ is correct as well. And Ward is correct now also. This is an example of good government. Congratulations to the three aforementioned players.

our interest said...

ever think how refreshing that it is when one person is open-minded enough to encourage the input of those who might be able to offer more expertise rather than dwelling on their own ego? Thank you mayor ward.

Anonymous said...

hey, December 26, 2008 9:18pm (or should I say Ken Cockayne himself?)

In my book, the less comments from Ken Cockayne the better.

Daddy Warbucks said...

Barnes for Mayor

Anonymous said...

Daddy Warbucks:

You must be kidding. Ward would destroy him. Just ask Twit Butts what happened to him.

Anonymous said...

You guys don't understand. It was all Johnsons idea to start with.

I M A Predictor said...

Ward would and will have a difficult time beating, let alone destroying, anybody.

Betcha Zoppo would beat him this time.

Anonymous said...

Dear IM A,

Please spare us your wishful forcasts. You're probably the same boob who predicted Zoppo and then Johnson would beat the pants off Ward last time. You really shouldn't believe everything your crazy 8-ball says....

I'm whit ya' said...

December 28, 2008 2:48 PM:

I don't believe this was Johnson's idea. I believe it is Whit Betts' idea.

Go Whit-twit, go whit-twit, go whit-twit GO

In The No said...

Nah, it was Mocabees idea

not said...

moccabee never had an idea of his own.

Misn Him said...

Where is Mocabee?

Anonymous said...

Its sounds like Mr. Barnes has already made up his mind about using the pension funds. I guess all we need is 3 more non-union members to say yes and it's a done deal. Gee, funny that union members put money into the pension, but have no say in how it's used or even if they can get a better pension out of it. It appears the city holds all the cards. Instead of union employees getting better pensions from the money they put in their pension ever week, the tax payers get a break with that money. That's pretty ironic.

Anonymous said...

Please, don't start with Zoppo again, then all we'll hear about is the Federal Hill again. Oh yeah, lets take another $60,000.00 vote that the tax payers paid for to vote on the Federal Hill. Zoppo is done in Bristol!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

City Taxpayers have also put money into the pension fund over the years and if the pension fund was ever to dry up it would be the taxpayers on the hook to pay the benefits not the union. I would say taxpayers should have a Big say on how those liabilities are to be paid. City workers work for the taxpayers, not the other way around. Check out this article from WSJ about a town in California that over promised to its works and now is bankrupt.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122540831980086085.html?mod=residential_real_estate