Editorial: Benefits Are Too Rich for Firemen's Retirement System Workers

Article excerpt

When did generous become ridiculous?

Was it when the four employees who run the day-to-day operations of the $450 million St. Louis Firemen's Retirement System got a whopping 12 weeks of paid vacation, sick leave and holidays?

Or was it when they were given bonuses of up to $2,500 a year? Or when nearly all of their medical and dental premiums were paid by the system? Or when some of their salaries exceeded $100,000 a year for jobs that required little to no training?

No. It was none of those things.

Generous became ridiculous when it was learned that each employee is enrolled in three separate retirement plans and will be entitled to three sets of retirement benefits. And St. Louis taxpayers are paying for nearly all of it.

As reported in Sunday's Post-Dispatch by David Hunn and Nicholas J.C. Pistor, the first retirement system gives each of the employees a regular city pension. The second gives each of them a month's salary, plus interest, for every year they are employed. The third matches their own contributions, up to 6 percent of their salary each year.

The pension fund workers aren't public employees. They work for city firefighters, managing their retirement fund. But indirectly, most of their salaries and benefits are paid by city taxpayers.

If the system's executive director, Vicky Grass, who is paid $117,000 a year, were to retire from her job today, she'd get at least a $300,000 payout.

Another of the employees, Patricia DeLunas, retired from her $88,000-a-year position in December 2009. She left with $211,000 in retirement cash and soon was rehired as a part-time worker with a salary of $55,000 a year. Her payout included at least 670 hours of unused vacation and sick leave.

Marilyn Williams, another of the system's four employees, is married to Bruce Williams, one of the trustees on the pension board. She was hired while he was serving on the board.

There are eight trustees on the board, five of whom are current or retired firefighters, including Chief Dennis Jenkerson and Mr. Williams. The board is mandated by state law with running the system and overseeing the office workers.

St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green also serves on the board and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has two appointees on the board. They are Eddie Roth, director of operations for the city (full disclosure, Mr. Roth was formerly a member of the Post-Dispatch editorial board), and James Sondermann, special assistant to the city water commissioner. …