Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Board Keeps Keane's Pension; New Deal Was Considered; Brown Plan Could Still Freeze Benefits

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Board Keeps Keane's Pension; New Deal Was Considered; Brown Plan Could Still Freeze Benefits

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

The Police and Fire Pension Fund won't move Executive Director John Keane out of a controversial pension plan after all, opting Friday to keep the current arrangement until Keane steps down from the post.

City lawyers once contended the pension fund board illegally established the specially crafted pension plan because the City Council didn't approve it. But the pension fund's own lawyers have countered the board had authority to create the special pension plan because the board determines Keane's overall compensation.

In a busy meeting Friday, the pension fund board decided the simplest, least costly way to handle the remainder of Keane's career overseeing the fund would be to let him keep earning retirement benefits through the current pension plan.

The board considered moving Keane to a different type of retirement plan.

Some City Council members reacted angrily last week to the possibility Keane would be moved into a defined contribution plan - akin to a 401(k) plan - for future retirement benefits, which would be on top of a pension from his time as a firefighter, a pension from running the pension fund, and Social Security.

The board opted Friday to keep the status quo for Keane, who is 71 and near retirement. But after Keane steps down, his successor would get retirement benefits through a defined contribution plan - along the lines of a 401(k) - rather than a pension, board Chairman Walt Bussells said.

The pension fund board also voted against awarding a holiday-season bonus in December to retirees, the first time the pension fund has opted against those year-end bonuses in almost a decade.

Bussells and Adam Herbert, who are appointees of City Council to the five-member pension fund board, voted against giving the bonus this year. Board members Richard Tuten and Larry Schmitt, elected by police and firefighters, supported awarding the bonus.

That bonus could be granted only by a majority vote of the board. The fifth board member, Nat Glover, was absent Friday, so the bonus died on a 2-2 vote.

The pension fund board could have allocated up to almost $2.2 million to 2,204 retired police officers, firefighters and surviving spouses. Last year, the board approved about $2 million in bonuses in December 2013.

The bonuses are paid from so-called Chapter fund money that the state sends to police and fire pension funds across the state. Jacksonville receives about $10 million per year.

If the board had awarded the maximum amount of bonus, it would have equated to $987 per recipient. The board also discussed a smaller bonus of $329 per recipient, which would have cost a total of about $725,000 in Chapter fund money.

Tuten said the annual bonus "is a big deal" for many elderly police and firefighter retirees in making ends meet, so even $329 is a significant amount of money for them. …

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