Controversy Surrounds Pensions of Retired Detroit-Area Politicians

Detroit, Michigan

Some Michigan residents are questioning the retirement package of Detroit-area politician Robert Ficano, who lost re-election last month after becoming embroiled in several scandals but still retired with a 401(k) worth between $1.5 and $2 million.

But experts say the retirement package is relatively “normal”, and the public’s outrage should be directed at a policy implemented by Ficano that sweetened the pensions of his appointees. From Detroit News:

[Ficano’s deal] allowed workers to use retirement savings to buy into defined benefit plans that guaranteed them a percentage of their best years’ salaries.

In 2011, he upped the offer to his appointees, waiving rules that required retirees to be at least 55 and allowing them to buy years of service at a discount.

Among others, the plan created pensions that paid former Ficano adviser William Wolfson $124,000 per year at age 50; personnel director Tim Taylor $118,000 per year; and former chief of staff Matt Schenk $96,711 per year at age 41. Schenk’s plan alone will cost taxpayers $4 million over its lifetime if he lives to be 82.

Pension officials say the deals strained the retirement system, which is funded at 48 percent.

The average pension for county retirees is about $22,000 per year. Retired workers don’t feel bad for Ficano, said Joyce Ivory, president of AFSCME Local 1659.

“Our workers suffered tremendously under Bob,” said Ivory, whose 700-member union represents clerks, wastewater treatment workers and others.

“So there’s no sympathy for his retirement plan. It’s just ‘goodbye.’ ”

Ficano declined requests for comment.

Documents obtained by Detroit News contain estimates that Ficano contributed about $100,000 to his 401(k) during his career.

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