City Council Shakeup Could Affect Jacksonville Pension Reform

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Jacksonville Councilman Johnny Gaffney is stepping down from his post next month.

Gaffney was likely to vote in favor of the city’s pension reform measure. But with his departure, the chances of the measure passing become murkier.

There are 19 seats on the Council, and the measure needs 10 votes to pass.

From the Florida Union-Tribune:

Because Gaffney ran for the Legislature — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — he must step down from the council next month, making Feb. 10 his last City Council meeting.

There’s no guarantee that the council will be ready by then to cast votes on pension reform, so Gaffney might be off the council before the final decision.

Gaffney’s impending departure is just one of the moving pieces Brown faces as he strives to secure 10 votes on the 19-member council. Some City Council members have already said a counter-offer made last week by the Police and Fire Pension Fund is dead on arrival.


The pension legislation approved 16-3 by the City Council last month would let City Council impose further benefit cuts on current police and firefighters in three years.

The pension fund’s counter-offer would prevent the council from unilaterally imposing further benefit cuts for 10 years. The pension fund called that a big concession because it shortens the existing agreement running through 2030.

City Councilman Bill Gulliford said that, in his view, three years is the maximum term for benefits allowed by state law, so it’s a non-starter for him to approve a 10-year provision.

“I’m not going to vote to codify something that most people feel is illegal,” he said. “Some really bright legal minds feel it’s illegal. Every other jurisdiction in the state operates under the three-year directive. What’s so special about our folks? Why do they have to be 10?”

City Council members Bill Bishop, Lori Boyer, John Crescimbeni, and Matt Schellenberg also said they have a real problem with any term longer than three years for pension benefits. Along with Gulliford, they voted in December for the council-approved version of pension reform.

If the reform measure isn’t passed, the city may decide to go directly to unions to negotiate pension changes.


Photo by  pshab via Flickr CC License

Report Card Grades 151 Florida Pension Plans

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The LeRoy Collins Institute, a non-partisan think tank at Florida State University, recently released a report grading 151 municipal pension plans across Florida.

A quick snapshot of some of the grades, from the Florida Times-Union:

Fernandina Beach general employees – F

Fernandina Beach police/firefighters – F

Jacksonville corrections officers – F

Jacksonville police/firefighters – D

Atlantic Beach police – D

Orange Park firefighters – D

Orange Park general employees – D

Orange Park police – D

Palatka firefighters – D

Palatka general employees – D

Atlantic Beach general employees – C

Jacksonville general employees – C

St. Augustine general employees – B

St. Augustine police – A

Palatka police – A

The author of the report told the Florida Times-Union:

“Many cities are in urgent need of reform that will help reverse this decline in healthy pension funds and get more plans headed toward the honor roll,” said David Matkin, assistant professor at University of Albany-SUNY, who wrote the report.

Jacksonville’s Mayor, Alvin Brown, said he considering putting pension reform ideas on the table for the Corrections Officers Fund, the General Employees Fund and the Police and Fire Fund.

Judgement Due in Court Battle Waged By Workers Excluded From Pension System Because of Medical Issues


A five-year long court fight continues to play out in Jacksonville, and chances are good this lawsuit will continue to stretch on even after an initial judgement is filed.

City employees filed the class-action lawsuit after Jacksonville barred many workers with medical issues from entering the pension system. The workers say the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. From the Florida Times-Union:

The suit involves about 1,400 employees, and at one point their lawyers said the case might affect up to $500 million of pension payments, spread over 30 years. But there are too many details unanswered still for either side to talk about a price tag yet.

The employees bringing the suit argue the city violated ADA rules by requiring new workers to be screened for health problems such as diabetes and heart disease before they could enroll in the city’s pension system. People with medical issues could be blocked from enrolling in the pension and would instead pay into Social Security, or they could sign a waiver that disqualified them from getting any death or disability benefits based on their particular issue.

“The sole purpose of the examination was to address the terms under which an employee would be admitted to the pension plans, if admitted at all,” reads the judgment drafted by the plaintiffs.

The city changed its rules in 2010 to allow employees to buy pension coverage they couldn’t get earlier, but the suit is about what expenses the city should cover.

The city has argued that it has no liability in the case; if the judge rules on the side of the city, the case will wind down quickly.

But if the ruling falls on the side of employees, more court battles loom. Among them: how much does the city owe? Once that number is determined, the court will need to decide how to divvy up the damages amongst the employees.