You would think that when policy decisions are made that have a major impact on Lansing citizens' pocketbooks, their elected representatives would be involved. You'd think that those decisions would be made in open meetings that citizens could attend. And even if you were wrong about all that, you'd think that those decisions would be announced to the public and published so that citizens could see what was done, even though they were shut out of the process.
On Monday, August 27, 2012 Lansing City Council held a public hearing on a proposed new Police and Fire Retirement System ordinance and then voted unanimously to pass it. In my "public comment" before the vote, I pointed out that a couple of the provisions had already been in effect for 2.5 years. I don't remember where I heard that, and I was wrong. The new provisions had been in effect for much, much longer.
One of the new provisions was that there is no minimum age for retirement. If a public safety officer has 25 years of service, he can retire at any age. The other was the pension multiplier. In the old ordinance, it was 3.2% for police with the rank of sergeant or above, 2.95% for everybody else. Now everybody gets the 3.2% multiplier.
Old ordinance. First, let's look at the old ordinance. The ordinances are on the City Clerk's website, and since the new Police and Fire Retirement System ordinance has not yet been posted, that is where we find the "old" ordinance. To see it for yourself, go to the Clerk's website, click Charter & Ordinances, and search for Chapter 294. Under (i) Voluntary Retirement it says
Under (k) Retirement Allowance it says:
Contracts. Now let's look at the contracts for the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) to see when the new provisions actually went into effect:
What this means is that the Police and Fire Retirement System ordinance has been wrong since 1984 - 28 years. That is before some of our current public safety officers were born.
New ordinance. I could not find the new ordinance anywhere on the City's website. However, I did get a paper copy before it was passed. It is 45 pages long, so I won't include the entire document, but here are some selected pages:
Lansing citizens should be relieved that after 28 years, the Police and Fire Retirement System ordinance is finally going to reflect the reality of the union contracts. Right? Not so fast. It still requires some "tweaking".
FAC. Final average compensation (FAC) is one of the factors used to calculate the pension. The others are the years of service and the multiplier. FAC can include payments other than the regular salary, and in the collective bargaining process, unions push the employer to include anything that remotely resembles compensation - because the the higher the FAC, the higher the pension.
The old ordinance did not list the types of compensation included in FAC. It listed them for "base pay", but base pay apparently is not the same as FAC:
In the new ordinance, FAC is defined on pages 3 and 4. For a police officer, FAC includes:
For a police supervisor, FAC includes all of the above plus compensatory time buy-back (up to a maximum of 60 hours), provided that the compensatory time was earned in the same 24 months on which FAC is based.
For a firefighter, FAC includes:
Tweaking the new ordinance. At the October 16 meeting of the Police and Fire Retirement System board, attorney Ken Lane of Clark Hill, who represents the City's law department at retirement board meetings, said that he'd been shown a MOU (memorandum of understanding?) that he himself had given the City Attorney's office that says that FAC for firefighters also includes the food and clothing allowance. It was just somehow overlooked. So, he said, we might be needing to do a little tweak to the ordinance.
Does this mean the new ordinance will have to go back before the City Council?
Ordinance/contract/MOU. Retirement/pension provisions can have a major impact on the City's budget. Apparently, there was a time when they were considered so important that they were in the City Charter rather than the ordinances. I say this having seen this paragraph on page 38 of the IAFF contract:
The highlighted sentence is interesting in 2 ways. One is that it refers to the 1955 City Charter, which was replaced 10 years previously by the 1978 (current) City Charter. The other is that it boldly claims to amend the City Charter. According to the current City Charter, the Charter can be amended only by the people of Lansing. This is from page 4 of the Charter:
The following is from page 37 of the FOP Non-Supervisory contract. It at least mentions that the Police and Fire Retirement System law is now in the ordinances rather than the Charter:
But wouldn't it have been simpler to say "Chapter 294 of the codified ordinances of the City of Lansing is expressly incorporated herein and amended to provide as follows . . ."?
Anyway, it, too, claims to amend. So apparently we must accept as a fact of life in Lansing that collective bargaining agreements - whether in the form of contracts or memoranda of understanding (MOU) - override city ordinances.
Solution. Whether or not you like the idea that policy for the City of Lansing is being written out of the public view by unknown individuals - that is, in collective bargaining sessions - it would help if we at least were informed of what that policy was. I propose the creation of a document based on the current city ordinances but updated with the policies that are actually in effect - policies established by collective bargaining contracts, memoranda of understanding (MOU), whatever. The parts that differ from the formally-enacted ordinance could be distinguished from the rest by printing them in a different color or typeface, and the source of the new policy and the date it was "enacted" could be given. Until someone comes up with a better name, we could call this document the "City Neo-ordinances", and it would be posted on the City's website so everyone - citizens, City administration and City Council - could see how things really work.