ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
45°
Mostly Cloudy
H 45° L 40°
  • cloudy-day
    45°
    Current Conditions
    Mostly Cloudy. H 45° L 40°
  • cloudy-day
    45°
    Today
    Mostly Cloudy. H 45° L 40°
  • rain-day
    58°
    Tomorrow
    Showers. H 58° L 36°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Local Govt & Politics
Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say
Close

Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say

Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say
Some Atlanta public employees got a deal of a lifetime: pension checks until end of their years. While the offer was extended to 288 employees, only those with high pay could take part. Critics say this was another ploy by former Mayor Reed to reward associates. The city hasn't disclosed the financial impact of the move on a pension fund already short hundreds of millions of dollars.

Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story has been corrected to change the hire dates of those eligible for the buy-back program.


Just before former Mayor Kasim Reed left office, the city of Atlanta unveiled a short list of employees who were eligible for the retirement deal of a lifetime: a pension check until the end of their years.

It was a delightful opportunity, especially for high-ranking employees. Those who benefited include City of Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Herman Sloan, Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, Reed’s former chief of staff Candace Byrd, employee benefits director Louis Amis and Kristen Denius, the attorney in the city’s law department who represented it at pension board meetings, records obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed.

Employees who took the deal could come out $100,000 or more ahead compared with what they might have received from the self-directed retirement account offered to them when they were hired, experts told the AJC.

For example, Sloan, whose salary is $182,000 a year, could see a guaranteed pension check in the range of $6,000 to $7,500 a month, if he retires in about five years. Had he stayed in the city’s defined contribution plan – similar to a 401(k) – he may have had a fraction of that, limited by returns on the investments he chose and federal guidelines that cap how much he could sock away each year for retirement.

Close

Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say

The pension deal was a farewell gift to Reed’s select employees, critics say, more lucrative than the end-of-year bonuses that the former mayor handed out. And while the 300-some employees eligible for the deal ranged from sanitation workers and customer service representatives, to department heads and top legal staff, only employees with large amounts of disposable cash could afford to take part.

That’s because to join the city pension, employees would have to roll over money from their existing plan and pay all the contributions they would have made had they been in the pension from the time they were hired, along with interest. That was a financial barrier that prevented most employees from opting in. Fewer than 90 of those eligible transferred to the pension.

“This was geared to help people in Kasim Reed’s administration make the most money they could in retirement,’’ said Charles Nash, formerly a member of the City of Atlanta General Employees’ Pension Fund. “These were people (who were) close to retirement, a lot of them are judges, lawyers, the cream of the crop. They did what’s best for them.’’

Pensioners sued the city over the so-called “buy-back” program early this year, alleging it would result in irreparable harm to the pension’s finances.

But in a court filing, the city argued that the program wouldn’t hurt the fund because most of those eligible couldn’t take part. “Only a small fraction of the 288 eligible members are even likely to have sufficient disposable funds to pay the amounts necessary to enroll in the General Employees’ Pension Plan, preventing those who do not from enrolling does not serve any public interest,” the city wrote.

Sloan did not return calls and emails requesting comment about why he switched plans and how it could affect his retirement income.

Reed did not respond to requests for comment.

Archibong, the only eligible council member to make the switch, said she chose to participate because there were no legal or ethical issues that prevented her from doing so.  “I supported the ordinance because of the opportunity for more employees to move into a pension program that would provide ongoing financial certainty for city employees who are retiring,” she wrote in an emailed statement. 

It’s now been months since employees transferred into the city’s pension plan. But the aftershocks are festering among employees and others who say it’s just another example of a back-handed deal in a city hall that is the focus of a major corruption investigation.

“The nepotism and friendships are rampant at city hall,” said Nash, a retired school teacher.

Close

Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say


‘Nobody has told me nothing’

Employees hired between July 2001 and July 2005 were automatically placed in the 401(k)-style plan. The city extended eligibility for the new program to employees hired between Jan. 1, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2005.

In 2005, the city provided an opportunity for some of the employees to move into the pension plan.

But when the City Council agreed to the buy-back program in December 2017, Reed’s spokeswoman at the time told the AJC that employees had not been given adequate information about the 2005 offer. Jenna Garland explained that the program would address concerns from the employees about why they weren’t offered the pension plan.

To help employees decide if they wanted to take part this time, the city council also agreed to provide educational materials for affected employees who needed assistance. A council resolution instructed the city finance and human resources departments to provide appropriate education to eligible employees. Archibong, the councilwoman who took the buy-back, was its sponsor.

City officials later said they made every effort to publicize the program so that all eligible employees could take advantage.

Latrecia M. Parks, hired in 2002, was among those eligible. She works as an office assistant in the city’s sanitation department, earning just under $30,000 a year.

With her current salary, she could earn roughly $1,250 a month in retirement, had she joined the pension and worked to normal retirement age. That would be a steady paycheck, no matter what the stock market did.

But she didn’t buy in.

She told the AJC she couldn’t remember anyone contacting her to explain the option.

“Nobody has told me nothing,” Parks said.

Gina Pagnotta-Murphy, a former board member of the General Employees” Pension Fund, said the buy-back opportunity wasn’t widely circulated among general employees, who she said felt “blindsided” by the move. It was clearly fashioned for a select few, she said.

“Nothing went out to all the employees … nothing went out to say, you know you have an opportunity to get in … so we don’t know how that happened,’’ Pagnotta said. “In a perfect world, it should have been left the way it was.”


‘Minimal impact’

It’s not clear how the program will affect finances of the pension system, which already is underfunded by more than $570 million.

The council was advised, in a Nov. 29 report by Segal Consulting, that if the buy back was approved, the pension’s unfunded liability could grow by more than $30 million.

The report warns, though, that the calculations were soft estimates based on various assumptions, and the numbers could not be used for budgeting purposes. One of the assumptions was that there were 281 eligible employees. The council was told in December 2017 that 288 were eligible. But a record the city provided to the AJC listed more more than 300 eligible employees.

The City Council this past June approved the list of those interested in transferring to the pension.

Councilman Howard Shook, who heads the council’s executive finance committee, told the AJC in an email that the finance department had deemed the cost to transfer employees into the fund as “budget-neutral.” Shook, who was eligible for the transfer but did not take it, did not respond to repeated interview requests.

Leon F. “Rocky” Joyner Jr., the actuary who provides financial forecasts for the fund, said in an email response to questions from the AJC that he believed the new entrants would “have minimal impact” on how much the city would have to contribute on behalf of those who joined.

He did not address the question of whether it would add more red ink to the fund. That issue, he said, was still under scrutiny as part of an annual study that provides a snapshot of the pension’s financial health, including an estimate of benefit costs, as well as a real-time update of the pension’s shortfall.

Reed’s critics have said that it was irresponsible to offer the more generous pension benefits without understanding the true impact to the pension system.

When the council voted, city officials didn’t provide a detailed analysis of the impact to the unfunded liability, nor on how much the city would have to contribute on behalf of the newcomers, said Council President Felicia Moore, who voted against the plan in 2017.

“I didn’t support it because I wasn’t so sure we had done enough due diligence on how that would impact the defined benefit plan,’’ Moore told the AJC.

She also said that the timing of the move was noteworthy.

“If all the arguments were true at the time that we had to push everyone new into a defined contribution plan, what made it different was that now we were opening it up, getting to the end of the (Reed) administration,” she said.

Close

Reed pension plan a giveaway to insiders, critics say

The lawsuit filed by the General Employees pension board and joined by the City of Atlanta Police Officers Pension Fund argued that Reed’s plan would harm the fund.

Tony Biello, who served as chairman of the police pension for two decades, told the AJC it was absurd to bring on more liability to a pension system that is already underfunded.

“It’s beyond frivolous,’’ said Biello, who is retired after several decades as a city police officer. “Why would a pension fund want to incur more unfunded liability for people who failed to do their personal responsibility to themselves?”

Ken Allen, a former Atlanta police officer, said the lawsuit was ultimately dropped after the city threatened to individually sue some pension leaders.

In a court filing, the city had alleged that pension funds were being misappropriated to finance the lawsuit, which it contended was filed primarily for the benefit of some individual pension board members.

“It was a strategy the city used to put pressure on people who couldn’t afford the litigation to proceed,” said Allen, who is a regional representative for the National Association of Government Employees, a Massachusetts-based group of federal, state, county and municipal employees across the nation.

The AJC asked Chuck Carr of Southern Actuarial Services, the actuary for the city’s police pension fund, whether the addition of no more than 90 people would affect the General Employees fund’s bottom line. He said the police board also had asked him to evaluate the impact.

He said it was unlikely that the extra employees wouldn’t worsen the shortfall.

“First of all, that defies common sense … how you can add people at the 11th hour and not have any impact?” Carr said.

Ted Siedle, a Florida-based pension consultant who previously addressed the council when Reed wanted to cut pensions, said he was surprised to hear that, as the mayor departed, the city expanded the plan to dozens of employees.

“How can they afford people moving into the pension system?” he said. “It sounds like this is for the gilded few.”

arrow-leftHOW MUCH IS A CITY PENSION WORTH?arrow-left

The city of Atlanta sponsors three defined benefit plans for police, fire and general employees. Each employee who is a member of one of these funds receives a monthly check upon retirement for the rest of their lives. If they are married, a surviving spouse also may benefit.

The monthly check is based on a mathematical calculation based on how many years the employee worked for the city, their average salary over their three consecutive highest-paid years, and a “multiplier,” which is set by the city council.In simplest terms, here’s how it could work:

Suppose you are member of the general employees’ pension. If you retire at age 60 with 25 years of service at an average monthly salary of $2,500, your normal monthly pension benefit would be roughly $1,562.The city manages pension investments, and the income is guaranteed.

Some employees are not in a city pension fund. Instead, they may be covered by a “defined contribution” plan, similar to a 401(k), to which they and the city have contributed. Employees choose investment options. Retirement income will depend on how much has been contributed to the account and how well the investments performed. Some participants will do better than others. No specific retirement income is promised. When the money runs out, it runs out.
Source: Summary Plan Description for the General Employees’ Pension Plan, Police Officer’s Pension Plan, Firefighter’s Pension Plan

 
Read More

News

  • Producers of the Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show are looking for people to participate in the halftime show at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3. About 450 people are needed to be part of the “Field Team” that will help move the halftime show stages and scenic elements on and off the field. Channel 2 Action News Sports Director Zach Klein talked with officials on Tuesday who said they're still looking for more 'Field Team' members. Maroon 5, Big Boi and Travis Scott are headlining the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show. Our LIVE Team 2 Coverage of Super Bowl LIII continues on Channel 2 Action News starting at 4 p.m. We're getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Super Bowl Experience + talking with cyber security experts working to keep you and the city safe. “Field Team” members must be able to attend all scheduled rehearsals, be over the age of 18 and be in good physical health. No prior experience is required. Anyone interested in applying can view the rehearsal schedule HERE. If it fits your schedule, CLICK HERE to apply for a position. NOTE: “Field Team” members will not receive tickets or the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl. However, they will be an integral part of the halftime show.
  • A man identified by authorities Tuesday as the suspect in the fatal shooting of a teenager at a suburban Chicago mall was previously convicted of armed robbery and had been an acquaintance of the victim. Orland Park Police identified the suspect as 19-year-old parolee Jakharr Williams of University Park. The department said in a news release that Williams, who fled after the shooting and has not been arrested, should be considered armed and dangerous. Police said Williams and 18-year-old Javon Britten of Richton Park were arguing in a food court at Orland Square Mall Monday when Williams allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired several shots. Britten was struck and a bystander's leg was grazed by a bullet. Police said Britten staggered to a nearby clothing store, where he collapsed. He was pronounced dead at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn a short time later. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections website and Orland Park Police, Williams was convicted of armed robbery in 2017, and that he served a little more than a year in prison before he was released in June last year. Orland Park is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.
  • In the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, two New Orleans Saints season ticket holders have asked a judge to reverse the result of the NFC championship game that sent the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl — or order a do-over. Tuesday's state court filing says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should implement a league rule governing 'extraordinarily unfair acts.' Remedies include reversal of a game's result or the rescheduling of a game — in its entirety or from the point when the act occurred. At issue is the failure of officials to call interference or roughness penalties when a Rams player leveled a Saints receiver with a helmet-to-helmet hit at a crucial point in Sunday's game. The NFL hasn't yet responded. A hearing is scheduled Monday.
  • A man is under arrest in Utah after police say he posted on Facebook about 'killing as many girls as I see' the same weekend that Women's Marches were held around the U.S. Christopher W. Cleary, 27, wrote he wanted to be 'the next mass shooter,' because he had never had a girlfriend and he was still a virgin, according to jail documents filed by police in the city of Provo. He wanted to 'make it right' with women who had turned him down and also said 'there's nothing more dangerous than a man ready to die,' the documents said. Cleary is from Denver and Colorado police on Saturday contacted officers in Provo, south of Salt Lake City, where Cleary had checked into an AirBnB rental a day earlier. With help from the FBI, officers tracked Cleary to a restaurant and arrested him on suspicion of a felony threat of terrorism charge. The posts did not mention the marches but investigators were concerned because they were happening that day in Provo and Salt Lake City, along with dozens of other cities, the documents said. Cleary acknowledged making the posts, but said he deleted them after receiving threats in response, police said. He told investigators he had an impulse-control disorder and was suicidal. Colorado authorities said Cleary is on probation after stalking and threatening women there, according to Utah police documents. He was being held without bail in Utah, and authorities were expected to seek his extradition to Colorado. No attorney or publicly listed phone number was immediately available for Cleary.
  • Country singer John Berry revealed he is battling tonsil cancer, Billboard reported Tuesday. Berry, 59, announced the cancer in a video he recorded with his wife, Robin Berry, and posted to his Facebook page.  “We started off this year with a hiccup, and we want to tell you a little bit about that,” John Berry said in the video.  It is not the first time Berry has experienced a medical scare. On the day his song “Your Love Amazes Me” hit No. 1 in 1994, Berry had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor, Billboard reported. Berry said he became aware of his latest health issue in November before his latest tour, the magazine reported.“I had a little catch in my throat, it felt like, it felt exactly like, the skin of a Spanish peanut was stuck in my throat,” Berry said in the video.  After examining his tonsils Berry noticed they were swollen. Despite going to a doctor and receiving steroids and antibiotics, the problem persisted, Berry said. He completed his tour and then saw a doctor Jan. 4, Rolling Stone reported. A CT scan revealed two tumors in his tonsils, so he had surgery to remove them, the magazine reported. After receiving biopsy results, doctors told Berry he had tonsil cancer. Berry will begin a five-week chemotherapy and radiation treatment plan this week, Rolling Stone reported. “This particular cancer is one of the most highly treatable, and has an incredible cure rate,” Berry said in his video. According to his website, Berry had 20 singles on the country charts during the 1990s, six of which were Top 5 songs. He won a Grammy Award in 1996 for his participation in “Amazing Grace: A Country Salute to Gospel, Vol. 1.”
  • Atlanta police are investigating a sexual assault at Opera nightclub after video of the incident was posted on Facebook.  >> Read more trending news Officer Jarius Daugherty said the Atlanta Police Department began receiving calls from people who had seen the assault on a Facebook Live video early Sunday morning. The police department has opened an investigation into the incident at the club on Crescent Avenue in Midtown. The video “appears to show a woman being sexually assaulted in a local nightclub,” Daugherty told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Police have not released details on the alleged assault, but the woman filed a police report on the crime. It is the policy of the AJC to not name victims of sexual crimes. According to WSB-TV, the victim was celebrating her birthday Saturday at the popular Midtown nightclub when she was sexually assaulted. The woman told police someone put drugs in her drink and then sexually assaulted her on the dance floor, WSB-TV reported. The victim, who was already streaming her celebration on Facebook Live, captured the attack as it happened and continued to stream the video. According to media reports, the woman is heard in the video screaming for help. Video of the sexual assault has since been removed from Facebook. The woman later posted a video saying she is OK, WSB-TV reported.  In a statement posted to Facebook and Twitter, Opera nightclub managers said they are cooperating with the investigation.  “At this time we have met with the Atlanta Police Department and have provided them with everything they have requested,” read the statement posted Sunday. “We will continue to aid and support their investigation in any way we can.”