Friday, July 27, 2012

Zoo Accreditation and Curator, DB/DC Hybrid for County Officials, 12 Days to Election!

This week we had a full Board of Commissioners meeting.

We lead off with the Potter Park Zoo Curator resolution. Last week, the Zoo Association (AZA) accreditation folks were here and evaluated our zoo. I was one of the 3 or so Commissioners to meet with them to discuss the workings of the zoo. They had a lot of praise for the improvements that we made over the last five years, since the millage was implemented. They did have some concerns, though, over the governance structure. The CEO of the Zoo reports to the Parks Director and the Zoo Board, which reports to the Parks Board, which reports to the County Services Committee, which passes resolutions to the full Board of Commissioners. She really doesn’t have the authority to do much, and the timing of all of these steps can lead to delays of necessary projects. She also can’t hire or fire and doesn’t have discipline authority. The AZA accreditation folks said that this is a concern, and I agreed that the process is not ideal. The County Commission needs to re-evaluate this, and will do that over the next month. As such, the resolution for the Curator position was tabled so that language can be cleared up before the next full Board meeting.

We next discussed creation of a Defined Benefit/Defined Contribution Hybrid for future county commissioners and elected officials of Ingham County. Commissioner Grebner argued that these resolutions are the tip of the iceberg and that we have to look at this for employees, but that this is something we can and should do for our elected officials. He said that this resolution doesn’t have any direct connection to any union contract. It is only following the Board direction to move employees to a Hybrid system. He said specifically that moving county commissioners to this system does not bind us with other contracts. Next we will look at managerial and confidential employees, and we will continue to negotiate with employees. But, ultimately, he said that it is necessary to reform our pension so it is sustainable for the future.

Commissioner Tennis argued that the recommended multiplier in the resolution for the Defined Benefit component, which is 1.0, needs to be increased to 1.5 in order for him to support the resolution. He said that if an employer offers pension for anyone, there needs to be a level of security for the employee (person receiving pension). The 1.0 doesn’t meet the necessary security level. He said that he is okay with the hybrid plan, but it must be balanced so that pensioner actually has the ability to retire. To do this, there needs to be balance on the DB side (traditional pension) for this to happen because there are no guarantees for security in the DC plan (401(k)). If the economy is doing well, the employee has more money in DC. But things don’t always go well, as has been shown by the current recession. He said he is concerned that going down this road with a 1.0 multiplier puts more pressure on the DC portion to have higher earnings to allow someone to retire. Tennis argued that the only way to have a more \balanced plan is with a 1.5 multiplier. Or a reduction on the DC side if necessary. He then moved an amendment to increase the 1.0 multiplier for the defined benefit to a 1.5.

Commissioner Nolan agreed with Tennis. She said that she received a pension with a 1.5 multiplier as a teacher. She said her not that much, and she has a masters and 36 years of teaching experience. And, she reminded Commissioners that this is now being taxed due to the pension tax. She said that a 1.5 multiplier is not extravagant. Commissioner DeLeon said that the 1% multiplier puts people in poverty and that is not our intent. She also said that she is against the resolution in its entirety because it is being done before the employees. She said that although there is no direct link, perceptions become reality and this could be a tactic to influence the negotiation process. She said that there is no reason to do this now, as we can do it any time this year.

Commissioner Grebner opposed the Tennis amendment, and said that the amendment assumes that the DC is 0 and disappears. He said that won’t be the case, and the compensation factor needs to include the DC component which is substantial. The DB only concerns half of the pension, and the Hybrid has two components – one with risk for the employees (DC) and one that is risk free (DB). He said that the DC is far from an illusion and can be quite generous (and will be), and that it is a mistake to make a hybrid plan that looks like the current DB but adds more to it. This saddles successors with a big problem. He said that the multiplier needs to take account both sides, and shouldn’t be too generous.

Commissioner Tennis rebutted that current school employees have the hybrid with a 1.5 DB and up to 2% DC. He said that ours would be similar to school employees and not unique. He said that he won’t assume that DC is at 0, but also can’t assume that it will be there at all. There is an uncertainty and a risk, and the employees hold the risk in a DC while the employer holds the risk in the DB. Employers are feeling it now because of bad economy because the employer has to pay the pension of the retirees. He said that the Hybrid is a good idea in terms of spreading risk, and needs to be spread fair. Commissioner Dougan the reminded commissioners that this only applies to our County Commission successors and that we are part time. He said that there won’t be long-timer Commissioner again, as evidenced by the turnover that we have had recently (which averages about 4 Commissioners per term). This Hybrid would be unique to part time employees. Currently, the DB for Commissioners is 2.0 until old enough for social security, then becomes 1.7 at social security age. He said he is not in favor of the amendment because it doesn’t make a big impact on part time employees. Commissioner Nolan then made the point that a 1.5 would attract more employees and a stronger applicant pool.

The amendment passed on an 8-7 vote. A majority of Commissioners attending are all that is needed to pass an amendment, and Commissioner Vickers was absent.

Commissioner Celentino then offered an amendment adding language saying that this resolution will not set a precedent for other collective bargaining negotiations currently ongoing. Commissioner Holman argued that the amendment didn’t do anything. The amendment passed 14-1, with Commissioner Holman opposing it.

Grebner then moved to change it to 1.25% instead of 1.5%. He argued that setting an absolute floor that we couldn’t possibly negotiate in a contact and would be creating a problem. Before really getting into the discussion and debate on that point, Commissioner Bahar-Cook moved to table the resolution. The motion passed on an 8-7 vote. So, I expect that we will pick up where we left off at the next full County Commission meeting in August!

On the campaign front, we continue to receive incredible response at doors. Election day is 12 days away. My team and I will continue to push full forward until all votes are cast on August 7th. If you would like to volunteer – knock doors, data entry, phone calls, etc – or if you want to make a last-minute contribution to help the effort, you can go to or And if you live in Lansing or Lansing Township, please remember to vote Andy Schor for State Representative a week from Tuesday on August 7th! Thanks everyone for all your support and encouragement!

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