Testimony: Dallas police and fire pension board is invalid

The Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund is losing $3.3 million every month that a vote to make changes to the failing fund are delayed, the fund’s executive director testified in court Thursday.

The testimony came during a hearing over a lawsuit filed by five police and firefighters who contend that the pension board itself is invalid. They are seeking to stop the election which would make a laundry list of changes to try to save the ailing fund.

“The pension system’s position today is simply [that] five individuals should not be able to stop 5,000 police and firefighters from voting in a democratic election,” the pension fund’s attorney, John Turner, said. “These plaintiffs [...] have accepted many benefits from this 12-member board that they allege to be invalid over the years and they have not complained about it.”

The fund’s lawyers also argued the court did not have jurisdiction over the case.

The lawsuit revolves around a provision in the state constitution that states the board shall be composed of seven members: two active firefighters, two active police officers and three council members. The fund’s membership expanded the board to 10 members in 1996 and to 12 in 2001.

The plaintiffs say nothing in the law allowed the board to expand.

“Its actions are void,” said Jack Ayres, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Its conduct is void.”

The fund is projected to go broke in 2028. The proposed changes include increasing contributions, reducing interest payments and lowering cost of living increases It would fix about 55 percent of the shortfall to the fund. The board has asked the city to infuse about $1.1 billion into to the fund, an amount that Mayor Mike Rawlings has called “ridiculous.”

The hearing came one day after Rawlings demanded that the pension board stop allowing retirees to withdraw money from special savings accounts. About $550 million has been withdrawn from the fund in the last few months by worried retirees.

“In that 20-year period, that board has been met over 500 times taking care of all manner of business related to the pension system,” Turner said. “I probably don’t have to say to the court how confusing and disruptive it would be if there was a notion that board has lacked authority for 20 years and think what the board has done in the past can be subject to question.”

The judge is expected to rule Friday on whether to issue a permanent injunction in the case. If he sides with the plaintiffs, it would further delay the election until the question of the board’s legitimacy is decided.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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