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- 2014 - January - 3rd -

Ruling affects pension discussions

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

A court ruling this week that the state's Sunshine Law was violated during pension discussions cast clouds over a group's goal of coming up with a global pension solution.

A circuit judge ruled Tuesday the pension agreement between the city and public safety unions reached last year was not done under the state's open-meeting requirements. Further discussions between any city entity and the unions has to abide by those rules.

The Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force that, with the assistance of Pew Charitable Trusts, was attempting to talk with those involved to come up with a solution, said Bill Scheu, task force chair.

Scheu has had several private meetings with Police and Fire Pension Fund administrator John Keane about the plan and the fund's governance structure. The ruling requires those meetings now be public — something Scheu says likely won't happen.

"We will keep on doing our work but it means we will be in isolation now," Scheu said.

The group met Thursday and again this morning to discuss models to address the plan's unfunded liability, which is about $1.7 billion and rising. The city also paid about $148 million of the city's nearly $1 billion budget toward funding the plan, an allocation that also is annually increasing.

Pew isn't bound by the Sunshine Law and David Draine, a Pew senior associate, said his group will "continue along the same path."

Scheu said the ruling complicates the process, but does not change the goal.

"I would say I am optimistic still, but it's definitely a curve ball," he said. "That doesn't mean you can't hit a curve ball out of the park, though."

Attorney George Gabel represented Frank Denton, The Florida Times-Union editor who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the paper.

The ruling doesn't affect what the task force recommendations can offer, but defined the matter as collective bargaining and the parties responsible for such bargaining.

The initial deal between the city and unions was struck during closed-door mediations in federal court, but Gabel said the ruling set a precedent that municipalities couldn't use that route to evade the state's open meeting laws.

Scheu said in addition to the new task force restraints, the court order means City Council members also will have to hold back on what they say about the pension deals because they could end up being part of a final arbitration, should any reach prolonged impasse.

Council President Bill Gulliford has endorsed the group's effort and council member Greg Anderson serves on the committee.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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