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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 1, 200912:00 PM EST

Charter Review to discuss JEA, City pensions Thursday

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

The JEA annual financial contribution to the City and City pension funds will be the next issues discussed by the City’s Charter Revision Commission Thursday after returning from the holiday break.

Mayor John Peyton suggested both issues be given consideration at the commission’s last meeting Nov. 19. After listening to the mayor’s presentation, the commission decided to invite representatives from JEA and the pension funds to give a presentation and be available for questions. Jim Dickenson, managing director and CEO of JEA and John Keane, executive director of the City’s Police and Fire Pension Fund, plan to give presentations at the meeting Thursday. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

“We have not had a substantive presentation on pensions yet,” said Wyman Duggan, chair of the Charter Revision Commission. “We want to get some background on how the unfunded liability accrued and how we can get out of that hole. We could have spent our whole eight months discussing pensions, but we are going to focus on looking at the issue of adding a prohibition on granting further benefits to the City Charter that would not allow extension of benefits without the pensions being 110 percent funded.”

Peyton looked at the pension fund from a business standpoint during his presentation Nov. 19 and asked the commissioners if they would allow such a debt to grow unchecked if it were their business.

“What we have here is an unsustainable condition that is affecting the very viability of our government,” said Peyton. “When I took office, the pension cost was about $40 million and that was in 2003. This year, that we just budgeted for, it’s at $110 million. If you had an expense like that in your business, certainly, you would try to do something about it.”

That is why the Charter Revision Commission is formed every 10 years, “to do something about it” if citizens think government could be run better by changing the Charter, the rules by which government is run. The commission has until the end of February to submit a report to the City Council detailing suggested changes to the City Charter.

The commission plans to continue to receive presentations and speaking with experts regarding the City Charter and it will host former Mayor and current University of North Florida President John Delaney Dec. 10. He has been asked to speak to the commission regarding electing or appointing constitutional officers and school board members and staggering terms of City Council members.

The commission has also decided on issues it will not pursue further. The 15-member commission voted to not pursue any of the other independent authorities or the City’s Office of General Counsel. The commission reached a consensus on not pursuing the independent authorities, but Duggan was the tie breaking vote on the Office of General Counsel.

“It was split 7-7 among commissioners and I broke the tie,” said Duggan. “With the time we have left, we should focus on the areas where we have a clear consensus. I think (Office of General Counsel) is worth looking into, but there is not a consensus there to go forward with.”

The commission had heard different issues regarding the General Counsel, including conflict of interest representing both sides when one government entity has a dispute with another and term limits for the City’s general counsel.

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