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But, when it comes to nasty things popping out of strange places, the “negotiated” soon to be released “pension reform” ballot measures for this November are going to get pretty close.

(Remember the admonition of Captain Barbossa in “Pirates of the Caribbean”;

“You’d better start believin’ in Ghost Stories…,’cause you’re in one!”)

Here’s just a couple of the snakes:

  • There will be a deceptively simple “Yes/No” question on the ballot: “Shall the Charter be amended to require voter approval for any increases in retirement system benefits for public employees?” (But, you better read the fine print.)
  • Snake: Doesn’t this look like voters get to weigh in on all benefit increases? Sure it does. Is that true? Nope – the biggest increase, the COLA’s, are “exempt” from voter approval. The snake of omission strikes again.

So now you have to actually read (I know, I know, we hate to read) the “fine print” language in the ballot’s “supplemental materials”:

  • Proposed change to Charter Section 143.1 (a)says :

“No ordinance amending the retirement system which affects the benefits…shall be adopted without the approval of a majority vote of the members of said system. No ordinance amending the retirement system which increases the benefits of any employee…with the exception of Cost of Living Adjustments, shall be adopted without the approval of a majority of those qualified electors voting on the matter.”

Now, what the heck does this all mean?

  • Snake of wiggle-room: there is no definition of “benefit”; and, no definition of “Cost of Living Adjustments”.
  • Snake of “confusion”: what (who?) is (are) the “qualified electors voting on the matter”? Isn’t that us? It could be interpreted (later on) to relate to the prior sentence “without the approval of a majority vote of the members of said system.” So who gets to vote? If it’s citizen voters then why not just say so? Proposed change to Charter Section 143.1(b): “…the retirement system shall prepare an actuarial study of the cost due to the benefit changes…”
  • Snake of dumbness: The “retirement system?” Preparing a legit actuarial study? Get outta here! This is the same “retirement system” that routinely ignores Federal Subpoenas; continues to underfund its own pension system – with the help of new sets of actuaries and accountants, all of whom wind up being sued, or worse; uses trust fund monies to pay for the criminal legal defense of some of pension system leaders and advisors. And, let’s not forget the trust fund monies coughed up for the PR work to convince us that it’s really always been “party hats and horns” in the SDCERS hood. Even the Kroll folks recommended the city get its own actuary. Why not use the city’s guy? And, make certain he has lots of insurance.
  • Snake of amnesia: Did someone forget about the “Who pays for this?” How’d we get in this mess to begin with? Cost is barely half the story. How about putting in the measure who is going to be responsible for paying for benefits? Where is the dough is coming from to make those payments? Wouldn’t you like to know if it’s coming from you? Am I the only person that reads this stuff? Yo, Mikey! Bueller, Bueller? Anyone, anyone?
  • Proposed change to Charter Section 143.1(d): “This requirement shall remain in effect of a period of fifteen (15) years…at which time it shall be automatically repealed…”
  • Snake of phony time limits: 15 years? What’s the magic of that number? If it’s good enough for now it should be good enough for later.

Hey, these aren’t even close to all the snakes. Why do you think the Krolls are requiring snake monitors in the future?

But, so we don’t have to wear those green and white buttons that say, “I’m a member of the Stupid Club,” let’s remember way back to the last propositions that were going to solve the pension problem, Props “G” and “H” in 2004. How’d those turn out for everybody? Get rid of all your problems?

You remember Prop H was going to get the union influence off the pension board and replace its members with professional only financial industry types. But not so fast. It was then “negotiated” with the mayor and unions. Result? The Unions got what they wanted and still run the pension board.

Hey, I don’t blame the unions. If everybody in this city feels comfortable wearing a green button, so be it.

But, if you want to solve this mess, “negotiated” ballot propositions probably aren’t the answer.

PAT SHEA

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