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In case you missed it the other day, a judge ruled that the county’s pension system had no authority to disqualify County Supervisor Dianne Jacob from participating in the system’s ongoing discussions about how to handle retiree health care.
Jacob, acting as a supervisor, had proposed that the pension fund get out of the retiree health care business entirely. The proposal, though, is contingent on action by the pension board. She sits on that board as well.
The judge unfortunately didn’t rule on the heart of the issue.
The retirement board, remember, had claimed that Jacob had an unlawful conflict of interest in the matter. That is, because she supported a plan to cut off the payments to most future retirees, she was conflicted in the matter and should not be allowed to vote on it in her capacity as a member of the pension board.
I found that a bit ironic given the fact that the majority of the members of the pension board are current employees or retirees of the county. In other words, they all had direct conflicts of interest in the matter.
In what everyone is saying is an unprecedented move across the state, the pension board voted to disqualify Jacob, who had refused to voluntarily recuse herself.
The judge said they had no authority to do that and reinstated her. But he didn’t give any clarity to the contention that she had an unlawful conflict of interest.
It’s almost as though he just said it was her problem if she breaks the law, not the board’s.
The pension board’s chairman, Dave Myers, has trouble with that: If the board has no authority to kick someone off of it, are they just supposed to tolerate anybody that might someday create a problem?
That’s a legitimate concern. Myers rightly saw this as a precedent that could get out of hand. If a board can’t vote to disqualify someone, who can?
Then, though, Myers tried to explain the board’s less persuasive complaint about Jacob — that she had some kind of conflict of interest that was uglier than their own.
What, exactly, made her conflict of interest worse?
Myers admitted that decisions he made as a pension board member affected his own benefits.
“My concern is that she is the author of legislation that is contrary to the interest of members who we represent. I took an action to make sure the members’ interests were upheld above anything else,” he said.
So he views Jacob’s move to eliminate retiree health care payments as “contrary to the interest” of county employees and retirees.
That means, then, that he considers it his job to look out for the financial interests of these members of the system. I, however, had always been under the impression that it’s his job to look out for the health of the fund. He isn’t supposed to decide or influence benefit levels, he’s supposed to make sure there’s enough money to pay out whatever benefits are given to employees by the supervisors. As a corollary to that, Myers and the rest of the board are then supposed to invest the money they collect wisely to make sure that happens.
But Myers saw Jacob’s proposal to get rid of retiree health insurance through the lens of whether it was in the interest of the employees and retirees of the county and not what it meant for the health of the pension fund.
Since her proposal wasn’t good for the personal finances of retirees and employees of the county, she was conflicted.