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The retirement system’s claim that controversial pension benefits are available to hundreds of employees who were supposed to have been cut off has ignited Mayor Jerry Sanders’ most aggressive attack to date against City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s pension challenges.

As a result, Sanders said he wants an outside lawyer, not Aguirre, to help the city strip those workers of the benefits. Sanders said he couldn’t trust Aguirre to solve the legal glitch because “he helped create this problem.”

Aguirre decided to hold off on drawing up the paperwork stopping the service credit and D.R.O.P. programs for employees who were hired after July 1, 2005. The City Council voted to discontinue those benefits for new hires in the 2005 labor deals, but the retirement system claims that any employees who were hired before Feb. 16, 2007 — after Aguirre drafted and the City Council approved the ordinances — are eligible to receive the program.

In short, about 680 employees who should not be able to receive the benefit are entitled to it because of the delays, Sanders and the retirement system’s general counsel argue.

“The record is clear: This would have never happened if the city attorney had simply done his job and memorialized the agreements into ordinances in a timely manner,” Sanders said.

We did a full report on the controversy in November, when Aguirre said he held off on making the changes because he thought it would hurt his lawsuit challenging $900 million in pension benefits.

Aguirre shot back at his own press conference minutes after the mayor spoke.

The city attorney has been steadfast in his criticism of the programs, which allow employees to earn more in retirement pay by either buying years of service or squirreling away pension checks while continuing to work.

But he said Sanders and the council have been deaf to his pleas to completely overhaul service credits and D.R.O.P. in an effort to cut hundreds of millions from the city’s pension debt.

“The mayor has shown he is not interested in getting rid of benefits, he’s more interested in playing political games,” Aguirre said.

Sanders said he launched his criticism this week — and not earlier this year when the council considered the proposal or last year when the mayor and council sent Aguirre memos asking for the ordinances — because of a recent legal opinion that the retirement system attorney Chris Waddell handed down Sept. 21. Waddell opined that the window for the benefits didn’t close until the ordinances were made effective in February, despite Aguirre’s assertion that the programs closed in 2005 after the labor deals were struck.

Aguirre claimed Sanders only brought it up now because he is trying to grab headlines since kicking off his campaign and because talk radio host Roger Hedgecock pressed the mayor on the issue in a recent interview.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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