At the November 17th City Commission meeting, the Commission approved the Police and Fire pension modifications despite being warned by the pension board’s attorney, Stephen Cypen, that if the Commission approved the changes to the Pension without the vote of the Public, as he believes is a requirement, he will not recognize the changes. Therefore, the City will NOT realize the $1.2 million in savings that are built into our budget for the current year. City Attorney, Jose Smith, repeatedly stated that he did not believe that the vote of the public was necessary, and he recommended that despite the fact that each time (13 times previously) the City made pension changes to the Police and Fire pension plans those modifications were in fact placed on a ballot for the public to decide, that in this case the City did not need to do so.
I was the lone dissenting vote to approve the changes without the vote of the public, as I saw this as a battle of EGOS. Everyone agreed with the reductions in benefits and the Police and Fire Unions both agreed to the reductions as well, however, Mayor Bower, and the rest of the Commission (Ed Tobin was absent) supported the Administration’s recommendation to approve the changes without a public referendum. Attorney Cypen had already agreed when I asked him during the meeting if he would recognize the entire savings for this year. If we agreed to place the item on the ballot in March, when we are already likely to have a special election for a possible recall of Mayor Alvarez, thus the significant expense of a special election (approximately $200,000) would not be borne by Miami Beach residents.
When Cypen agreed to this, I suggested that we approve the contracts so that we can start realizing the savings, but that we do so subject to a public referendum as we have always done. I saw absolutely no harm in this, since it is quite likely that the voting public will gladly support a reduction in benefits that will save tax payers $1.2 million in the current year and many more millions of dollars in the future. To my surprise, with Mayor Bower pushing for the Commission to support OUR City Attorney, the motion remained unchanged and it passed 5-1 without my vote.
I believe that this was nothing more than a battle of ego between two attorneys, in which the Mayor and Commissioners got caught up in, and which has unnecessarily put $1.2 million at risk. In my opinion, there was little if any downside to placing the item on the ballot in March, which would have guaranteed that the savings of $1.2 million would be recognized for this year. Instead we now will be forced to await the outcome of a challenge by the Pension Board, and the ruling of a Judge on a motion to compel the Pension Board to accept the ruling of the Commission, which City Attorney Smith will file in hopes to force the Pension Board to recognize something that they were willing to recognize if we would have placed the item on the ballot in March.