Some questions answered, many remain in controversial pension issue
Published 6:28 pm, Thursday, August 16, 2012
Documents show former Republican First Selectman Jeb Walker received pension funds above what was customary for someone with four years of service. Upon retiring, his payment was recalculated to the rate of someone who had served five years, when officials are considered fully vested.
Questions still remain, though, as to how Walker began receiving a fully vested pension a year earlier than scheduled and when the payments were supposed to start.
Walker did not return calls and messages for comment. So far, his only public comment has been in a letter to the New Canaan Advertiser on Aug. 10.
"I have had the opportunity to review the entire process that was followed in settling my pension, and have concluded that I shall ask the town finance and personnel departments to recalculate my pension based on my four years of elected service. I have reviewed this statement with (former Democratic selectman Sally) Mrs. Hines and she is in full agreement. I trust this will resolve the issue."
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"Would there have been criminal activity involved?" he asked at the Aug. 7 Board of Selectmen.
The documents, which were obtained by the New Canaan News under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Walker is receiving a monthly pension rate of $944, and Human Resource officials confirmed he has been receiving a pension since his retirement in December. However, records show the pension a person with four years is entitled to is $347 per month, a $597 difference each pay period.
The issue first came to light following a letter sent from the IRS in March. The IRS found a discrepancy between what Walker was entitled to receive and what he was actually being paid. In response to this finding, an amendment was proposed to the pension plan, along with other necessary and routine amendments, in a July 18 meeting of the Town Council.
This amendment restated the years necessary for an employee to receive a full pension from five years to four years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011.
Given the effective date, this amendment would have affected two former selectmen, Walker and Hines. Both served four years, from 2007 to 2011. Walker was being paid as though he had worked the full five years.
Hines hasn't received payments yet because she has not reached the retirement age of 65.
Documents from the New Canaan Human Resources and Pension offices show that Walker received a statement of his retirement benefits which show the vesting date for retirement benefits as December 2012. He received the report on July 1 of 2008, 2009 and 2010 as part of a yearly statement to employees from the town.
A form compiled by pension administrator Diane Wilson shows his retirement benefits calculated by an old formula at $373 per month, and by a current formula at $944 per month. There is no date on this document, but it would have been compiled before any public discussion or vote on a new formula. The first public discussion took place at the July 18 Town Council meeting.
A further form, "Pension Benefit Calculation Request," shows Walker's date of hire and date of termination as Nov. 2007 and Nov. 2011, which is four years. This form was signed by both Walker and former CFO Gary Conrad.
A final form, "Benefit Selection Form" shows Walker indicating in November 2011 that he selected the "Vested Retirement/Termination Benefit" option for his retirement benefits. This option, "A monthly life annuity commencing on my Normal Retirement Date (the later of the first of the month following my 65th birthday or fifth anniversary of participation in the Plan)," states that the annuity is contingent upon five years of service. The document is prefaced by a statement which says, "I have been advised to consult a tax and/or financial advisor prior to authorizing this selection and distribution method." It was signed in November 2011 by both Walker and former CFO Gary Conrad.
Conrad said that the change in payment went through the actuarial firm Mercer, LLC, and documents were sent to the IRS.
However, the issue at hand is that the pay increase never went before any official town bodies.
The discussion surfaced at the July Town Council meeting, where the vote to amend the pension was split at 5-5, with Williams arguing against the amendment and Republican Councilman Tom O'Dea being most vocally in favor of it. The Council decided to revote, with Republican Kenneth Campbell switching his vote, and passing the amendment 6-4.
Williams has since officially withdrawn his endorsement of O'Dea in his upcoming election for the Connecticut House of Representatives, stemming from the vote.
"While we waited for (Republican First Selectman Rob) Mallozzi, Tom O'Dea had a private conversation at the council table with Ken Campbell. Such private conversations at council meetings are prohibited under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). Following that conversation with Mr. Campbell, Tom O'Dea then announced that Mr. Campbell wanted to change his vote. In my opinion, this is nothing more than interfering with the proper voting process."
Campbell does acknowledge that he and O'Dea talked during this time, but said it was just to clarify what had happened.
"(O'Dea) and I had an exchange in which I said that my interest was in maintaining the payments as they were understood to be. He said that in order to do that, you should have voted `yes' instead of `no.' I thought the `no' vote did that, it was actually a `yes' vote that did that."
O'Dea also asserts that he made no attempt to influence Campbell's vote. He simply wanted to clarify.
"Public comments during the meeting led me to believe he was going to vote for the amendment. The private conversation was simply, `Ken, do you understand what you're voting for?' I didn't convince him to do anything. And he didn't understand the vote. ... So I respectfully disagree with Mr. Williams, who was angry about it. I didn't ask Ken Campbell to do anything, and I stick by what I did there. I don't think I did anything improper."
But the discussion may have been for naught.
According to a letter obtained by the New Canaan News to Mallozzi and Town Council Chairman Mark DeWaele from Town Attorney Chris Jarboe, the votes related to the pension on the July 18 meeting are legally null. Both Mallozzi and DeWaele asked Jarboe's legal opinion on the matter, and he responded in this letter that by Connecticut statutes, the Town Council would have had to have been presented a cost analysis of any proposed changes to the pension plan by an actuary. Although numbers and estimations were discussed at the meeting, they did not qualify in meeting the condition.
"In my opinion, Section 7-450a(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes is mandatory. ... Since the Town Council was not provided with such a qualified cost estimate prior to the Town Council vote on July 18, 2012, to reduce the vesting period for certain elected officials, I believe that vote was premature and invalid."
According to multiple current and former town employees, Conrad, who served as CFO for 17 years, would have had to sign off on paying Walker's pension as if it were fully vested when Walker retired. At the July 18 Town Council meeting, town pension administrator Diane Wilson acknowledged this when asked about how it was that Walker was being paid at the vesting rate since his retirement.
Since learning more about what took place at the time of the pension award in 2011, O'Dea said he may not have voted the way he did in the July 18 meeting.
"If I had known then what I know now, I would have postponed the vote," he said. "There are concerns about who knew what when. My vote was based on the understanding that Mr. Walker was told he was vested after a year, that it was unanimous (in the Board of Finance meeting the occurred prior to the Town Council meeting), and that we were under some time constraints to get this done by Sept. 17. But knowing now the issues of who said what, when, I would have voted for postponement."
Ken Campbell, too, is unsure of how he would vote if it comes up again.
"Some things have become a little bit clearer. ... I think he (Walker) should get what he's entitled to. There was some confusion as to what that is, so we'll see."
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi proposed a probe into the pension issue at the Aug. 7 Board of Selectmen meeting and the Aug. 14 Board of Finance meeting.
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