On Monday, Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford convened a fractious public notice meeting related to the Police and Fire Pension Fund involving the Board of Trustees, the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, and (by phone) PFPF trustee Bill Scheu, as part of a “cast of thousands” in attendance.
Larry Schmitt, chair of the pension fund, noted irregularities, such as the auditor not contacting the fund before the audit was released. Schmitt noted his “optimistic” feeling that the “political games were over” once the pension deal was agreed to earlier this year.
“After a quick review of [the auditor] Mr. [Eric] Seidel’s work, it was pretty obvious that it was not a forensic audit,” Schmitt said, so much as an $85,000 compendium of “personal opinions.”
Schmitt then spoke of his commitment to “transparency,” saying “any document that you want, you can have,” and that the auditor could bring over city employees to peruse documents.
“There’s nothing confidential in there… this is all information from reports,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt went on to defend the methodology of the fund, and its transparency, framed by state statute.
“There’s nothing secret going on here,” Schmitt said. “We use the same treasurer” as the other pension plans.
Schmitt took issue with the audit’s assertion that fees were of no concern to the board, calling it “absolutely false.”
As well, the PFPF uses the same consultant that the city does for money management, Schmitt continued, before wondering why, if the unfunded liability is an issue singularly affecting the PFPF, why then are not the city managed funds for general employees and correctional employees not fully funded?
Schmitt then postulated that the pension issues are tied into “artificially low millage rates,” which have led to the unfunded liability issue.
Schmitt pledged continued transparency, of the sort currently on offer. As well, travel would be limited, and the fund would delve into allegations of malfeasance and impropriety.
John Crescimbeni fired back with questions regarding the delay between reports being available and uploaded to the website, to which Schmitt said that he doesn’t post them himself, and the “secretary is responsible for getting them on.”
From there, Crescimbeni wondered about the delay in providing necessary documents to the auditor.
Schmitt’s reply: Seidel never contacted the board.
“I want him to come talk to us,” Schmitt said.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri followed up with concerns about the tone of the report, which he sees as suffused with opinion.
“Having read his report, I can’t rely on [it],” Hazouri said, expressing specific concern in Seidel not being in Jacksonville to defend his report.
Hazouri then blasted Gulliford, wondering how it was he was to ask questions at the press conference about a report that got distributed at the press conference.
Bill Scheu tried to dial down the heat, saying the important thing is to “keep our eyes on the ball.”
Regarding the forensic audit report, “he copies newspaper articles, sections from the Retirement Reform Task Forces, and other tertiary sources… most of what he did was piggyback on what others have done.”
“Observations on the John Keane retirement fund,” said Scheu, likewise are already being worked.
“He doesn’t even say that there’s anything moving forward,” Scheu lamented about the audit.
“With all due respect, if you think this is an audit, this is not an audit at all. This is a political document,” Scheu declaimed, saying the document was long on rhetoric and short on hard analysis, adding that he’s “shocked” that $85,000 went on this.
Gulliford was dismayed by the turn in the meeting, saying that he’d hoped it would be positive.
Gulliford pointed out that John Keane stonewalled the auditor for record requests, and the difficulty in getting information about commission recapture issues.
Gulliford’s goal: “that wrongdoing should be punished” and that, if there were a potential for “financial recovery,” that should be pursued also.
From there, Gulliford defended Seidel’s credentials, before addressing millage rates.
“You can talk about millage rate all you want,” Gulliford said, but the issue is fund underperformance.
Gulliford sees this as an opportunity to move the community forward toward a solution in a positive matter.
Schmitt, however, sees the report as “fingerpointing,” and added that “we can do something positive without going into the gutter.”
This led Crescimbeni to tag in and go toe to toe with Schmitt, who stood his ground.
“Give us the evidence,” if someone committed malfeasance, and we’ll go after them.
Council and the PFPF Board claim to want the same thing. Transparency, in the sunshine, et al.
And they claim they want to solve the problem.
The question now: will they put forth a united front?