February 8, 2013
The (Incomprehensible) Method By Which Scituate Authorized New Pensions
On Monday, WPRI released a detailed expose about how, as Scituate's pension fund was becoming progressively more underfunded, the Scituate Pension Board, from the middle of 1999 and July 2011, met on exactly one occasion. The WPRI story is all original work, well and thoroughly done. It includes, by the way, an aborted, so-called "ambush" interview of the Treasurer and Pension Board Chairman who presided over the twelve years hyatus, Theodore Przybyla. Mr. Przybyla had
refused multiple requests [by WPRI] for an interview to discuss his oversight of the plan.
When WPRI finally tracked him down in person, Mr. Przybyla fled the opportunity of an on-the-spot interview with an admonition about the appropriateness of the Target 12 team's methods. [Cough]
It is important to note, however, that the Valley Breeze did a similar expose almost a year ago. In fact, they revealed that the Pension Board permitted a Scituate staffer to simultaneously receive both a salary and a pension for a previous position that he held with Scituate, a highly illegal arrangement that was discontinued after the Breeze exposed it. (No active links to provide to these Breeze stories but the text of one of the Vallley Breeze's contemporaneous stories is posted after the jump.)
Back to the problems posed by an absentee pension board. Of course, the biggest problem is how they failed to address the mounting shortfall of the pension fund. And apparently, nothing has been set aside for the $4.4 million liability of its retirees' health insurance.
Additionally, though, while the Scituate Pension Board was NOT meeting, pensions were being issued. How did these pensions come into existence if the Pension Board did not meet?
As a result of the Valley Breeze's stories, in March of 2012, Anchor Rising sent a letter asking the then-Scituate Treasurer and then-Chairman of the Pension Board, Theodore Przybyla, among other things,
What was the authorization or process by which you initiated the remittance of pension checks for that period (January 1, 2000 - May 31, 2011)?
We received the following reply to our query. Note that the letter, which is on the Scituate Treasurer's letterhead, is not only not signed, there is no closing or "from" at the bottom - no indication as to who sent the letter.
The Town prepares an authorization (batch) to disburse the funds by the trustee/administrator (trustee). This authorization includes the names and benefit amounts which are to be paid on a monthly basis. Changes are made to this authorization as necessary. These changes require a document to be prepared by the Treasurer's department and communicated to the trustee. The monthly amount is then adjusted and payments processed. The trustee follows the Town's instructions and processes this batch until a revised authorization is transmitted. An example of other changes would be, tax withholding, change of address or direct deposit instructions, etc.
Logistical and legal interpretations of this reply are cheerfully welcome.
And further on the question of legality, as the Pension Board was not meeting and, therefore, not approving anything, isn't the legality of the pensions issued during that period an open question?
[Monique is Editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.]
Most, if not all, of the Valley Breeze's stories about the Scituate Pension Board appear to no longer be accessible on-line. Below is the text of one of their stories kindly supplied by the publisher, Mr. Thomas Ward, for this post.
Exposed pension double dipping forces Tucker resignation at Scituate DPW
Retired cop took $100,000 a year in pay and pension
SCITUATE – Richard N. Tucker, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and emergency management director, has resigned after being found double dipping by collecting a pension as retired town officer and working full time for the town.
Local attorney Richard Finnegan and state Rep. Michael Marcello raised the issue of Tucker collecting a full pension from the Police Department pension fund while also earning a full salary from the town, something that is prohibited by the town’s contract with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 502.
Public records show that Tucker, 58, has received from more than $90,000 to over $100,000 a year for several years since his appointment by the Town Council – first as Emergency Services Director in 2004.
In July, 2011, Tucker’s total take from taxpayers was set for $102,884 when his salary and pension are calculated from town pension and payroll documents.
Tucker’s pay was $58,429 at the time. His annual pension was $44,455 by last July, according to pension records. Tucker’s salary as reported in the town’s July 2011 tax book is $58,429.
The windfall came as taxpayers have struggled to fund the police pension, which has been ranked by the Rhode Island Auditor General as among the most underfunded in the state. The pension is administered by a town Pension Committee composed of two full-time police officers and union members, two Town Council members and the town treasurer.
The pension committee has seldom met over the past several years as indicated by an absence of minutes or scheduled meetings for months at a time.
Tucker was hired by the Town Council as director of emergency Services Sept. 10, 2004, with a salary of $43,500 per year with a vehicle provided by the town for 24 hour use, a uniform allowance of $250 a year.
The agreement was signed by Theodore Richard, then president of the Town Council, and Tucker.
On July 10, 2008, the council on a split vote appointed Tucker as assistant director of the DPW.
The town’s Emergency Management Agency director, Richard Tucker, was additionally appointed as assistant director of the Public Works Department by the Town Council on a 4-to-3 split vote on Thursday, July 10.
The approval followed by a few months a previous vote in which the majority of council members rejected the retired police captain as director of the Public Works Department.
Tucker won the appointment when former Town Council member Wayne Salisbury, one of the four council members who voted against Tucker the first time, switched his vote.
“I think Mr. Tucker is an excellent EMA person,” Salisbury said in explaining his switch. “I think we have dismissed some of his duties for many years in the Police Department where he was part of the administrative team.”
Salisbury added, “I thought at first it was a subterfuge to get Mr. Tucker in” as director of public works. “It is not. I have been convinced that it is not.”
David A. D’Agostino, former councilor Wendy Knowlton and John F. Winfield Jr. again voted against appointing Tucker to the DPW.
Charles Collins Jr., also a retired police officer, made the motion to appoint Tucker to the dual positions “at no change in rate of pay.” The motion passed by consent.
Councilor Winfield objected to Tucker’s appointment to the DPW. Winfield, according to minutes from that July 10, 2008, meeting said “the deputy’s position was never posted, and he feels that this is being shoved down his throat. He said that the whole department should be evaluated before any major decision is made.”
DPW Director Dale Langlais told The Valley Breeze & Observer, Tuesday, March 6, that Tucker had resigned Wednesday, Feb. 29. Tucker as of Tuesday had not submitted a letter of resignation to either Langlais or to the town Human Resources office, said Deputy Town Treasurer Karen Beattie. Tucker was not at his office Tuesday morning and could not be reached for comment by The Valley Breeze & Observer. He does not have a listed telephone number.
Langlais praised Tucker for his work, asserting “Those are big shoes to fill because he was doing two jobs, emergency services director and deputy DPW director. I’m not sure what direction we will go in.”
Finnegan brought the issue to the attention of the Town Council and at a special council meeting Feb. 29, Finnegan said Tucker “is the victim here.”
The council adjourned into an executive session on Feb. 29 with members of the pension committee and Tucker.
Marcello told the newspaper Tuesday, March 6, that the Tucker case is the product of the treasurer and the pension committee not doing the job taxpayers counted on them to do. Finnegan searched for minutes of the pension committee meetings and found the panel did not convene from Dec. 12, 1999 to July 20, 2011 or produce minutes. The last meeting was in February.
“The issue here with Richard Tucker is not whether he could be hired by the town, he could. The issue is how he could be hired and collect a pay check and a pension,” said Marcello, who was a council member who approved Tucker’s hiring to the emergency management post in 2004. “It was his duty to inform the council that he was receiving a pension. It was Town Treasurer Theodore Przybyla’s fiduciary duty as the person who was cutting both a pay check and a pension check for Richard Tucker to notify the council. He didn’t.”
Marcello said he found Tucker’s double dipping when the council asked him to seek state assistance to fund the underfunded police pension system.
“I looked at the documents and it was a quick read, it is not some kind of arcane matter, it was in black and white,” Marcello said of the double dipping. “The town’s police pension is poorly administered and it is not transparent to the public. There are no minutes for the pension committee. So how are the pensions being granted? Who is approving these pensions? How are these pensions given out? Who signs off on these pensions? Are these pensions being done correctly? We don’t know. This is the treasurer’s duty and he is isn’t fulfilling it to the pensioners or to the public.”
The Office of the Auditor General reported in September that the town’s only administered pension fund – the police pension – is among those categorized as significantly underfunded, less than 60 percent of what actuaries require. As of April 2009 the police pension had an unfunded liability of $7,481,437. The funded ratio was 23.4 percent of that liability, the auditor’s report said.