Appeals court reverses ruling about pension retiree information

So much for that.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

A state district court’s 2013 ruling that Houston’s fire pension board must turn over detailed information on its retirees to help city officials better project future pension bills has been overturned on appeal.

Justices with the 1st Court of Appeals issued the opinion Tuesday, arguing that, in essence, state law protects the city’s ability to request information on its pensioners but not at the breadth and depth the city originally sought when it sued the pension fund in May 2012. At the time Mayor Annise Parker argued she needed better data to project future pension costs.

Todd Clark, chairman of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund, cheered the ruling, and said the city has all the information it needs on retired firefighters.

“The city took a run at trying to convert the plain meaning of a statute providing for an independent audit into a license to rummage through a decade of pension members’ personal information,” Clark said. “Both taxpayer and pension resources were wasted by the city’s lawsuit.”

City Attorney Donna Edmundson said she and her staff still are reviewing the ruling and weighing the city’s options, which could include appealing the ruling or narrowing the city’s request for information.

Houston originally sought individual data on each retiree from 2000 forward, and later amended its request to target group data from that period. Edmundson said the ruling suggests state law may protect the city’s access to retiree information if it requests only group data dating back to only 2011.

“I think basically, on our part, we just need to go back in and refine our request a bit, just tweak it,” Edmundson said. “Obviously we’re reaching out to the firefighters trying to come to agreement on numerous issues. We’re just going to sit back on this for the time being since we do have other litigation pending, as well.”

Assistant City Attorney Judith Ramsey added that it was important for the city to pursue the case because state law requires Houston to audit its pension funds every five years, “and we felt that we needed the level of detail we originally asked for in order to do the kind of audit we were required to do.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the court’s opinion. Narrowing the request is probably the shorter path to some kind of resolution, though I suppose the firefighters could still appeal if the First Court of Appeals accepted a revised petition. I’m just guessing – if anyone knows better what the possible paths are, please leave a comment. Barring some kind of settlement agreement, which I would not bet on, I presume this will not be resolved by the end of the year, meaning that the next Mayor will inherit this. I wonder what legal strategy the various candidates would prefer to see Mayor Parker pursue. A statement from the HFRRF is beneath the fold.

“We are pleased with the Court of Appeals’ decision today that upholds the rights of Houston firefighters and their families,” says Todd E. Clark, Chairman of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund. “The City took a run at trying to convert the plain meaning of a statute providing for an independent audit into a license to rummage through a decade of pension members’ personal information. Both taxpayer and pension resources were wasted by the City’s lawsuit,” said Clark.

The City has ample information to fulfill its statutory duties. The City of Houston employs and collects data on active firefighters. The Fund has annual audits of its books and records done by an independent accounting firm, and those audits are done in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Separately, the Fund has actuarial valuations performed as well.

The Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund reports to the state Pension Review Board (PRB), an agency of the state of Texas, and the Fund files copies of the actuarial valuations, and the annual audits and performs all reporting required of it by the PRB. The city is either provided copies or otherwise has access to all this information. HFRRF recently received an award for its transparency from the Texas Comptroller’s office.

The City of Houston only pays 16% of the benefits going to retired firefighters, with the remaining 84% coming from the trust and the firefighters themselves.

The Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund was created by state statute, and since its founding in 1937, it has been administered by its Board of Trustees as provided in the statute. The size of the Funds’ assets have grown over the years. The market value of the Fund assets in 1988 was approximately $468 million, today its’ assets are in excess of 3.9 billion dollars.

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in Legal matters and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Appeals court reverses ruling about pension retiree information

  1. Steven Houston says:

    It struck me as somewhat odd that the city was suing for this information. The city knows all the pertinent information on each employee, from date of hire, promotions, incentive pays, and every other factor that goes into comprising compensation. What the city does not know, nor do any of the retirement systems, is when an individual employee is going to retire because that decision is almost always decided by the individual employees. Given these facts, the city suing for data it should already have seems pointless.

    As far as those who would cut benefits in order to fund other things, unlike the Mayor, the Police Chief, the City Attorney, and most of the executive directors in various departments, rank and file employees are compensated far less in their careers and then get a smaller pension than other major cities provide. Other cities also provide better medical coverage to retirees and at a lower cost but those who fancy themselves as experts in the field of compensation, by all means tell the rest of us how cutting compensation even further is going to make Houston a more attractive place to work for firemen, police, and other workers?

    While the same jokers plotting to cut benefits to afford making Houston greener, add bike trails, extend library hours, and all the other things the city has done of late, no corresponding discussion has been made about increasing direct pay to levels other workers across the country enjoy. Do you think the fireman in Austin making $25k more to start and with better overall benefits such as a higher pension or the police officer making $18k more to start with similar upgraded perks should be making an even larger premium? What about those in San Antonio? Dallas? Fort Worth?

    The last time the city offered HFD a “raise”, the money came from cutting overtime pay they were making. The net result was that the firemen were going to pay back the city more than the raise would give them, not even including employee cost increases in ever decreasing medical coverage. There is still no raise and now the police are in negotiations for raises just before several years of austerity city budgets begin and their command staff proposes adding another 500 to 1500 or so officers as well as build a boondoggle justice complex with all the bells and whistles. I see both sides of this but city residents already pay lower taxes and fees than any other major city in the state, not even paying for garbage pick up like other cities. Good luck in getting state help to strong arm employees as long as a democrat is mayor too.

Comments are closed.