Pension fund’s appeal of 30-year agreement ruling depends on current Gulliford negotiations
Legal papers are due in court Friday
A long-standing battle between citizen activist Curtis Lee and the Jacksonville Police and Fire Fund over public records is about to enter Round 2.
The fund’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday to file an intention to appeal a circuit court judge’s March decision that sided with Lee and declared the so-called 30-year pension agreement between the city and pension fund void.
In his lawsuit, Lee said that the pension fund and the city negotiated pension benefits behind closed doors, action contrary to the state’s Government in the Sunshine Law.
The deadline to file the intention to appeal is at 5 p.m. Friday.
The fund left open the possibility that it would withdraw its intention to appeal if the city and the pension fund agree to the recent pension-reform plan proposed by City Councilman Bill Gulliford.
Gulliford met with fund manager John Keane on Wednesday and the pair will meet again Friday to try to agree on that package.
A great deal is riding on this latest pension proposal — one among a long list of attempts to achieve a pension deal between the city and pension fund.
For one, mayor-elect Lenny Curry promised to hire more than 140 police officers, who, under the current plan being floated by Gulliford, will be asked to pay more money to participate in the retirement plan and will have considerably fewer benefits than current employees — effectively slowing the hemorrhaging of the pension fund.
Now there is the matter of ending costly litigation between Lee and the pension fund.
Records show that the pension fund has spent at least $450,000 fighting Lee in a separate case, a case now awaiting a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court over public records.
“I hope, I pray, I beg — whatever it is that I have to do — to get this (pension matter settled),” Gulliford said. “I think this is the best for the community and we need to reach some sort of middle ground and end it.”
Until then, firefighters union leader Randy Wyse and police union leader Steve Amos said they trust the pension fund to make the right decisions about pension matters and litigation.
Lee isn’t happy that the pension fund is considering an appeal while leaving that decision up to the negotiations over Gulliford’s pension plan, a plan Lee thinks doesn’t go far enough for the sake of taxpayers.
“I’m not surprised with them appealing in the first place,” said Lee. “That is their modus operandi: Always fight to the bitter end on everything — at least as far as I can tell and the reason that they do that is because it is not their money.
“It is taxpayer money that they waste.”
The legal fight — and others involving the pension fund — have been costly for all parties.
Bob Dees, the attorney for Lee and the Concerned Citizens of Duval County — the taxpayer group that joined Lee’s lawsuit over the 30-year agreement — submitted invoices to the city for $435,933 in legal bills.
Lee has paid Dees $79,485 of that fee.
After Lee’s payments, a small payment from the taxpayer group and some other money, Dees’ balance says the city and pension fund owe him $350,265.
A judge would have to award any such fees.
Figuring out how much the pension fund has paid Bob Klausner, its South Florida attorney, is a bit tricky.
Until January 2014, the fund did not break down its invoices to Klausner by case. However, the last 16 months of invoices do show that the cases that have lasted years have cost the cash-strapped fund hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For instance, two of the Lee cases — the matter over public records and the 30-year-agreement — have cost $235,671 since January 2014.
The case where Times-Union Editor Frank Denton sued the pension fund and the city for negotiating an agreement in secret in 2013 has cost the fund — and ultimately taxpayers who will have to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the fund — $118,327 in the last 16 months. The city and pension fund lost that case at the lower court and appeals court levels.
The city has since said the fight with Denton is over. The pension fund did not and is waiting to hear if the Florida Supreme Court will take the case.
All told, Klausner’s firm has charged the pension fund $633,399.75 over the last 16 months.
Eileen Kelley: (904) 359-4104