A short-lived, perk-laden retirement plan has paid off big for some top Hallandale Beach officials who helped set it up a decade ago – but today it’s costing city taxpayers extra millions of dollars.
Approved and implemented by the city commission in October 2001, the plan’s key provision granted those ranking city officials retroactive credit for prior years of service – even if they were in another retirement plan.
The Professional Management Retirement Plan also boosted pensions for top city bureaucrats in other costly ways. For example, the plan was calculated to equate the sedentary desk jobs of department heads and their assistants to the “high risk” street duties of city police and firefighters.
City commissioners were also eligible for the plan, but because their pay was so low, and their length of service varied, the financial impact was minimal.
Three former city managers who played key roles in developing the retirement plan or subsequent add-on benefits are now collecting pensions that are at or near their highest annual salaries when they were active city employees.
Ex-city manager Mike Good was fired in 2010 after eight years due to his chronic work absences and for other reasons. Today, at age 51, Good receives a monthly pension of $17,522, or more than $210,000 a year. His highest regular salary was $212,000.
But a higher monthly pension isn’t the only way that Good and his fellow city managers have benefitted from the management retirement plan.
Good, who started working for the city as a welder in the 1980s, cashed out $786,000 from his city DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) savings account a few months before he departed. The account, established under the retirement plan, was funded largely by the city.
Good also received another $146,000 in accrued sick leave, vacation time and other benefits when he left.
The city commission closed the retirement plan, including the DROP program, to new employees in 2007 citing exorbitant costs. City records indicate that about 70 employees, active and inactive, are eligible to receive benefits under the plan that initially required employees contribute five percent of their salary, but was later hiked to seven percent.
“It’s outrageous: fat, oversized pensions,” said Csaba Kulin, a community activist and city commission candidate. “This was mismanagement…employees should not have gotten credit for past years of service. They should have begun accumulating benefits when the plan went into effect. It’s undue compensation.”
The pension disclosures come as the Broward Inspector General’s Office continues its investigation into suspected mismanagement and fraud involving city loans to local businesses and questionable land purchases by the city’s commission-run Community Redevelopment Agency.
PAYOUTS JACKED UP
Payouts to top city workers were further jacked up by management plan provisions that reduced the full retirement age from 60 to 52 with 25 years of service, inserted regular cost of living increases, and allowed workers to purchase additional years of service for time they didn’t actually work.
Some top employees also received two pensions because they were allowed to keep 10-17% of gross salary contributions by the city in the previous retirement plan.
Some details of the Professional Management Retirement Plan are unclear. BrowardBulldog.org asked the city clerk’s office to provide commission minutes and documents regarding the authorization of retroactive service credit for employees prior to October 2001, but was told those records are “not available.”
Mark Antonio, 56, is a former city finance director who succeeded Good as city manager in 2010 and retired at the end of June. In 2001, he explained aspects of the retirement plan to commissioners before it was approved. He now receives a monthly pension of $10,645, or $127,800 annually. City records state that his highest base city salary was $165,000.
Like Good, Antonio accumulated a considerable city-funded nest egg in his DROP account: $744,637 by July 31, 2012, according to city records. City officials said he was also due about another $100,000 for unused sick and vacation days and other earned benefits.
Randolph J. “R.J.” Intindola, under whose administration the retirement plan was adopted, retired as city manager in 2002. He receives a monthly pension of $9,308, or $111,700 annually. His highest base city salary was $118,664.
Intindola, now 61, retired a year after the plan was implemented citing health concerns. At the time, the plan did not allow him to have a DROP account. He did receive a payment of $139,000 for accrued sick, vacation and other benefits, according to city documents.
Two city commissioners who backed the plan in 2001 now wish they hadn’t.
“My thinking today is ‘no,’ ” said Commissioner Dorothy Ross. “We can’t go back to that time.”
William Julian, who left the commission but is now running again, said he had “no experience with pensions” when the matter was brought up years ago by City Manager Intindola and staff. He said they told him the plan was “normal” for top city officials.
“Looking back, we should never have offered the plan,” said Julian, especially the granting of credit for past years of service. “I was new,” Julian said. “It sounded logical and we took staff at their word, but I wouldn’t take it now.”
The cost of the plan is in the millions, said Julian. He added that cost includes the $900-a-month he began to receive last year. He was credited for service on the commission from 2001 until 2010 when he was not reelected.
Mayor Joy Cooper, who has been on the commission since 1999, was the lone vote against the plan back in 2001. “I did not feel comfortable,” she said.
She said she also now opposes the idea of equating top management jobs to those of police and firefighters – something she voted to approve in 2003.
“Police and firefighters are in a different category,” Cooper said. “They put their lives on the line.”
EX-CITY MANAGERS LIKE THE PLAN
Each of the three former city managers defended the management retirement plan, though only Intindola acknowledged that it has elevated costs to taxpayers by millions of dollars.
“Absolutely, it was okay,” said Antonio, who got retroactive credit for the 14.25 years he worked for the city before the plan went into effect in 2001. He also purchased an additional five years of service credit at a cost of 8% of salary for each year purchased.
Without credit for those 14.25 years, Antonio’s pension would be about 57% lower. Without those years and the extra years he purchased, his pension would be approximately 77% lower.
Antonio said commissioners implemented the management retirement plan to address a lack of fairness regarding pensions for top managers. At the time, the city was contributing 10 to 17 percent of gross salary to their 401a retirement accounts.
Intindola agreed. “It was a good thing,” he said. “We had to improve the [existing] plan; we had a high turnover.”
Intindola began working for the city in February 1982. He received nearly 20 years of retroactive credit under the management retirement plan, and also bought another four years of service.
Without those nearly 24 years of credit, Intindola’s pension would be about 96 percent lower.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The 2001 switch to the management retirement plan was not supposed to be costly, Intindola said. The amount the city was then paying in benefits was expected to cover most of the new plan.
But changes made after he left, including the addition of a cost of living adjustment (COLA), and a guaranteed 8 percent annual increase to DROP accounts, proved to be “a killer” – driving up annual pension costs by $2 million, Intindola said.
Radu Dodea, a Hallandale personnel official who administers the management pension plan, said he has no estimate as to how much the city will have to pay management plan participants over their lifetimes.
But city activist and commission candidate Kulin said those cost estimates are exorbitant. He estimated the long-term cost to city taxpayers for the years of service and other benefits total about $10 million.
A city financial report from 2002 obtained by BrowardBulldog.org stated those payouts could amount to nearly $9 million. The report said the initial estimate for unfunded costs, including covering past years of service for employees, was approximately $1.7 million.
The change that Intindola said caused the city’s costs to spike occurred while Good was city manager.
Good, unlike the other ex-city managers, said he did not receive retroactive credit for years of service because he had been in the General Employees Pension Plan since the day he started in March 1985. He switched to the management plan for its superior benefits when it was approved in 2001 and transferred money he and the city previously contributed. By then he was director of Public Works.
It was also under Good in 2007 that the management plan was finally shutdown for new employees.
“The economy went kaput and defined pension plan costs were rising and they wanted to cut costs,” city Human Resources director George Amiraian said.