By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Two Hallandale Beach commissioners who backed generous retirement benefits for top city officials said they were never told that the program granted retroactive credit for years worked prior to the plan’s start in 2001.
Those extra years and subsequent improvements are allowing those ex-administrators to collect millions of dollars in enhanced benefits that some say amount to undue compensation.
The commissioners’ claim was buttressed when City Manager Renee Crichton said her office has been unable to find any official documents that authorize the granting of retroactive retirement credit
However, two ex-managers – Mark Antonio and Randolph J. “R.J.” Intindola – said commissioners were given details in an actuarial report on the pension plan back in 2001.
“It’s easy for them to say now,” said Antonio, a former city manager and finance director who has said the plan was developed and approved because the existing plan was inadequate.
The controversy surrounding the costly executive retirement plan has intensified as election day approaches. The flap surfaced as the Broward Inspector General’s Office continues its investigation into city management practices.
One current and one former city commissioner are now calling for an outside audit to review the plan and determine how it came to include the lucrative provision granting credit for past years of service – with an eye toward possibly rescinding or halting some of the benefits for those covered by the plan.
The plan was stopped in 2007 for new employees, however about 70 former and current employees continue to accumulate benefits under the program.
COMMISSIONERS KEPT IN THE DARK
Current Commissioner Dorothy Ross and former Commissioner William Julian, who is running again, say they were not aware of the richness of the perks when they backed the management retirement program 11 years ago.
“It was never explained,” Ross said. “Why do something for past years of service? I don’t see the reason for it.”
“When we voted on the pension plan that never was brought up to us,” said Julian. “I never saw any documents about free years. They should not be getting anything free.”
Former Mayor Arthur “Sonny” Rosenberg agreed.
Rosenberg, who was off the commission when the plan was voted on but attended meetings about it in the months before, said there was no discussion about retroactive service credit.
“Robbery, that’s what it was,” Rosenberg said of the plan. The city staff, he added, misled commissioners about the plan and its costs.
Rosenberg said he saw a memo from the finance department stating that the plan would cost “no more than $10,000 a year” and would benefit only about 15 employees with 15 to 20 years of service.
City Manager Crichton, who took over this summer, said she can’t find details on the pension agreement in the city record.
“The city does not have any item that speaks directly to the credit of back time,” Crichton wrote in her memo last week. She attached minutes of various city commission meetings in 2001 where the management plan was discussed and approved but there were no references to approving retroactive service credit.
CITIZEN STEPS IN
Crichton’s memo responded to a public records request filed by commission candidate and community activist Csaba Kulin.
“As I expected there is no authorization to grant all those extra years of service to managerial employees,” said Kulin. “It was done illegally….The three previous city manager, starting with R.J. Intindola, have given themselves and others, illegally, millions of dollars.”
While she could not find any reference to the retroactive credit, Crichton said it is possible the approval was “inherent” when the commissioners approved documents outlining the management plan. She said she has no intention of hiring an outside auditor to review the matter, unless instructed by the commission.
The chance of such a review would appear to increase if Julian and Kulin are elected next month. Both said they want one.
“The commission can reverse anything it wants,” Julian said.
City commissioner Keith London also entered the fray, saying that if he’s elected mayor next month he will seek an outside audit and obtain legal advice on what aspects of the plan can be reversed for current retirees or halted for future ones.
BrowardBulldog.org first reported last week how the management retirement plan has paid off big for some top city officials who helped set it up, or backed later enhancements. Three former city managers – Intinola, Antonio and Mike Good – are among those who have received generous payouts, including monthly pensions totaling $37,000.
Intindola received nearly 20 retroactive years of credit when he retired in 2002. In addition, the plan allowed him to purchase an additional four years without actually working. Without those 24 years his pension would be 96 percent lower. He currently receives an annual pension of $111,700. His highest base city salary was $118,664.
Antonio, the city’s finance director before he became city manager, retired in June and received 14.25 years of retroactive service. He also bought five additional years. Without those 19.25 years his annual pension would be 77 percent lower than its current $127,000. His highest annual salary as a city official was $165,000.
Antonio accumulated another $744,637 in a city DROP (Deferred Option Retirement Plan) savings account.
Good was fired in 2010 after eight years as city manager, for chronic work absences and for other reason. Good now receives a monthly pension of $17,522, or more than $210,000 a years, just $2,000 under his highest regular base pay of $212,000. He also cashed out $786,000 from his DROP account shortly before leaving city employment.
Good did not receive retroactive credit for past years of service in the management plan. Previously, he was in the city employee group pension plan, and his years and payments were transferred to the new plan.