Hallandale Beach officials altered city pension guidelines to enable the son-in-law of former city manager Mike Good to join a lucrative management-only pension plan after it was closed to additional employees.
The policy revisions made by top city staff – apparently without city commission approval – extended the defined-benefit plan’s cutoff date, allowing Douglas Grant Baber to participate.
City records obtained by BrowardBulldog.org state that in 2006 then-City Manager Good ordered the plan shut to new management employees effective January 1, 2007.The move followed complaints by city commissioners about the plan’s escalating costs. Instead, those employees would enter a 401(a) defined contribution plan.
But that deadline would soon change.
On March 5, 2007 then-Assistant City Manager Mark Antonio sent an email to Human Resources Director George Amiraian, with a copy to Good, with the subject line “Pension Options for Douglas Baber.”
Baber was hired as an administrative analyst in early 2006 and in February 2007 he was promoted to personnel analyst. It was a position that would have made him eligible for the management retirement plan if it were still in effect, and Baber wanted in.
Antonio’s memo says that because of the January 1st deadline he had “assumed” Baber would instead enter the other plan.
“However, based on our recent conversations, it appears Doug (Baber) is expecting to enter the Defined Benefit (management) Plan and I’m not sure how to accomplish that without a new pension plan amendment and ordinance,” Antonio said. “Please set up a meeting to discuss with me and or the city manager.”
No record of that meeting could be located. But handwritten notes on a copy of the same email maintained in city files indicate that Good OK’d Baber’s entry into the management plan.
“Sent Doug app. for DB plan per C.M.,” the notes on Antonio’s email say.
Baber, now 37, married Good’s daughter on March 31, 2007.
Good, a 25-year city employee who served as city manager from 2002 until his dismissal for excessive absences and other reasons in June 2010, did not respond to requests for comment.
Baber, who no longer works for the city, declined to comment.
Antonio’s solution, it turned out, did not require an amendment to the pension plan or a new city ordinance.
He explained his decision in twin memos to Amiraian and representatives of the company that administers the pension plan, the Principal Financial Group, on May 17, 2007.
The memos state in part that employees hired prior to Oct. 1, 2006 and promoted to a “professional/management” position prior to Oct. 1, 2010 – a description that fit Baber – “will be eligible to enter the defined benefit (management) plan.”
Antonio’s memos cite no authority for that decision, nor do they explain why the change was being made.
The city clerk’s office said it could not locate any reference to the policy change in city commission minutes.
Browardbulldog.org asked Amiraian how Baber was allowed into the management pension plan after it was closed. His assistant, Radu Dodea, later cited Antonio’s memos to show how it was accomplished.
A Principal Financial Group enrollment form in Baber’s personnel file showed he was placed in the management plan as of his promotion date on Feb. 5, 2007. That form is dated April 18, 2007.
The Professional Management Retirement Plan, approved and implemented by the city commission in 2001, boosted pensions for top city bureaucrats in several costly ways. For example, it was calculated to equate their jobs to the “high risk” duties of police and firefighters and granted retroactive credit for prior years of service even if they were in another city retirement plan.
Baber, whose annual salary was $65,000, resigned after five years of city employment on Feb. 22, 2011. When he left, he took a pension plan payout of nearly $20,000.
Today, the city is suing Baber for failing to repay $6,400 in tuition reimbursements he received. Baber, however, has sought bankruptcy protection in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
Antonio, who succeeded Good as city manager and retired last June, would not discuss the policy changes, saying he could not recall the circumstances.
Former City Commissioner Keith London, who lost a race for mayor in November, said the reason for the retirement plan deadline change is apparent to him.
“It’s obvious it was for Doug Baber,” London said. “This was all Good’s doing. Who else could do it?”