Four Boards Change July '03 COLA Vote

MARCH 2004
- Increase Retirees' COLA To 3% - A reconsideration vote by four retirement boards, that had earlier
voted for 1.4% July '03 consumer price index (CPI) COLAs for their
retirees, resulted in three of these boards voting for retroactive 3%
COLAs and a fourth board voting for 3% beginning in January.

Pressured
by their retirees, North Attleboro's Retirement Board voted in October
to increase their members' COLA from 1.4% to a full 3% retroactive to
July. Board member Jack Bush, a retired health agent, asked for the
reconsideration vote.

On December
1st, the Gardner Retirement Board reversed an earlier vote for 1.4% and
voted 4-1 for a 3% July 1 COLA. Elected member John Wall, a retired
firefighter was the moving force behind the vote.

Last
June the Gardner Board had voted 3-2 for 1.4% COLA with Wall and Denise
Merriam, also an elected member, dissenting. Wall then embarked on a
six-month campaign for a new vote and was finally successful in
December. City Auditor Calvin Brooks, the Board's ex officio member,
was the only member who refused to change his earlier vote.

In
Peabody, another retired firefighter, Joe DiFranco, was also on a
campaign to reverse his Board's earlier 1.4% vote. With a number of
retirees present at the Board's early morning (7:00 a.m.) meeting on
December 11, DiFranco, an elected member, was successful in winning
reconsideration and ultimately a 3% COLA. The Board then voted 3-2 that
the 3% would begin in January, with DiFranco and police officer Dick
Bettencourt, also an elected member, unsuccessfully seeking a
retroactive vote to July.

In
Easthampton, frequently a problematic community, retired police officer
Jack Ramsey had been stirring up the troops ever since the Board's 1.4%
COLA vote last June.

On December 22,
with Jack Walsh, our Association's Western Mass. V.P. and a number of
retirees present, Board chairman Jim Dunham, still another retired
firefighter, allowed Rich Gwinner, an elected member, to offer a
reconsideration vote. Walsh asked the Board "in the spirit of
Christmas" to vote for three percent. Ramsey pointed out that many
retirees have pensions of less than $12,000 (COLA base) and badly
needed the three percent.

City
Auditor Joanne Santaniello, the Board's ex officio member, said the
increased adjustment would strain the city's budget and negatively
impact services. Santaniello attempted to postpone the vote until an
absent Board member could be present. She then said that a vote by
Dunham could be a conflict of interest because he would benefit from
the 3%. After losing the vote, she proceeded to send letters to town
officials questioning a conflict of interest.

The
new vote, with one member absent, was 3-1 in favor of 3%, retroactive
to July. Mayor Michael Tautznick was quoted in a local paper as saying,
"The members of the Retirement Board caved in to lobbying pressure and
didn't take the responsible action. They continue to be wasteful."

One
Board, Somerville, took the unusual step last year of voting for a 2.5%
COLA, thus thwarting our hopes for a perfect year in which all eligible
retirees and survivors of our 106 retirement systems received full 3%
COLAs in 2003.

Association President
Ralph White singled out John Wall, Joe DiFranco and Jack Ramsey for the
work they did on behalf of the retirees of their communities:

"John
Wall publicly took on Gardner's Mayor Daniel Kelly, whom he said was
responsible for the earlier 1.4% vote of three Board members. There's
no doubt that John's tenacity resulted in the mayor changing his
position when the reconsideration vote was taken.

"Joe
DiFranco also focused on his mayor, Michael Bonfanti, persistently
lobbying the Peabody mayor to encourage members of the board to change
their vote when he (DiFranco) moved for reconsideration.

"Jack
Ramsey was a veteran of the January, 2000 action when Easthampton
retirees were able to convince the City Council to vote to pay half of
the retirees' and survivors' health insurance premiums. When
Easthampton was a town, such a vote had always failed as a ballot
question, Jack did the same person-to-person, one-on-one work on behalf
of the COLA that he did on the health insurance vote."

Both
Gardner and Easthampton are members of the Commonwealth's Pension
Reserves Investment Trust (PRIT) Fund, meaning their pension funds were
among the top earners in the state last year. This should bode well for
a 3% COLA vote this year.

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