Gardner Retirees Lose Heated COLA Battle

SEPTEMBER 2003
- One Community's Tale Of Courageous Struggle - It was the hottest day of the year and a large group of Gardner
retirees were even hotter on June 27 when the Gardner Retirement Board,
by a 3-2 vote, rejected their request for a 3% July COLA.

Led
by Association President Ralph White, retiree after retiree addressed
the Board, each making valid statements justifying the need for a 3%
COLA rather than the 1.4% COLA which was on the table for a vote.

But
when the Board's vote was taken in the steamy City Council chamber,
which lacked air conditioning, the three members of the Board, who had
earlier been lobbied by Mayor Dan Kelley to vote for 1.4%, were unmoved.

At
that point, the retirees, who were quite orderly prior to the vote,
exploded in anger at the three Board members who had unjustly denied
them a very reasonable COLA.

John
Wall (elected member) had done an outstanding job in explaining to the
three recalcitrants why the city's funding schedule justified a 3% COLA
and that there was no rational fiscal evidence to vote for less.

Wall,
a retired firefighter, said that the vote would have been for 3%, if
Kelley had not intervened and convinced Board members Kevin McInerney,
a car salesman (Kelley's appointee), and Charles Langlois, Jr., a
private sector retiree (fifth member), to vote for 1.4%. Strangely,
Kelley is a firefighter who took a leave of absence four years ago to
run for mayor. He will return to his job as a firefighter this fall
where he will be immediately eligible for an 80% pension in Group 4,
based on his salary as mayor.

Denise
Merriam, a DPW employee who is the Board's other elected member, also
spoke strongly in support of a 3% COLA. Merriam, a longtime Board
member, has always backed Gardner's retirees.

During
the meeting, McInerney and Langlois remained mute, while only Calvin
Brooks, the city auditor who is the ex officio member, attempted to
make a case for the lesser COLA. Brooks said he would always vote for
the CPI figure when it is lower than 3%.

"I can't say enough about John Wall's leadership during the month prior
to the meeting," said White. "He organized the retirees, had his
funding facts straight and was not hesitant to point a finger at
Kelley, despite their longtime friendship."

"My
mission is to look out for Gardner's retirees and survivors," Wall
said. "My relationship with Dan Kelley as a fellow firefighter comes
second. Plain and simple, the 1.4% vote was an injustice."

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