Middlesex Board Under Attack

MARCH 2004
- Power Play By Town Managers - A small cadre of town managers within the Middlesex Retirement System
are attempting to abolish the current Middlesex Retirement Board and
replace it with a new board of their own design.

During
a two hour hearing at the State House, the Middlesex Board came under
attack by the Billerica and Chelmsford town managers, as well as a
selectman from Acton, each of whom claimed to be representing the
majority of selectmen in the 31 towns that hold membership in the
Middlesex Retirement System.

Under
the proposed legislation - House Bill 3584 - the current five-member
board would be dissolved and replaced by a new seven-member board
consisting of three elected members from within the Middlesex System,
three members from the Middlesex Advisory Council and an additional
member to be chosen by the first six. The additional member would not
be a member of the system.

The Board
would then appoint an executive director who is not a member of the
System or the Advisory Council. The executive director would then
appoint a comptroller and a treasurer-custodian who would also not be
members of the System.

While on the
surface it would appear to be a balanced board, instead it is a cover
for a lengthy, cleverly designed piece of legislation that would leave
the elected members almost powerless.

'Bad Bill' - White

"It's
a power play by a small number of town managers who are disgruntled
with the current board... It reeks of petty politics on the part of
officials who are attempting to defame the Board while boosting
themselves as reformers. Retirement Boards around the state are
watching this bill. They know it's a bad bill," said Association
President Ralph White who testified in opposition to the legislation.
White was representing the Massachusetts Association of Contributory
Retirement Systems (MACRS) at the hearing.

Others
who testified against the bill included Professional Firefighters'
Legislative Representative Bob Kilduff, Worcester Regional Retirement
Board Director Mike Donoghue, Watertown Retirement Board member Wayne
MacDonald, MACRS Legislative Agent Coley Walsh, Middlesex Attorney Tom
Gibson and Middlesex Chairman Jim Fahey.

"Employees
and retirees around the state have been struggling for years with
unfunded retirement systems. Now that systems such as Middlesex have
seen their funding levels increase, we're seeing local officials want
to take over the funds," said Bob Kilduff of the Firefighters Union who
opposed the bill.

"If towns have a
complaint with their board they should deal directly with the board.
Filing a bill such as this without notifying the board is disingenuous.
It's not the right way to go. Middlesex has a good reputation and the
Board is run by some very dedicated board members and staff," Kilduff
said.

In addition to Billerica Town
Manager Richard Montouri, Chelmsford Town Manager Bernard Lynch and
Acton Selectman William H. Shupert III, State Representative Corey
Atkins (D-Concord) and State Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch
(D-Wellesley) spoke in favor of the bill.

Shupert,
who appeared to be setting himself up as the proponents' "pit bull,"
embarked on a lengthy tirade during which he went so far as accusing
the Middlesex Board of criminal acts. After being cut considerable
slack by Public Service Committee House Chairman Robert Koczera, he
finally had to be cut off by the Chair.

In
responding to criticism of the System's unfunded liability, Fahey
pointed out that the System had been paying down its unfunded liability
in a moderate rather than more aggressive manner in the 1990s because
the Board opted to reduce the communities' assessments instead. "This
came at a time when the towns really needed relief," he said.

After
the hearing, Koczera said the bill needed further study. He did not
anticipate any action on the bill over the next few months. He added
after hearing the comments and criticisms and reviewing piles of
written testimony that what matters the most to him is the financial
performance of the Middlesex System.

Tags: