Stoneham Town Meeting Will Be Asked To Skuttle Local Retirement Board

MAY 2006 - Stoneham Selectmen, led by an angered John DePinto, want to abolish the Stoneham Retirement Board and turn its duties over to the State Retirement Board.

A warrant article sponsored by Stoneham's Board of Selectman for May 1 Town Meeting will: See if the town will vote to petition the Legislature to pass an act abolishing the Town of Stoneham Retirement Board and transfer all of the responsibilities and duties of the Stoneham Retirement Board to the State [Commonwealth of Massachusetts] Retirement Board.

The warrant article goes on to say that town employees will remain employees of the town and the town will remain liable for any unfunded liability existing at the date of transfer.

The article's language then becomes quite fuzzy. It goes on to say that the town shall annually reimburse the state board of retirement for employer's normal cost of benefits earned each year by such town employees who are members of the state employees' retirement system.

According to reports, DePinto, a first-term selectman, was critical of the Retirement Board when its members silently killed a suggestion made by Town Administrator Ron Florino, that the fifth seat on the Retirement Board be advertised to all interested parties.

Instead, the Board went ahead and unanimously voted to reappoint Janice Houghton to a new three-year term on the Board. The Board then went on to name Houghton as Board Chairman, a title she had held prior to her term expiring.

DePinto was quoted in a local paper as saying, "That sounds like a Kangaroo Court to me. I can't see how a board could refuse to advertise and just snub their noses at the rest of us like that." DePinto said he had nothing against Houghton and his frustration centered on the process.

Houghton, a bank president, explained that past practice has always been to ask the current fifth member if they wished to remain with the Board at the end of each three-year term.

"In the 25-years I've served on the Board it's never been advertised, when they asked me if I wanted to stay, I said yes. I enjoy it and I work with a great group," Houghton said.

Elsie Wallace, an elected member of the Board, is also the administrator of the Stoneham Board. "The Board doesn't have to advertise the position," said Wallace. "The Board has the right to choose whomever they want as long as it's not a member of the Stoneham Retirement System. There was no need to advertise."

Wallace also pointed out that the selectmen's appointee on the Board, Ron Florino, was named to the Board only after the selectmen advertised for the position, but failed to receive a single letter asking to be appointed.

"I've seen some strange pieces of legislation in my lifetime, and this one (warrant article) would have to rank among the top," said Association President Ralph White. It doesn't even mention retirees or the fact that the town would be giving up its voting rights on new pension legislation. Town Meeting members will never hand these rights over to the state. It's not their nature.

"As a member of the State Retirement Board, I would be opposed to the dissolution of any local retirement board. This little brush fire in Stoneham should be quickly extinguished by the Town Meeting members themselves."