OCEAN CITY – The former City Council majority’s request for the mayor to veto an ordinance amending the Ocean City Police Department’s pension plan for new hires was swiftly turned down this week.
In accordance with the ratification of the collective bargaining agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge No.10, an ordinance approached the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening on second reading to amend benefits paid to permit participation of new police employees in the Public Safety defined benefit (DB) pension plan and change the benefit for employees hired after July 1, 2011.
The ordinance states, “from negotiations with the FOP, it has been determined that the best interest of the public is served by allowing sworn police officers to participate in a DB pension plan. The Mayor and City Council have devised a DB plan, which has a financial impact relatively similar to the cost of a defined contribution (DC) plan.”
The council voted 4-2 to approve the ordinance on second reading with Council members Margaret Pillas and Brent Ashley in opposition and Councilman Joe Mitrecic not recording a vote because he had stepped out of the room.
Pillas and Ashley were both part of the former council majority who voted to change the pension plans to a DC plan a few years ago to take care of pension costs in the present versus accumulating long-term debt.
“It is a no vote because it is a DB package being reinstated, especially only to the police department, which is unfair that we consider one segment of public safety and not the other half,” Pillas said. “However, I wasn’t in agreement with either one of them to have it.”
Ashley asked Mayor Rick Meehan to veto the ordinance.
“We have an excellent 401(k) pension plan. In fact, industry sources told me this morning that a 401 invested in equities returned an average of 13 percent in 2012 and first quarter returns for this year are already up 5 percent,” Ashley said. “A return to the former DB plan for the FOP will add to our short-term expense and the long-term debt of the city.”
Ashley also asked the Mayor and Council to consider a more transparent approach to future union negotiations and gave the example of legislation recently introduced in the state of Illinois that would require contracts negotiated between government officials and public sector unions be posted online for 14 days, followed by a public hearing prior to the contract’s ratification.
“This is a common sense approach to let the public have some input before ratification so that the contracts could be altered to reflect public sentiment,” Ashley said. “This type of approach would provide a mechanism for additional public participation in matters directly related to the economic health of our city. These types of decisions shouldn’t happen behind closed doors with the public excluded.”
According to Ashley, the Open Meetings Act of Maryland does not require any meeting to be held behind closed doors.
“Increasing transparency has the potential to save the taxpayers of Ocean City millions of dollars and it’s the right thing to do,” Ashley concluded. “The public pays the bills and should be able to see the decision making process.”
Without any other discussion, Council President Lloyd Martin moved onto the next agenda item without Meehan responding to Ashley’s requests.