An Op-Ed by Jeff Roorda, SLPOA Business Manager
By now, many of you have had the misfortune of reading Steve Olish’s attack against the SLPOA sent out through the Leadership Organization’s website. This act of desperation by a duo, Olish and the PLO, that has controlled the pension system for far too long is nothing more than a transparent attempt to re-write history.
Let’s stick to the facts.
Mr. Olish takes umbrage with the front page article in the August Gendarme which faults the Pension System under his leadership with “blown opportunities for police raises; expensive trips to sunny destinations; records destroyed; underperformance of investments; and, disability benefits denied for officers injured in the line of duty.” He doesn’t deny any of the other charges, BECAUSE HE CAN’T, but he does emphatically reject any responsibility for the missed opportunity for across-the-board raises for all commissioned police employees.
With elaborate sleight of hand, Mr. Olish clouds the issue through the use of complex, technical pension terms meant to numb the mind of the reader. Let’s boil things down to terms that everyone can understand.
The SLPOA, ESOP, the PLO and City Hall together reached an agreement with the PRS about pension reforms that would save the City about $160 million in pension contributions over the next 30 years. The savings came from two places: minor reductions in benefits for future hires and a change in the method of valuation to the method used by most pension systems in the country, EAN. EAN simply recognizes and addresses the fact that the way pension payments are currently structured requires the sponsor, the City, to pay off liabilities that don’t yet exist. In other words, it requires them to overfund the system.
Everyone agreed, including the PRS, that the switch to EAN represented a more precise system for paying off liabilities. We had a deal that everyone agreed on.
The SLPOA and the Police Board began to negotiate salaries based on that deal. The SLPOA’s bargaining team of Tom Mayer Sr., Ed Clark and Ben Lacy went back and forth with the Police Board over several offers. Despite Mr. Olish’s uninformed claims, every single offer was tied directly to the savings from pension reforms. The offer that was ultimately agreed to was an $8 million package that would have represented across-the-board raises for PO’s and PPO’s of $6,300 over the next two years. The Department planned to extend that raise to officers of all ranks.
Despite Mr. Olish’s assertions, the bargaining team did not walk away from any offers. Mr. Olish claims that they did and then in the next breath complains that he was never a part of salary negotiations. So how would he know?
In the middle of the salary negotiations, the PRS published a new actuarial study and, lo and behold, the $160 million in savings had disappeared. Through an accounting trick, the PRS, or more likely, Mr. Olish, quietly inserted a change to the way that the liabilities were amortized essentially pick-pocketing the members of the system for any money that would have been available for raises. There’s a word for that: double-cross.
The SLPOA and the City pleaded with the PRS to change the legislation back to the original amortization method but they refused and the $8 million raise was withdrawn.
That’s what happened. Mr. Olish may be the highest paid travel agent in St. Louis but he could never get a job as a historian. He can try to re-write history all he wants and continue to attack the organization that has pushed for modest, sensible pension reforms that would result in long-awaited raises but the facts are what they are.
Maybe if Mr. Olish and his PLO allies on the Pension Board spent less money on travel expenses, they wouldn’t feel the need to reach into your wallet and steal your raises. Maybe if they would award officers injured or maimed in the line of duty their rightful disability benefits instead of spending money on frivolous lawsuits to avoid paying those benefits, they wouldn’t feel the need to pickpocket your raises. Maybe if they yielded higher returns on YOUR MONEY when they invested it, everyone, including retirees, could get a cost of living raise.
Mr. Olish can stomp his feet and point fingers all he wants. But, these are the facts. I’ll leave it to you to decide where the blame lies.