OCEAN CITY – A citizen questioned Councilman Joe Hall’s responsibility and position as a trustee on the pension committee during this week’s Mayor and City Council meeting.
Tom Kane spoke to the Mayor and City Council during the comments from the citizen’s portion of this week’s meeting. Kane is retired from the town’s fire department, contributing 32 years of service to Ocean City. He also served as the elected person representative for public safety personnel, prior to his retirement.
Kane said that there are concerns of conflict of interest among the pension committee upon hearing Hall’s comments after last week’s Mayor and City Council meeting concerning his ideals of town employee retirement benefits.
Once hearing Hall’s comments, Kane turned to the town’s pension plan document and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in concern over Hall’s position and dedication to his responsibility serving as a trustee on the Ocean City Employee and Public Safety Employees Pension Plan and Trust.
“The trustee shall discharge his duties under this plan fully in interest of participants and beneficiaries for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries,” Kane quoted the document.
Kane then reminded the public and the council of Hall’s comments from last week’s meeting.
“Once they [town employees] retire, I think the town should be done with them,” Joe Hall said. “The future of the council should not have to be funding people that no longer work for the town, its unsustainable.”
Kane then questioned whether Hall is able to perform the judiciary duties as a pension trustee member. He added if any other council member felt the same way as Hall, if they should be able to perform their duties as well.
“Maybe the ordinance should be amended to the following language,” Kane said. “Such designated individuals shall not serve as a trustee if they are unwilling or unable to accept the judiciary duties in responsibility of a trustee.”
Hall rebutted that the statement he made at last week’s meeting, which he still believes in, does not violate his judiciary duty as a trustee of the pension committee.
“It [duty] is to get input and to guide managers of that pension fund to get the best return possible, and that is what I will do as a pension trustee,” Hall said.
Hall argued that his duty has nothing to do with the fact that he believes that the future of the town shouldn’t be responsible for an employee fund from the date he/she is hired until an unknown date in the future.
“If I fail in my judiciary duty, it is the taxpayers of Ocean City that would have to pay more to cover the weakness of trustees,” Hall said.
Hall then argued that Kane had no need to worry about his retirement because it’s already defined.
“Well, it sounds like to me you don’t support the defined benefit, but more the 401K,” Kane said. “As the whole council sits on the pension committee, if you don’t support the program, how can you truly make the right judgments for it when you’re supporting another type of pension.”
Hall responded that the taxpayers are the ones who should be concerned.
“You’re going to get it [defined benefits] no matter what I do,” Hall said. “If I totally mess it up, our obligation to you stays exactly the same.”
Kane then explained that even though the council is aiming its changes in benefits toward new hires, he is still concerned over current employee retirement benefits.
“Will your judgments for the current plan, and the current employees, will that be clouded by how you truly feel with what you want for the future employee?,” Kane asked.
Hall responded his judgment will not be “clouded” because he is working for the taxpayer.
“What you said contradicts what the plan documents say,” Kane asserted. “You as a pension trustee, your obligation is to the employees and their beneficiaries, not to the tax payers, when you make your judgment calls for the pension.”
By this point, Hall proposed that the matter be presented to the town’s ethics board.
“I would be more then happy to go there and talk to them … I think it is important if it is a concern of the current employees,” Hall said.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres stated his opinion that Hall is not conflicted out by serving the council and the committee
“Whether Joe Hall feels future employees should have a 401K, or a defined plan, or shouldn’t have any pension benefit at all, has no relationship to whether he is capable of carrying out his judiciary obligations to this particular plan,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said that the success of the trustees and how the money is invested is relevant to the plan because although those revenues don’t meet projections and the town has to pay for it, that still has to be approved by the Mayor and City Council.
“The success of the plan, and the success of the pension trustees is vital to the continuing success of our retirement,” Meehan said.