Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

October 22, 2013

Giving mayor PERF benefit rankles some

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Some politicians in Washington, D.C., have been cranky lately and that mood also infected the Oct. 14 Batesville City Council meeting as members considered a resolution to enlarge the city’s contribution to the Indiana Public Retirement System’s Public Employees’ Retirement Fund to include the mayor.

Mayor Rick Fledderman said he assumed he already had the PERF benefit because all other full-time city employees do. When he recently met with a retirement adviser, they called PERF officials and discovered he was not covered. “This was a shock ... Shame on me for not looking at my paycheck.” The city of Batesville and employees make contributions to the fund.

Clerk-treasurer Ron Weigel said, “Because the mayor’s position dating back to 2004 was considered a full-time position … we discussed making this retroactive going back to 2004.” The state rule is an employee must work 1,000 hours annually to be eligible.

About 100 out of 120 Indiana mayors participate in PERF, according to Weigel. “The time frame for submitting this is no later than Nov. 1. These funds (a little over $20,000 for the past decade) would be coming from the Rainy Day Fund.” If council members approved the resolution, the benefit would continue for future mayors, he said.

Reaction from some present at the meeting was mostly negative. Attendee Mike Coleman read a letter from former utilities manager Mike Vonderheide, who was out of town. It said, in part, “Under no circumstances should the council approve any backdating of the mayor’s retirement benefit. If the council wishes to start covering that position from now going forward, that is within their authority, but I would not recommend that for this position.”

On the other hand, councilman Darrick Cox, who was absent, wrote, “I feel that it’s common sense to pass this resolution.”

Coleman had a few of his own thoughts. “When did the (mayor’s) position become full time?” he questioned. Fledderman said since his first term, which began in 2004. Coleman continued, “Do you have a time card that you punch?” The answer was no, but Weigel pointed out the mayor has city health insurance and must be full time to do so.

Coleman wondered, “When did you become economic development director?” The answer is Jan. 1, 2008, according to a past article in The Herald-Tribune. Coleman argued, “One of the premises of you taking that position was you were part time as a mayor” before that date.

The mayor said, “I feel like I’m being cross-examined …. I’ve been more than full time. I can tell you I put in 60 hours” weekly. Batesville Utilities Service Board President Sue Siefert stressed, “To say Mayor Fledderman doesn’t work 1,000 hours a year is an insult to that man.” Council President Gene Lambert agreed, “I’ve seen the work ethic. He’s always here.”

Coleman said, his voice raised, “I don’t think you qualify for this ... I don’t think it’s fair for you to change your contract with the citizenry.” Fledderman said, “You’re entitled to your opinion.”

The next day Coleman said by e-mail, “Basically, I think that anyone that qualifies for PERF should be able to opt in. For elected officials, the handbook states that there are other considerations ... If the mayor were to qualify, I don’t think it should be retroactive ... It should be either for the next elected mayor or from this point forward.”

Jim Dreyer, who ran for mayor against Fledderman in 2011, also disagreed with funding the PERF benefit retroactively. Weigel contended, “The mayor puts in as many or more hours than the clerk-treasurer,” and the clerk-treasurer was added to PERF in 1993. Both are elected officials, he pointed out.

In 2014, the mayor will earn $78,533, according to Ordinance 6-2013. The money is derived from three sources: basic salary, $35,103; $16,430 from utilities revenues; and a $27,000 economic development director stipend. Council member Kevin Chaffee wanted to know if the PERF contribution would be figured using solely the basic salary. Weigel said according to PERF leaders, his total city income would be used to calculate the benefit.

Chaffee was concerned about future mayors meeting full-time PERF standards. “There’s nobody in charge of the mayor” to verify hours worked. He asked, “What prevents a mayor from already having retirement benefits,” then getting PERF as well, “essentially double dipping?” He added later, “I’m against creating retirement benefits for the mayor … I think this has long-term ramifications for Batesville. It provides a powerful incentive for people to become lifetime politicians.”

Council member Bob “Tuba” Narwold observed a politician “still has to get elected. Everybody else (in city government) who was eligible to be in PERF is in PERF.”

Lambert made a motion to pass Resolution 16-2013, which states the mayor will be included in PERF retroactive to 2004. The vote was 3-1, Chaffee opposed.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.