Post 3-Response for Peter Pfeifer County Commission

Tue, 07/01/2008 - 5:22pm
By: John Thompson

1. Given that there’s a serious economic recession and given that many — if not most — defined benefit plans are in trouble across the nation, explain your position on the county’s new retirement plan.
My position is clear. I oppose Defined Benefit Plans (DB) for Fayette County employees. I was the only Commissioner to vote against changing our Plan, on December 5th, 2007.
Business and government at all levels, and in all places, are halting DB. They are simply too expensive to be maintained, no matter the “projections” made when they were established.
The path typically followed is to install a program, with projections/predictions that they will be affordable for the employer and will be there for the employee when they retire. These promises are usually made by corporate leaders or political leaders who are often not going to be in their offices when the major bills come due.
Then the Plan becomes too financially burdensome for the business or government to support. Then, typically, after the damage is done to the business or government, the Plan and the promise to the employees are broken.
What examples can we look at? Well, many of our own Fayette County taxpayers, the ones who are asked to finance these schemes, lost their DB Plans that they had earned working for Eastern Airlines. Delta terminated it’s pilot’s DB Plan. United Airlines and Bethlehem Steel. “Frozen Plans” include Verizon, IBM, Motorola, Lockheed Martin, Sears and NCR.
What about governments? The City of Atlanta has its well known financial problems. These are due, in part, to soaring pension costs. The town of Vallejo California declared bankruptcy to avoid their pension obligations. Towns, counties and states are all running away from these Plans.
Those supporting a DB Plan for Fayette County employees must make a remarkable claim: Fayette County, and they, are so much smarter than everyone else in the world that they can make a Plan work that fails every time it’s been tried elsewhere.
While I am on this subject, let me make a couple of points. The Motion, made by Eric Maxwell and seconded by Robert Horgan on December 5th, 2007 was as follows. “To change the county’s retirement from a single defined contribution plan to a hybrid plan that includes a defined benefits plan and a defined contribution plan, and to further authorize the Chairman and the County Administrator to develop a contract to be voted on by the full Board for the new retirement plan, and a committee be formed to review this plan on a quarterly basis to determine the status with said plan becoming effective July 1, 2008, or as soon as possible thereafter. The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Pfeifer voting in opposition.”.
In the minutes, that’s about it for the whole topic on December 5th. That’s what I find so offensive about the minutes we now have. (More on that elsewhere)
But, I did obtain the CD recording from that date. On that recording, you can hear the motion and a great deal of discussion about the meaning etc. It’s pretty plain to me, if you vote to CHANGE something – you didn’t vote to study it some more!
Also, in this recording you can clearly hear Commissioner Frady make several comments about his support for a DB Plan if the employees wanted it. A quote: “If the employees want it, I’d vote for it in a heartbeat”. I still hoped at this point that he might join me in voting against changing the Plan but it was a false hope.
I don’t “get” how voting to CHANGE Fayette County’s Plan to a DB is voting against DB.
Later votes on this issue were at the February 5th, 2008 meeting when Commissioner Maxwell made a motion, second by Horgan, to engage an actuary to “help transition the county from its current retirement plan to the Defined Benefit/Hybrid Plan.” Passed 5-0.
Then on April 2, 2008 Mr. Maxwell motioned to hire Mr. Clark Weeks to develop a “legal plan” and to authorize the Interim County Administrator to negotiate the fee for a 1.5% retirement plan. Horgan second. “Commissioner Pfeifer stated he had philosophical disagreements with implementing a Defined Benefits Plan, but since it was clear to him a Defined Benefits plan was coming, he wanted to have the best plan possible. Commissioner Frady also expressed his concerns and said he would not vote in favor of the motion. The motion passed 4-1 with Commissioner Frady voting in opposition”.
Since my vote on that motion has been portrayed as my “voting for a Defined Benefit Plan”, and Commissioner Frady’s vote is portrayed as “voting against a Defined Benefit Plan”, I have made a decision to never again vote for any motion that has the words Defined and Benefit in the same sentence! I don’t support Defined Benefits period.
2. Do you have any numbers on what such a plan will cost taxpayers in 10 years, 20 years? If you don’t have the numbers, why not and why should we believe your projections?
No, I don’t have any numbers. I don’t believe in anyone’s projections any more than I believe in the projections made for Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Just more promises by politicians, financed by taxpayers.
And, Pension Plans that fail are most likely going to be “bailed out” by the federal PBGC (Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation). Guess who would get to pay for that!
This Plan exhibits the typical approach. There is even a folk saying about it. It is “the Camel’s Nose Under the Tent”. Politicians always assure folks, that “this Plan will SAVE US MONEY”! Those politicians are looking for short-term political benefit.
When the whole camel is in the tent and the trouble comes, those politicians are usually long gone or they figure that people will forget the past and the taxpayer is left holding the bag.
3. Again, economic realities have forced many private sector businesses and families to forego raises and increased spending. Are county workers — with big new raises — exempt from what the rest of us are facing? Defend (or condemn) big raises using taxpayers’ money at such a time as this.
I condemn the raises given to County employees this year, and I was the only vote against them.
I have written about this before. In my last letter, I listed a series of percentages. We all know the phrase; there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Well, the statistics for the percentages of the raises can be spun in many ways.
When the Commission was working on this year’s budget, I saw the increases in each Department’s salary and benefits (and the decreases in Operating Budget). The increases got my attention because this was a real way we could see the impact of the raises. This is the real number that shows the real consequence to the taxpayer.
You could argue this or that about who got how much, that is not relevant to my point. The Departments I’ve listed have no changes in personnel that could obscure the impact of the pay raises.
Those are actual increases in salary and benefits. Increases that the taxpayers will finance. I’ll list them again: 10%, 14.2%, 9.2%, 9.4%, 5.4%, 7.5%, 8.3%, 16%, 9.4%, 7.5%, 17.6%, 7.2%, 2.6%, 7.5%, 7.1%, 9.3%, 3.4%, 13.7%, 17.4%, 8.7%, 5.4%, 9.1%, 7%, 14.7%.
The Commission Chairman recently made remarks about employees and their pay level and their raise percentage etc. That is not relevant to the truth that the actual increases, in cost to the taxpayer by Department are those I have listed. It’s in the Budget.Look it up.
The Commission Chairman also commented on my saying that, “this Budget looked like Department Heads had been told to cut their Operating Budgets to preserve the Pay Raise”. The Chairman said that, this year, they were asked to only request what they needed. What did they request before? Is he saying that they asked for things they did not need?
I guess a difference between me and the other Commissioners is that my main concern is those who are paying the salaries, the taxpayer. That is not the same as being anti-employee, which I am not. I just believe that I should consider the interests of the taxpayer first, second and third.
Everyone’s job, regardless of his or her employer – public or private, is to serve the customer. If you are not doing that, you will fail.
4. What specifically will you as a Republican do to ease taxpayers’ burdens when you are elected?
First, as I said at our June 26th meeting, salary increases are permanent. They were given out this year, there will be more next year and those increased costs will be there every year.
Constant increases in spending must stop. Salaries for employees should be based on performance and nothing else. What happens now is that the claim is made that our pay rates are too low and that we are losing trained employees to other jurisdictions. Then we are expected to raise our pay scales to “meet” the rates paid by other governments.
I have two problems with this. The first is that these “too high” turnover rates are not documented. Yes, we do have a turnover rate – everyone does. Included in that turnover rate are, for example, the people hired to start in the jail. The Sheriff’s Department uses this to hire new people to see how they perform prior to being brought into the Sheriff Deputy slots. Some employees decide they don’t like law enforcement and they leave, others can’t pass the Sheriff Deputy tests and they leave. They are counted in our “turnover” rate.
We used to do, or I used to see, “exit reports” which outlined why people left County employment. Included were people who left because their spouse had been transferred, younger people who left Fire & Emergency service because “not much goes on here”, who went to places like Atlanta where they have more fires. Some of them come back, but they are included in our “Turnover Rate”.
We have people who leave our Law Enforcement and Fire & Emergency service because they find it hard to advance. The reason it is hard to advance is because the older, more experienced employees stay here and there is little room for promotion! You would think that the older, more experienced people would be the ones leaving for “greener pastures” if Fayette County was really the terrible place to work that is portrayed by those who want more of our tax dollars.
The second problem that comes out of this tactic is the playing of one government against another and the constant ratcheting up of pay scales. The method is to make the claim to a government who believes it and gives out raises. Then, they can go to the next government and say, “That government raised pay scales and we are losing employees to them!”. Then the next and the next and the next – pay scales would then go up and up and up. It’s easy to work this on governments because government leaders don’t have to make a profit to stay in business, they can just raise our taxes.
The increase in the total budget last year was 10.9%. The decrease, from operating (taxpayer service) budget and capital (taxpayer service) budget, this year was –6.1%. Is a decrease after an increase a decrease? You’ll have to ask Washington D.C. about that.
Did I vote for last year’s budget? Yes, I did, and you can refer to my letter written after that to see exactly why (
This Commission has also spent your money frivolously. They held a ‘Retreat” to discuss county issues down in Callaway Gardens. In previous years, the “Retreats” have been held here in the County where interested citizens and the press could attend and observe the events. Also, the money spent for the retreat facility stayed here in Fayette. An additional waste of tax money comes in the fact that 4 of your 5 Commissioners (and Staff) stayed in The Lodge in Callaway Gardens overnight on your dollar (I did not).
I opposed the raises, I oppose the proposed Defined Benefits Plan and I opposed the Callaway Retreat.
Do you really believe Commissioners who claim they want to “hold down spending” and then go on to support An Aquatic Center, an Arts & Entertainment Center and a Community Center? These things are not cheap, are not things your government ought to be spending your money on and will add to the operating budgets forever.
I raised an issue during our recent Budget Workshops. I suggested that the County do more, when buying new vehicles, to look at fuel efficiency and operating expenses. Sometimes we do need a high performance vehicle for law enforcement or construction. But, not all of our vehicles need to be the biggest and most powerful.
5. Suppose I’m a real estate developer who wants to rezone 100 acres in the center of the county to double its current residential density. How will you evaluate my request, step by step? And how would your governing philosophy incline you to vote on my request? (If you can’t answer, why should anybody vote for you?)
First, we’ve already had two requests to rezone to a much higher density , in the center of the county.
The first was the Del Webb/Sun City proposal. It was a huge increase in density, in the center of our county – next to the hospital and extending north. I thought the plans were very pretty and potential residents of the development would like it but it was not an appropriate project for Fayette County. Much too dense and would set a precident on density for other projects. I did not support it.
The second is a Stinchcomb request to rezone almost 300 acres in the center of our county, starting across from the hospital, on the south side of 54 and extending down to Ebenezer Church Road. Commissioner Frady supported rezoning this AR to R-80 but the rest of the Commission, including this Commissioner, voted to deny and leave the zoning at AR.
This item was brought back to the Commission last year, April 2007. It was tabled to a future date but it has not yet been brought back again. I voted against that tabling because I wanted to vote on, and deny, this request to rezone the property which had some lots being reduced to 1 acre. It’s still open, I still oppose it but I may be alone among the current Commissioners.
I evaluate all rezoning requests by reading a document package Commissioners get before every rezone request. I go out to and view any property I have any questions about.
In the past, I was able to read the Minutes from the Planning & Zoning Commission. There, I would often find that questions that were raised in my evaluation were already considered by that Commission and the answers were there. Because of the way the Minutes have been changed by your County government, this is much more difficult now. (more on that later)
I usually have a good idea about how I will vote when we have the Public Hearing, but I do not allow myself to come to a conclusion yet. I try to leave my conclusion open until the Hearing is held. Once in a while, someone - who could be another Commissioner, the applicant, a member of the public who may be for or against a project says something that I did not consider. I have changed my mind based on such.
I then vote my belief and conscience in accordance with the expectations of the people who elected me to protect their County, in accordance with the Land Use Plan.
6. How would you describe your political philosophy? Are you more conservative, more libertarian, or more moderate to centrist in your political views?
I am a Republican, a Conservative Republican. I take those names seriously.
Conservatives have been described lately as being one of three different legs of the Conservative movement. You can’t see them but I have all three legs. I am a security, a social and a spending conservative.
I believe in ethics and careful stewardship of your tax money.
I believe in campaigning for office by telling you the truth about my positions and by bringing issues before you. I am deeply opposed to politicians who tell you what they think you want to hear, and then do something completely different when they are in office. That destroys our confidence and belief in all politicians, the ones who tell the truth and the ones that lie.
We have both kinds here.
I am an optimistic and upbeat person. I don’t like having to say; “I opposed this or that”, I would rather say, “I supported this or that”. But on this Commission I have had to fight hard for you and I’ve had to be the opposition.
It’s not the role I prefer but I believe that my responsibilities to you require that it is the role I play.
If that’s what you want from an elected official, you have it.
7. In what area of service is the county most falling short right now? What would you do about that failure?
The area of service the county is currently failing in right now is respect and representing our taxpayers. I think the issue of the Minutes of Commission and other County meetings is a good illustration. I think the issue of the illegal Executive Session meetings is another. The Callaway Gardens Retreat is another. Pay raises and Defined Benefits are another. There is an arrogant and pervasive attitude in county government, now, that was not there before. They believe the Government is for them, I believe it is for you.
This Commission held two illegal Executive Session meetings and then changed the official minutes and affidavit to cover up the first one. The second one is simply ignored.
This Commission allowed a change in the way the official Minutes are recorded. As near as I can tell, the new County Attorney said that he wanted to see a change in how those minutes are taken, the Interim County Administrator agreed and the changes were made. If any Commissioner was aware of this change, they haven’t told me – or you – about it!
The defense of this change seems to hinge on two things. One is the speed with which Minutes are produced. I was unaware that there was any issue here. The Minutes, except for lengthy Budget Hearings, were usually produced in a timely fashion. If not, than the solution is to produce them, in full, more quickly. The solution is not to simply make then shorter.
The second “defense” is that, in the past, audio recordings were not retained. The statement was made that “The former County Attorney ordered the recordings to be destroyed!” Destroyed is a strong word and implies a desire to destroy the ability to check back and see what happened. Doesn’t it imply that to you?
As I try to do in most things, I checked. What used to happen was that Minutes were produced that were “near verbatim”, or if not exactly word for word were an accurate reporting of what was said. Those who attended those meetings, and read the Minutes prior to approving them, could ask to amend the Minutes. Once the Minutes were approved, they become the official record.
The former County Attorney told Staff that once the Minutes were approved and official, there was no NEED to retain the recording! In those days recordings were made on audiotape. Difficult to search, difficult to store and there was a cost to replenish them.
I will explain the difference between informing Staff that there was no NEED and ordering Staff to do anything. The former County Attorney knew they did not have the AUTHORITY to ORDER Staff to do anything! They could advise the Commissioners about something but it was up to the Commissioners to do any ordering of staff.
Now, we seem to have many people in your county government who don’t understand this difference. I don’t believe that our Staff Attorney, our Interim County Administrator or the other Commissioners understand this. There should have been NO change made to our Minutes, the way we inform the public, without a formal vote by the Commissioners.
Yet, the only vote has been when I made a motion to revert to the previous method unless and until a better alternative was found, my motion was defeated 4-1.
8. Why are you better for Fayette County than your opponent?
I am better for Fayette County than my opponent(s) because I have some qualities they do not.
One touts experience as a county employee. There is a vast difference between being a decision maker, a Commissioner, and being a member of a county staff.
The other one touts experience as a Member of the Peachtree City Council. But, he describes no issues in which he took a leadership position. I am “out front” on issues. The voter can easily determine where I stand.
The voter can be sure of my positions and my character and my leadership.
9. What are the biggest three challenges facing Fayette right now?
What will you do about these three challenges?
Question 9
The biggest three challenges Fayette faces now? I answered a couple of questions in other forums that asked about future challenges.
This is what I said in one; “My biggest challenge is to try to bring financial responsibility and sanity back to the Commission and to bring back respect for the citizens and taxpayers. Fayette County Government should continue to be a desirable place to work while we restrict costs to the taxpayers. I believe it is possible, and necessary, to do both. I will work to defeat the change to a Defined Benefit Plan.”
In the other, I said; “The two critical issues facing Fayette are 1. Taxes and spending. Those impact the business community and all others. They are both too high. 2. Fayette County should not become just another place. People came here from all over because this county is different, and better. We need to keep it that way. “Where Quality is a Lifestyle” is the County Motto. More than that, it is my commitment and purpose in office.”
I’ll stick with those statements and add that Public Safety is the main reason why government exists in the first place. Keeping our community safe means not letting criminal behavor become established and maintaining our fire and emergency services for those who need them.
I believe that closer cooperation between the public safety organizations in the county is a must. This is one reason I have encouraged a look at consolidation of fire and EMS services in our County. I believe it may be possible to save money and improve services. I wouldn’t support any consolidation if it were proved to be a step that would take us away form our goals. But, I believe we should look for the answers.
I am very happy to see the increased spirit of cooperation being expressed by the Police Departments and the candidates for Sheriff. That cannot help but to be a benefit to the safety of Fayette’s citizens.
The right people can achieve these goals. The wrong people will not. We have plenty of examples of how not to do things. Let’s not imitate them.

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Submitted by bluemoon on Mon, 07/07/2008 - 10:36pm.

Good night, Peter. Please somebody tell me we won't have his letters after this!!!

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