‘Is It Legal?’ County Takes No Action, For Now, On Retirement Plan Back Funding That Could Cost $1.9 Million

June 4, 2021

The Escambia County Commission took no formal action Thursday night on reimbursing up to $1.9 million in lost retirement income for commissioners and top level employees after they were allegedly never told of a retirement plan option. The discussion left one commissioner asking if the payout is legal, and one public official saying she controls the county’s checkbook and does not like the idea.

401(a) Annuity Program

It’s called a 401(a) annuity program, and under state statute is offered only to senior management service employees and commissioners that opt out of the Florida Retirement System (FRS). It’s available statewide, not just in Escambia County.

The plan does not cost Escambia County taxpayers anything extra when contributions are made in a timely fashion; the employee contributions are exactly the same whether or not the money goes into FRS or the annuity program. FRS has significant administrative overhead and fund liability that is funded from employee contributions. The 401(a) annuity plan participant costs are lower, so participants can earn significantly more retirement dollars.

Escambia County has offered a 401(a) annuity program to senior management employees and elected officials since 1997.

Employees Not Told Of Program

Many employees, along with current and past commissioners, have said they were never informed of the annuity plan’s existence, and they lost significant retirement funds as a result.

In March, Commissioner Steven Barry and County Attorney Alison Rogers went before the Florida Commission on Ethics concerning retirement plans. There were no allegations of ethical wrongdoing against Barry, Rogers or anyone else; instead they were seeking permission for the BOCC to vote on the annuity plan.

Barry contended that after he was first elected in 2012, the county’s human resources department did not tell him, other commissioners and other eligible county employees about the existence of a 401(a) annuity plan, only the normal FRS plan. He said he did not know about the plan until months into his second term, past a six month eligibility period. He did sign up as his third term started.

Commissioners, including Barry, sign retirement plan enrollment forms to choose between six options. One option is to “withdraw from the Florida Retirement System to participate in a local annuity plan”. Barry has contended that provides no real information about the 401(a) plan, its benefits and its earnings potential.

“Is It Legal”

Barry asked the ethics commission if the county commission could vote on a settlement plan that would allow payments to him, other commissioners and other county employees that were not told about the annuity plan by the county’s human resources department. The ethics commission agreed that the county commission could vote on paying lost earnings from the 401(a) plan to impacted commissioners and county employees.

That payout could total as much as $1.9 million, including just over $225,000 each for Barry and Commissioner Lumon May.

“I want to be supportive. It’s a hell of a lot of money,” Commissioner Jeff Bergosh said. “I’m angry that folks weren’t told about it. It’s not right … I’ve got to know that it’s legal, but I don’t have a warm and fuzzy that it is.”

Bergosh said, “I just have to ask the attorney, is this legal?”

County Attorney Alison Rogers will provide her own legal opinion to the board at a future date, along with at least one more legal opinion. Rogers is eligible to participate in the annuity program, but she has given notice to that board that she won’t transfer to a 401(a) plan or accept back payment.

Barry said he understands Bergosh’s request for definitive answers on the legality of the 401(a) settlement.

“I appreciate the support of the majority of my colleagues tonight. I am certainly interested in moving forward with the discussion toward fairness and equity we had this evening, but I absolutely support Commissioner Bergosh’s idea of having definitive determination about the legality of any resolution coming to the board,” Barry told NorthEscambia.com after Thursday night’s meeting.

“I Hold The Checkbook For This County”

“I answer to Gov. DeSantis, and I answer to the people,” Clerk and Comptroller of Escambia County Pam Childers said after the commission discussion. “I am really go to have to look at this closely. I am not comfortable at this time to back-fund the pension for the commission or the employees.

“At this time, I am not comfortable with it, and I hold the checkbook for this county,” Childers concluded.

Comments

31 Responses to “‘Is It Legal?’ County Takes No Action, For Now, On Retirement Plan Back Funding That Could Cost $1.9 Million”

  1. Bryan Caro on June 12th, 2021 5:31 pm

    “it’s not childers money and how many people has she fired with no cause?”

    It may not be her money but it’s your’s, mines and every other tax paying citizen in this county. You should be elated an elected official cares about what happens to the money.

  2. Eighteen Thirtythree on June 8th, 2021 5:11 pm

    it’s not childers money and how many people has she fired with no cause?

  3. Susie on June 8th, 2021 10:20 am

    The Florida Retirement System is awesome. Don’t let these goofy commissioners even get involved with the Retirement. If people want to invest on the side, they already can. Commissioners have plenty other local issues they need to pay attention to and most of us wish they would.

  4. 429SCJ on June 7th, 2021 4:54 pm

    Amen TM

    You people need to get out and vote, else be saddled with come what may.

  5. Not right on June 6th, 2021 2:23 pm

    This ain’t nothing but bull crap

  6. Bewildered on June 6th, 2021 8:45 am

    The Governor can’t clean house because all HIGH LEVEL Florida State employees receive much more in retirement benefits than the working crowd. They get rich while on the job and continue raking in the cash after they retire or are voted out of office!

  7. Anne on June 5th, 2021 6:11 pm

    Personal Responsibility, Misters Commissioners.
    YOUR Own Responsibility to Find and Know the terms of Your Employment.
    How is it that Mr. Bender did his homework and is profiting from taking his Personal Responsibility and you others are left behind the door?
    Bet these 4 whining about “I wasn’t told” know all about their health insurance and how that works for them and their families.
    Mr. Barry, you are just shameless in this matter.
    Personal Responsibility Boys…
    You can bet if a Single-Parent, Female was on this BOCC that She’d Find out about her retirement plan…

  8. HAPPY on June 5th, 2021 2:12 pm

    political wepon -? underhill has gotten slap-d many times look-n out for county tax payers .barry+been re-elected 3 times i was not one that help-d him they all need reminding they work for taxpayers!!!

  9. Bubba Griffith on June 5th, 2021 11:06 am

    Pam Childers for president!!!

  10. Frank on June 5th, 2021 9:03 am

    IF they vote for this i will not vote for them… SIMPLY PUT…

  11. David on June 5th, 2021 8:07 am

    I think they are over payed for what they do and it figures Mr Bender would read what he is entitled to…as he is not concerned about Pensacola citizens who got rotten roofs on their house because they were never really inspected by the county, just an sworn statement from a roofing contractor. People paid 10,000 to 30,000 to have shingles put on rotten wood. He is aware the county inspecters do not inspect these or any other projects as they will not go on a roof or in an attic. Many citizens have their new roofs leaking and the wood is rotten in the attic. Be careful you don’t fall through is you go on your roof. These commissioners have much more money than us, wh had our pensions frozen after they were promised to us. Boo-Hoo.

  12. Clara May on June 5th, 2021 7:49 am

    All of HR should be canned! To many chiefs and not enough indians. They do not pay county employees enough but, they all of HR have great paydays.. Pay is so low they can not even staff the new jail enough to open it.

  13. Lou on June 5th, 2021 6:36 am

    I’ve called and left messages that were never returned by Comm. Barry…guess he was too busy. Well…any job I’ve ever had, it was my responsibility to read the pile of benefits information and good luck making the right choices! The right thing to do…should not cost the taxpayers of Escambia County.

  14. Burt on June 4th, 2021 10:25 pm

    Ditto bump TM

  15. Bubba Griffith on June 4th, 2021 7:59 pm

    Unreal!! Their true character is going to come to light !!

  16. TM on June 4th, 2021 7:54 pm

    Mr Berry is a financial planner. If this guy, can’t read up on his benefits, we are so screwed in leadership.

  17. bob c on June 4th, 2021 5:09 pm

    Ms. Pam Childers ~~~ You ROCK and Thank You for looking out for What is RIGHT, Legal and in the Best Interest of We the People.

    Watched the BOCC meeting last night and Lordy Mercy old William Shakespeare, the “Soaps” on TV, Bachelor Versus Bachelorette and Entertainment Wrasslin’ were eclipsed by the “Five Elected Drama Queens of Escambia County” on the dais.

    Worked for the school district many years and Every Year the HR Dept had a Required Workshop on RETIREMENT and the Options given Every Employee. Florida Retirement System (FRS) was explained as well a the Investment Plan. Not one of us could ever whine and say, “I wasn’t told”.

    Ms. Childers, YOU are a Champion, Thank You. Sense of reason in sea of dingbats.

  18. Alexj on June 4th, 2021 4:31 pm

    If I had Invested in IBM many years ago I would be rich, but no one told me so I guess they owe me money. Is that the way it works commissioners?

  19. SAV on June 4th, 2021 11:51 am

    Like I said!! DO THE RIGHT THING!
    Give the money back to the community!! The People n good taxpayers of
    Pensacola.

  20. Taxpayer on June 4th, 2021 11:32 am

    I like Pam.

  21. kane on June 4th, 2021 10:08 am

    They should have read their employee handbook. Also they should receive the same 8% retirement rates the rest of us get instead of the 49% rate they are currently at. They already get to retire at an earlier age and with more money, some leaving office with hundreds of thousands of dollars and receiving as much as 72,000 a year AND being able to go into another career.

    Elected officials get way to much in “retirement” but government employees such as teachers get none of that.

    My Dad is retired after working all his life in skilled career he cant afford the $1100.00 dollar inhaler because he didn’t know he had to enroll in a medicare part B so now he has to wait until October for open enrollment or pay a hefty fine. No one told him he needed medicare part B when he retired and he still has to pay the price not one of our commissioners or elected officials will lift a finger to help him so they deserve the same treatment.

  22. David on June 4th, 2021 9:31 am

    How dumbed down the county has gotten. I was a very very short journey to get there

  23. WorkerGuy on June 4th, 2021 7:47 am

    Looks like you didn’t read the fine print so you missed out. You Snooze You Lose. How about caring more about the employees and citizens that you work for instead of yourselves. County employees haven’t received a COLA raise in 2 years. They are understaffed and overworked. Yet you can cry about 1.9 million dollars in settlement money so you can line your pockets and the pockets of you colleagues. What is that Waste, Fraud and Abuse Hotline Number.

  24. Bryan Caro on June 4th, 2021 7:42 am

    First, I do want to say that I was happy Bergosh at least questioned the legality. He is still looking out for his best interest though. They kept saying they weren’t told on purpose. I find that hard to believe. If anything it was negligence on HR and them for not reading their paperwork and making a decision. You can bet your butt that if you or I went after something like this they’d tell us to pack sand. Feet on the street don’t have this option as far as I am aware of a 401(a).

    Kudos to Pam Childers! She put it in terms everyone could understand!

    It sickens me that they spend this much time talking about their retirement and not issues that are placing people’s lives in danger. Several people from different dept’s spoke about working conditions that were atrocious. I could go on but I won’t. They don’t have the priorities in the right place.

    The lack of care and concern is disgusting for the employees that actually serve the public that make lives better and/or try to make thier crappy days better.

  25. SueB on June 4th, 2021 7:21 am

    Good Ole Boys are at it again! When you run for public office you learn all about the job including any retirement.
    Research the history of the Southwest Sports Complex & the Good Ole Commissioners.
    Governor needs to know what is going on and step in to “clean house”.
    Email: GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com

  26. Derek W on June 4th, 2021 7:05 am

    Here is the deal why YOU as a taxpayer should be mad! The 401k plan is in the FRS (Fla retirement system) booklet given to all new employees. The 401k involves risk and with the change of administration in DC it was very volatile. Months later everyone realized the stock market shot up like a rocket largely because of covid vaccines and economic recovery! Now these politicians want those financial rewards without the risk as they have been enrolled in the standard state retirement fund. To pay these politicians off with nearly 2 million dollars of tacpayer funds should be CRIMINAL!!

  27. tax payer on June 4th, 2021 7:00 am

    If you don’t know benefits and you head up the county, “If this were for lower level employees they probably would not get paid.” then you should not either

    WHY SHOULD YOUR RETIREMENT PLAN BE ANY DIFFERANT THAN OTHER EMPLOYEE’S?

    YOU WANTED THE JOB TO HELP THE PEOPLE, NOT TO HAVE A LIFE TIME JOB, SHOULD BE TERM LIMITS!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Oversight on June 4th, 2021 6:28 am

    To start with, there shouldn’t be a “separate” good old boy system that enriches high paid county employees and elected commissioners, period. The commission should be voting to do away with this lucrative money grab of taxpayer money.

    And Mr. Barry, your greed is on full display and you should resign from the commission. Certainly the voters will not re-elect you if you push this through.

  29. JTV on June 4th, 2021 6:09 am

    Go get em’ Madam Childers.

    If the commissioners don’t read or check to find out about their benefits, don’t cry and try to collect big payday later.

    Let’s all vote on a settlement, how do we think that vote will go?

  30. Molino Miss on June 4th, 2021 6:03 am

    So you’re working for Escambia County, but you don’t know your benefits. If this were for lower level employees they probably would not get paid. I had co-workers who opted out of the 401a plan. And commish Barry you’re a financial planner.

  31. Citizen on June 4th, 2021 2:24 am

    It was terrible that Underhill used this as a political weapon ahead of the board having a difficult discussion.





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