On Monday, Aug. 20, the Sarasota City commissioners plugged a hole that had threatened to cut half-a-million dollars from retired city firefighters’ pensions. The problem was discovered in verbiage contained in a city charter amendment proposal on the ballot in November.
However, the language had been lifted from another November charter amendment that was supposed to contain “housekeeping” provisions.
On Monday, City Attorney Robert Fournier proposed an ordinance to amend the “housekeeping” proposal and clean up language that could have risked a state pension contribution to the retired city firefighters. That initiative moved ahead on a 5-0 vote.
An effort to clean up the same language in another proposed charter amendment proved rockier. While the “housekeeping” amendment came from the city’s Charter Review Committee, the other proposal was the result of a successful petition drive. And two commissioners were leery of changing any wording in somebody else’s work.
“I don’t see how we can legally change the language of that petition,” said Commissioner Shannon Snyder. “I can’t vote for it in good conscience.”
Fournier said, “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I’d agree with you. However, this does not change or subvert the substance. This happens to be that one time out of a hundred. The result is to put the issue to rest and let the firefighters know their pension is secure.”
Commissioner Willie Shaw agreed with Snyder, and both voted against the measure, which nonetheless passed 3-2.
Two days later, the author of the original, problematic language confessed to the Firefighters’ Pension Board. City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini said, “My office proposed the language modification when the city was considering a defined-contribution plan. The new language would be able to encompass those changes, but it created this conflict.”