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The Other Paper, South Burlington, VT: SBIRP City Retirement and ICMA Retirement Program

South Burlington Vermont Retirement Plan Hafter Journalism Writer

SBRIP City Retirement Plan and ICMA Retirement Program

What is it?  
Hafter was enrolled in two benefit plans: one through the City (SBRIP—South Burlington Retirement Income Plan) and one through the International City/County Management Association-Retirement Corporation (ICMA).  A city employee can be enrolled in more than one plan. Hafter’s pension plans were fully funded by the City.

What was decided?
Councilor Roseanne Greco put a motion on the table to affirm participation in both plans and to waive and relinquish all rights to any money contributed to the plans. The motion was unanimously approved for both plans.

Long Term Care Plan

What is it?
A long-term care policy was purchased for Hafter and his spouse in 2004, for which the City has paid all premiums to date.  Hafter is the owner of the policy to which the city’s contribution has been approximately $60,000 thus far. No official city minutes show that this policy was approved, according to the Council’s Findings.

What was decided?
City Councilor Meaghan Emery put forward a motion to request that premium payments be returned to the City within a reasonable time period, or the City is authorized to take legal action. The motion was approved with affirmative votes from all councilors, except for Rosanne Greco.

Sharing of Increase in Home Value

What is it?
Hafter’s “promissory note involved a $40,000 interest free loan to purchase a home. That loan represented 32.65%  of the Hafters’ home’s original value.  The Promissory note stipulates that Hafter would repay the loan under terms that would be defined by the City Council, and that he would be responsible to the City for 32.65% of the increase in value on the home. Hafter has repaid the loan, a portion of which had been forgiven by the City.  The payment to the city for the home’s increase in value is currently unpaid.

What was decided?
The City Council unanimously approved a motion put forward by Councilor Greco which would ask Hafter to “share in the growth of the homestead in accordance with the promissory note.”

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At a special session Monday, September 26, the City Council made decisions regarding former City Manager Chuck Hafter’s retirement benefits.    The Council had delayed making a decision at its September 6th and September 12th meetings as it continued its fact finding mission.  At Monday’s meeting, there was still much missing information.

The meeting commenced with Chair Sandy Dooley and Vice Chair Meaghan Emery reading aloud from a document entitled Matter of Charles E. Hafter Claim for Benefits / Proposed Findings and Discussion by City Council, which detailed facts, assertions and discussions. References to missing information were made throughout the document. “We are being asked to decide a claim for benefits that is based upon undocumented actions asserted to have occurred up to 20 years ago,” Dooley read.  (Go to www.otherpapervt.com to read the entire document.)

The City Council has spent a great deal of time on this issue.  According to the Findings, time was spent undertaking “action to try to verify information that was not in the public record.” In lieu of official documents to record decisions made by previous Councils, the current City Council interviewed former Councilors as well as former city employees to try to piece together missing information.

Lack of information seems to be the one thing anyone can agree on in this debacle.  According to a statement regarding Chuck Hafter’s benefits issued by Betty Moore-Hafter on August 24, 2011, “Mr. Hafter and his attorney have asked the City for the documents that would substantiate the date of the City’s first contributions to Mr. Hafter’s Plan account, but that information has not been provided despite repeated requests.”

At Monday’s meeting, Councilors invited public comment on Hafter’s eligibility for retirement and long term care benefits, as well as his obligation to share in the increase of his home’s value.  South Burlington citizens expressed their concerns to the Council about the missing information, referencing the proposed findings and discussion documents.  “It concerns me that this matter is relying on information that is missing. It’s bothersome that you’re finding what you are, and making it look like it’s fact, when they’re aren’t too many facts,” resident Gary Farrell said.

So, what’s missing and what’s been found?  As the Council discussed each benefit separately, it referred to Council’s 12-page Proposed Findings and Discussion document, as well as Hafter’s 2003 and 2007 contracts that had been made available to attendees.  The contracts were brief—a total of three pages—and contained no mention of the pension plan arrangement, long-term care plan, or waiver of the Home Equity Sharing, under contention. The Council’s findings also make reference to the Promissory Note that indicates Hafter’s obligation to pay back to the City a portion of the home’s increased value. No meeting notes regarding decisions or changes in Hafter’s otherwise-documented plan have been located.

Former City Councilor Chris Smith had addressed the Council regarding the missing notes. “I understand your dilemma, but you have three councilors who’ve come to say they remember what happened.  You’ve already spent $20,000-$30,000 on lawyer’s fees. Aren’t you opening yourself up to a lawsuit?”  Knapp addressed these concerns citing the Vermont Open Meeting Law.  “Unless evidence was taken in an open meeting , and we did not find evidence sufficient to convince us that this decision was taken in an open meeting, it does not meet the requirement of the Open Meeting Law.” The Law requires that binding action be taken in open session and recorded in the minutes.

Despite lack of documentation in prior meeting minutes, the Council moved forward unanimously approving the SB Retirement Income Plan (SBRIP) as well as the International City/County Management Association–Retirement Corporation program (ICMA) and waiving and relinquishing all rights to any money contributed to the plans.

Regarding the long-term care plan, City Councilor Meaghan Emery put forward a motion to request that City-paid premiums (approximately $60k) be returned to the City within a reasonable time period. The motion passed with four affirmative votes and Councilor Greco voting ‘no.’

The final decision was regarding the increase in value of Hafter’s house and the city’s portion of that value.  The City Council unanimously approved a motion put forward by Councilor Greco asking Hafter to “share in the growth of the homestead in accordance with the promissory note,” at 32.65% appreciation.

Once the Council had made its decisions, Smith addressed the Council. “I understand your position.  Looking back at this, if we hadn’t treated this as a litigious matter from the beginning—if we’d started this with conversations with Chuck and the former City Councils—we might not have been as divisive as this. I don’t think we needed to go down this path.”

“We will do things differently,” Councilor Roseanne Greco replied. “We will do things in public and by Vermont Law, and we’re going to record everything we do.”

All of the city documents are available online at www.sburl.com, City Manager Sandy Miller said. Additionally, they can be read at the clerk’s office or copied for a nominal fee.

SOURCE: Annalisa Parent

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