COVINGTON- After an evening of plenty of heated debate, some legalese, a little political intrigue and much emotion, the Covington City Council decided to suspend enforcement on action it made at its previous council meeting.
The topic discussed at Wednesday night’s work session was the controversial Provision 5.15, Section A of the city’s Defined Benefit Plan, which the council voted to remove at the June 15 council meeting.
Councilwoman Ocie Franklin, who was one of four voters at the June 15 meeting to approve a motion to strike the section of provision 5.15, requested the work session to discuss more the ramifications of the council’s decision.
With Covington’s Human Resource Director Ronnie Cowan on hand to answer questions, the council went back and forth on the pros and cons of its actions to strike part of the pension plan that said a retired city employee would have his or her retirement benefits suspended if they were to be rehired or elected to come back with the city.
Cowan explained to the council that though this provision has been on the books since the 1970s, the HR department has been looking at it since 2011 or 2012. After calls to the IRS and meetings with attorney Michael Marks and the city’s actuary, the issue of retired employees benefits being suspended if rehired or elected was brought up again on March 25. At that time, Cowan decided the issue of former employees wanting to run for city council should come before the board.
The pension committee then discussed it June 8, and determined that it go in front of the council, which it did June 15.
However, Cowan had some issue with the whole paragraph of Section A being removed, because as he told the council “there are some concerns with your amendment last week and what it is going to do to our hiring decision.”
“I think you guys went a little too far, Cowan added. “It creates some heartburn on my side. It doesn’t mean we can’t fix it. It doesn’t mean we can’t address it.”
The council did address it Wednesday after some debate about allowing city department heads to do their jobs.
“We have to have faith and confidence in our HR department,” Councilman Chris Smith said.
“We have to have believe in department heads doing their job, and this is not what’s happening,” Councilwoman Janet Goodman rebutted. “We are telling him what to do. He needed some kind of guidelines. He should have been given the opportunity to give us options.”
The council then asked Cowan more questions pertaining to the legal aspects of hiring or not hiring a retired employee who would continue to earn a pension.
Cowan explained that the city had rehired retired workers in the past but brought the person in question as a temporary or contract employee.
With that being established the council the voted to suspend enforcement of the action that was taken to remove Provision 5.15, Section A unanimously.
“If you have people in the past you brought back and you put them on as a temporary employee to get around (the retirement provision), then I’m suggesting you lost the chance to make that decision,” Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “All I’m suggesting is we take a breath and look at ways that we still have those options.”
For more on this story see Sunday's print edition of The Covington News.