Lakeland City Manager Wants Pension Issue Withdrawn


Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas, who said Tuesday he wants city commissioners to end consideration of City Attorney Tim McCausland's requests to change his pension plan and to be given a written employment contract.

CALVIN KNIGHT | THE LEDGER
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:33 a.m.

LAKELAND | Saying the issue has become a "pervasive and clearly divisive debate," Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas said Tuesday he wants city commissioners to end consideration of City Attorney Tim McCausland's requests to change his pension plan and to be given a written employment contract.

In a two-page memo to commissioners, Thomas said he wants to withdraw "indefinitely" the pension and contract proposals.

He said that will require action by the City Commission, which is scheduled to have a final vote on the pension and contract Monday.

Thomas said in the memo that McCausland agrees with his recommendations to end the issue.

McCausland could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Thomas' memo first provides a list of reasons why the pension change should have been considered acceptable, including allowing employees in addition to McCausland to make adjustments in their pension and that the change "would not involve an action/policy that would be considered to be outside the bounds of generally accepted public pension practices."

But the memo said the debate has become marked by "personal attacks," "innuendos," and a "generally charged political environment that has resulted in a pervasive and clearly divisive debate that by all accounts is uncharacteristic for our community." He also referred to what he called "less than complete media reporting" of the pension proposal.

Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields agreed that the debate has been unusually harsh.

"It's not normal for Lakeland to be as emotional as it has become on an issue," Fields said Tuesday night.

McCausland, 62, who is three years from retirement, has said he wanted to change his pension plan because he was hit hard by the stock market decline five years ago. He first asked last year to join the city's defined-benefit plan and wanted the city to fund 20 percent of his contribution. Commissioners declined.

He made an alternate suggestion late last year. After more than two decades in a 401(a) plan, McCausland wanted to invest between $800,000 and $1 million of his own money for a yearly payout of more than $110,000. McCausland is paid a yearly salary of $181,105.

Commissioner Justin Troller said he was pleased by Thomas' recommendation.

Troller had recommended on Feb. 18 that commissioners stop the pension change. The motion by Troller was rejected 5-2.

Troller said Tuesday night that employees and residents were outraged.

"The public won't turn a blind eye for golden parachutes for people on the third floor at City Hall," Troller said.

The pension change proposal had also been met with opposition from Joe Mawhinney, a former city attorney and McCausland's former boss. He argued with Fields at an agenda study meeting earlier this month.

Mawhinney said he was upset that the issue wasn't on the commission's agenda.

At the next agenda study meeting, Troller and commissioners Edie Yates, Don Selvage and Keith Merritt had numerous questions about the proposed pension plan and contract for McCausland.

Thomas said in the memo on Tuesday that he also was recommending not proceeding with a written contract for McCausland.

"Please understand that the proposed agreement was drafted by outside counsel in response to discussions the City Commission held with the City Attorney in conjunction with his 2011 and 2012 annual performance reviews," Thomas wrote. "That said, I have questions regarding the desire of the City Commission to proceed with the execution of such an agreement, and as such, am removing this item from the March 4th Agenda indefinitely as well."

[ John Chambliss can be reached at john.chambliss@theledger.com or 863-802-7588. ]

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