MPERA rebuts Lewis & Clark County's accusations
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MPERA rebuts Lewis & Clark County's accusations

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MPERA and the MPERB take great offense at the suggestion that it would “fabricate” any type of legal basis to meet its fiduciary obligations. Lewis & Clark County is refusing to pay their clear and fair obligation to their current and future retirees simply because they made a huge mistake by not accounting for a contract dating back to 1947.

Its position pushes its unfunded pension liabilities onto Montana taxpayers who reside outside of the county. MPERA staff and the MPERB have met with the County to discuss and try to resolve the matter on several occasions but the Commissioners have been unwilling to consider a repayment plan.

Furthermore, it's striking that the Montana Association of Counties would support Lewis & Clark County's denial since a default will require all the other counties and public employers to pick up the tab. Commissioner Good Geise and MACo’s Executive Director, Eric Bryson's inaccurate claims of being penalized or victimized merely shows their lack of understanding of how a pension system works or, since both sat on the PureView Board of Directors when the decision to separate took place, exposes a deep conflict of interest for participating in the deal to privatize.

On Sept. 5, 2019, Commissioner Good Geise voted as both a public officer of the Lewis and Clark County Commission and a member of the PureView Board of Directors to separate PureView from the county. Certainly an action by the commissioner that deserves public scrutiny and attention. These facts make it impossible to understand how Bryson, and Lewis and Good Geise have not recused themselves from this legal matter altogether.

Regardless of what the motives are for reneging on their obligations to their former employees and the other employers in the pension plan, we believe the only proper authority to fairly and quickly decide this urgent matter of state-wide importance to be the Montana Supreme Court.

The county’s assertion that MPERA and the MPERB are attempting “an unprecedented grab at power and a violation of the separation of powers in the Constitution” demonstrates that have not engaged in a thorough legal analysis of this issue. This is purely a question of constitutional interpretation under Article VIII, Section 15 of the Montana Constitution. We have asked the Montana Supreme Court to settle this dispute because Article VIII, Section 15 of the Montana Constitution is clear that MPERB is vested with the authority to actuarially determine the amount of unfunded pension liabilities attributable to a component unit of a participating employer that has terminated its participation in a MPERB administered defined benefit plan, and compel the payment of and collect this unfunded pension liability upon the component unit’s termination so it is not forced upon all other employers of the system.

The withdrawal of all of its employees from the pension system is not a small consequence to the financial health of the system like a layoff of a small number of employees, it has a material adverse impact such that the system fiduciaries have a duty to protect the system and recoup the loss.

Dore Schwinden is the executive director of the Montana Public Employees' Retirement Association.

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