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Wayne County panel rejects pension board appointment

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County commissioners Thursday rejected a county executive’s appointment to the pension board.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans wanted to appoint Yusuf Hai, a Canton resident and managing director of financial services company CIG Capital Advisors in Southfield, to to the Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System Board.

But commissioners voted 13-2 to refuse Hai’s appointment. Commissioners Al Haidous, D-Wayne, and Joseph Palamara, D-Grosse Ile, voted against rejecting the appointment.

The move came a day after commissioners, meeting as a committee of the whole, voted 10-2 against Hai’s appointment and forwarded the matter to the full board. Palamara and Haidous were the two dissenting votes Wednesday as well.

The vote was influenced by a federal lawsuit retirees filed Monday against the county over changes to their health care and oversight of the county’s pension system.

Haidous said he was worried the board’s refusal to approve Evans’ choice would put the pension fund in jeopardy. “We have to make sure what we do protects the pension fund,” he said. “People depend on ... the fund.”

Commissioner Diane Webb, D-Livonia, said she couldn’t support the appointment because of the lawsuit and a dispute over plans — mandated by union contracts — to add two seats to the pension board.

“The outstanding legal issues need to be resolved before we appoint people to the board,” she said. “And I don’t support the reorganization of the pension board at all.”

Webb and Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn, both said the vote wasn’t a knock against Hai.

“None of this is a reflection on the candidate for the appointment,” said Woronchak, a member of the pension board.

He also said the pension fund remains in good condition.

“I have absolutely zero concern about the health and the integrity of the pension fund as a result of this unfortunate, confusing situation,” he said.

On Monday, a group of Wayne County retirees filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Detroit over changes to their health insurance, seeking to have the benefits restored. The next day, their attorneys requested a court injunction.

The lawsuit also claims Evans violated the county’s charter by changing the pension board’s composition.

The charter requires the board be made up of eight members: the county executive, the county commission chair and six elected members. Four of the elected members must be active employees and the other two must be retirees.

But as part of labor agreements reached in the fall with the county’s unions, the board is to add two new seats, according to Woronchak.

Three of the 10 Retirement Commission members are to be active employees, he said Wednesday. The rest of the board is to be made up of a retiree, the Wayne County Commission chairman, the county executive, one county executive appointee who requires county commissioners’ approval and three county executive appointees — only one of whom must be approved by the other pension board members.

Officials with Evans’ administration said the county’s collective bargaining agreements supersede the charter.

Complicating things even more, the pension board’s legal counsel said the best way to solve the problem is to put a charter amendment on a ballot for county residents to decide.

Also Thursday, commissioners appointed Mona Hammoud of Dearborn to the Wayne County Ethics Board. The board is the enforcement arm of the county’s ethics ordinance, which sets standards of conduct and defines ethical behavior for county officials, employees and vendors. It was adopted by the commission in 2012.

Each of the board’s seven members serve four-year terms.

Woronchak nominated Hammoud, a vice president for PNC Bank, for the appointment. She succeeds Glenn Anderson, whose term ends Dec. 31, 2018. In January, Anderson was appointed to fill a vacancy on the county commission.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058