Judge: Evans can’t expand retirement board
Detroit — Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has lost his legal battle to appoint a new retirement board, with a judge ruling that decision should be left to voters.
A ruling issued this week by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Kim Smith said voters must decide on changes to the composition of the board, or it’s a “violation of the due process rights of non-represented employees, exempt employees, retirees, and the public at large.”
Wayne County sued the retirement board in March, claiming the county made collective bargaining agreements with its unions in 2015 that allowed for a new 10-member retirement board with four members appointed by Evans. The current board has eight members — one post is filled by a designee from Evans’ office.
According to the complaint, Evans’ administration wanted to “increase the financial expertise of members of the retirement commission.”
But the eight-member board blocked Evans’ attempts to make new appointments last year, according to the county’s lawsuit.
Michael VanOverbeke, an attorney representing the retirement board, argued the county’s collective bargaining agreements with the unions do not apply to nonunion members and retirees. For all groups to be fairly represented, a charter amendment changing the board’s composition would need to be placed on the ballot, he said.
VanOverbeke said Wednesday the retirement board was pleased with the judge’s opinion, which was issued Monday.
“It’s consistent with what our understanding and true belief of the law has been,” he said. “We are hopeful that the county will accept the ruling so that we can move forward with taking care of the business that trustees should be focused on.”
Jim Martinez, a spokesman for Evans, said the county plans to appeal the judge’s decision.
“Changing the composition of the retirement board is a crucial step toward enhancing the county’s financial stability,” Martinez said in an email Wednesday. “We believe the trial court’s ruling contains significant legal flaws, and the county intends to appeal.”
Martinez said in a previous interview the executive believed a new board could better manage the county’s pension fund, which has nearly $630 million in unfunded liabilities.
The county’s lawsuit claimed that under its collective bargaining agreement, the new board would have four county executive appointees, including two trustees who are either certified in finance or investment, or have experience in municipal finance; a trustee with a finance background subject to approval by the retirement board; a trustee who is selected by the county executive but is subject to approval by the county board of commissioners.
The other six members would include the county executive or his designee; a commission chairperson, three retirement system members who live in Wayne County and are elected by members of the retirement system; and a retiree who lives in Wayne County and is elected by retired members’ beneficiaries.