Wayne Co. loses appeal over makeup of retirement board

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has lost an appeal in his battle to seat a new retirement board. 

The state Court of Appeals, in a decision on Thursday, upheld a 2017 Wayne County Circuit Court decision that determined a change to the composition of the board would require voter approval. Otherwise, it would violate the due process rights of non-represented employees, exempt employees, retires and the public.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans

The appeals court, in its five-page decision, said the trial court did not abuse its discretion and it agreed with the County Board of Commissioners, which intervened in the suit on behalf of the retirement board, citing "serious questions" over implementation of changes in the board's structure. 

Wayne County on Friday did not have an immediate comment on the court's decision or whether an application would be made to the state Supreme Court. 

Previously, officials said that the executive believed a new board could better manage the county's pension fund.

The county sued the retirement board in March 2017, claiming collective bargaining agreements made with its unions in 2015 allowed for a new, 10-member retirement board with four members appointed by Evans. 

Currently, the board has eight members — one post is filled by a designee from Evans' office.

The retirement board represents the Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System and oversees policies and procedures for the pension fund.

Evans' administration wanted to "increase the financial expertise of members of the retirement commission," according to the county's complaint. But the eight-member board, the suit alleged, blocked Evans' attempts to make new appointments. 

Michael VanOverbeke, an attorney representing the retirement board, said Friday that the decision affirms the board's position that any changes would require voter approval and that the current makeup of the board "reflects the intent of the voters."

"Ultimately, on behalf of the retirement commission and all the members, beneficiaries and retirees of the plan, we're very pleased with the ruling of the court of appeals which upheld the lower court," he said. "We think this fully resolves the issues."

VanOverbeke had 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, he said, a charter amendment changing the board's composition would have to be placed on the ballot.