This article is one of a series of editorial articles that express personal opinions and views. They are written with no pretensions to be error free. I will gladly correct substantial errors of fact. My opinions can change, depending upon my awareness of changes in factual information. It is my intent to remain focussed on specific public issues, regarding the personalities involved. For all I know, all the characters are saints, concerning their private lives and other public business...
Changes may be requested by E-MAILing the details to
Today, I intend to address the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners regarding the financing of the commissioners' M.E.R.S. based retirement benefits.
The commissioners' benefits are paid for, primarily, by other county employees, and all Schoolcraft County taxpayers are forced to subsidize the balance of the commissioners premiums, over a period of 30 years from the start date of a select few's retirement. I was not aware of, and did not understand sufficient details of the retirement plan the Board voted into existence, a week before Commissioner Lauzon was recalled, in January 1998. Now, with a much more clear understanding of what appears, to me, to be fraud, I request a public accounting.
My present understanding, right or wrong, leads me to the conclusion that currently retired commissioners are receiving benefits they are not due, assuming they have no legal right to collect benefits that have not been paid for, and that, subsequently, come out of the benefit pot paid for by the wage-benefits contracts of other county employees. Those benefits are provided to commissioners, virtually "free", as a consequence of their own predatory Board decisions and those of Schoolcraft County administrative personnel. Those administrative personnel are responsible for the administration and financial integrity of the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. plan, created for the benefit of all county employees, with principles of fiduciary responsibility and equity as guiding standards.
I have no reason to believe that any part of the commissioners plan was accidental, and I do not believe it would have been effective without the collaboration of certain courthouse officials that hoped to benefit also, in the same way; therefore, they remained silent.
Given the historic nature of Schoolcraft County politics, rife with nepotism, cronyism, deceit, political ambition and retribution, in a poor community that derives a substantial percentage of its better paying jobs from public service positions, few folks are willing to put their jobs and futures on the line to reign in local government parasites, and incompetents.
I feel confident in requesting, of the sitting County Board, a lucid accounting of what I conclude to be the current unearned M.E.R.S. retirement income payments to a select group of ex-county commissioners. I also want to know who else bought into the apparent scam, with the intent to profit by claiming future unjustified, and unearned retirement payments from a retirement plan financed by the contractual premium payments benefits package of other county employees.
I do not care to listen to some apologist explanation that thrives in the intellectually and morally deprived environment of Schoolcraft County administration. I know that the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. plan is 100% funded by the county, and, as a consequence, whenever the degree of equity in the fund drops below a certain point, M.E.R.S. will inform Schoolcraft County to increase its premium. That would make up for the effects of paying benefits to those commissioners that paid nothing. That would make up for the grossly under funded premium balance, of four? commissioners, paid with county tax revenues, amortized over a thirty year period. The only saving grace of the process is, assuming the county is not broke, one can assume tax revenue, better spent elsewhere, will be used to keep the county M.E.R.S. plan liquid, at taxpayer expense.
I understand the sham of buying discounted "generic retirement time", or prior time working for the county, with future tax revenues, amortized over a 30 year period, at an 8% interest rate, that pays, with future tax revenues, all but a fraction of the premiums needed to pay back the M.E.R.S. equity from which the retired commissioners' draw their benefits. A two bit actuary can see through that.
I also know that I do not know everything, but if it looks like a scam, works like a scam, pays like a scam, and victimizes like a scam, then it is likely to be a scam.
The retirement plan profiteering is elegant in its simplicity, once you understand the concepts, and basic arithmetic. I make no claims of accuracy, interest inclusion, and amortization schedules. I provide general representative numbers, along with a simple explanation, for those that care about such things. I will use example figures that might represent Commissioner X's county retirement investment, and the subsequent costs to the county M.E.R.S. plan and taxpayers.
If, over the last 6 months, retired Commissioner X was drawing $660 per month, from the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. plan, then he would have collected $660 x 6 = $3960. If, over the 12 months prior to the last 6 months, retired Commissioner X was drawing $625 per month, then he would have collected $625 x 12 = $7500. Therefore, for the last 18 months, retired Commissioner X would have collected a total of $3960 + $7500 = $11,460 collected in benefits from the M.E.R.S. plan.
If, for the same 18 months period of time, retired Commissioner X had paid a total of $2,300 as a one time lump sum for his total "share" of all premiums due, and, at the same time, Schoolcraft County paid $85 per month as its share of the premiums, based on a 30 year amortized rate with 8% interest, then the county's total payment to M.E.R.S., along with the commissioner's payment, would be 18 x $85 = $1530 + $2300 = $3830 total payed into the M.E.R.S. plan.
For the first 18 months of retirement, retired Commissioner X collected $11,460 - $3830 = $7,630. With an initial cost of $2,300 to Commissioner X, he will collect $660 per month, or more, for the rest of his life, from a M.E.R.S. plan that must be paid for, in full, by every other county employee and taxpayer. That is a free M.E.R.S. retirement income for Commissioner X, and implies the same for Commissioners Y, and Z and whomever else.
For those that wish to pick nits, concerning my contention that the retirement is "free" to the retired commissioners, consider the following. In the first 4 months of the retirement period, Commissioner X receives a "cashback" rebate, in the form of his first 4 retirement checks, that reimburses him for his initial lump sum cost of $2,300. He then receives the rest of his retirement checks, free of any other prior or future monetary obligation, for the rest of his life. In the real world, that's free.
Why is that so? Why and how did the commissioners vote themselves into an existing Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. plan that denies similar benefits to all other county employees? What legislation, county policy, or contract option, sanctioned the purchase, by part time county employees, of underpriced/ discounted "generic time", with county tax revenues? What M.E.R.S. equity exists when some part time county employees get free retirement benefits, funded by the benefits package of full time county employees? What options exist for those county employees, still paying into the county's M.E.R.S. plan, that wish to purchase "generic time"; do they get the same options to pay discounted rates, with county funds and credit? What impact has the payment of unfunded benefits to Commissioner X, Y, and Z had on the county's M.E.R.S. plan, and its costs to full time employees, Schoolcraft County, and county taxpayers?
If the M.E.R.S. retirement plan is part of a county employees' negotiated wage and benefit package, then why do certain retired commissioners, or soon to be retired commissioners, get to collect the equity in the county M.E.R.S. plan created by all county employees that pay into the system in the manner for which it is designed? What value do all the other county employees get, or county government, other than higher "buy in" and premium rates and artificially high contract negotiating costs?
Why did it take from 1997 to 2004, for some one to question an apparent Schoolcraft County ripoff?
It's damage control time, again, boys and girls.
I attended the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners meeting, this evening, and read three paragraphs from the above, and then stated that the background documentation was available to anyone. No one but Chairman Frenette chose to speak of the matter, and he chose to disavow any knowledge of what I spoke of. I then stated that I hoped the public would remember his denial.
SCHOOLCRAFT COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS The following is an excerpt from the minutes of a duly noticed meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners held on Tuesday, July 17, 2001: "... Under new business, it was moved by Commissioner Lindsley B. Frenette and was seconded by Commissioner Oliver H. Sholander that all those persons electing to purchase Generic Service Credit (additional years toward retirement service not earned while working as an employee of Schoolcraft County) are required to pay the Municipal Employees' Retirement System for One Hundred Percent (100%) of the actuarial cost of such credited service. The roll was called as follows: Chairperson Ernest S. Hoholik voted yes. Vice-Chairperson Keith P. Aldrich voted yes. Commissioner Lindsley B. Frenette voted yes. Commissioner Oliver H. Sholander voted yes. Commissioner Douglas W. Erickson voted no. The motion carried....." I, Sigrid I. Doyle, County Clerk and Clerk of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners, do hereby certify that the above is a true copy of the minutes adopted by the Board. Dated: October 23, 2003 Sigrid I. Doyle, Clerk Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners Schoolcraft County, Michigan [SEAL]The above does not make Chairman Frenette a liar, but it does indicate that it is likely that if he voted to change the county employee purchase cost of generic time to 100%, then he knew it was something else, prior to his vote.
The wording of the approved motion still allows those in the know to request the purchase of discounted prior time, working for the county. "Free" retirement years, based on a 3% or 5% cash payment, with the rest paid by the county, should be available for a "select" few, based on past policy that, to the best of my knowledge, is still in effect. I am unaware of any County Board action to change the policy.
I noted Commissioner Erickson's cynical and humorous "no" vote. As the last commissioner to vote, on a motion that had already passed with a majority, he sent a message to the other County Board members, and other county employees, that, as far as Schoolcraft County policy was concerned, if part time county employee commissioners could rip off the county's M.E.R.S. plan, then all county employees should have equal opportunity to do the same.
I have learned to appreciate Commissioner Erickson's integrity and sharp wit, and I appreciate his efforts to expose the fraud and waste that others choose to ignore. I wish him well.
For a different point of view, residents of Schoolcraft County can inquire of Commissioner Aldrich, concerning details of his M.E.R.S. retirement plan. He knows a good deal when he sees one. I suspect that his huddle with the County Clerk, Sigrid Doyle, after my controlled rant, this evening, indicates an appropriate degree of concern that others might understand the details and implications of the "good deal" that he chose not to share.
The first damage control rumors are surfacing. A senior Schoolcraft Courthouse administration official has been paraphrased "It's all ancient history. There is nothing to be gained by turning over rocks."
Assuming such a view has been expressed, by someone at the heart of the matter, I will express my views.
If a scam costs County funds, it should be stopped.
No one is entitled to profit by fraud because the victims were, or are, ignorant of the act and the manner achieved.
Preventing other Schoolcraft County employees from collecting free retirement benefits, paid completely by tax revenues, after a small speculative cash investment, does not sanction the free retirement of those that closed the window of opportunity for others. Schoolcraft County Commissioners created free lunches, and then denied everyone else the opportunity to eat, while enjoying theirs.
No one should continue to profit by apparent fraud, because those that help to commit it might be hurt by the consequences of public knowledge regarding their complicity.
Economically unsound and contrived entitlements were created, used, and then disavowed, while those that disavowed them continue, or attempt, to draw benefits from the consequences of county fiscal policy known to be predatory.
If the fictitious Commissioner X lives 5 years from the start of drawing retirement, his total drawn will be ($625 x 12) + (660 x 48) = $7500 + $31,680 = $39,180, not counting any 5% annual benefit increase.
Given Schoolcraft County tax paid amortized premium payments, to the county M.E.R.S. plan, of $85 per month, for 30 years, the total paid back into the M.E.R.S. plan, is $85 x 360 = $30,600
So, if Commissioner X dies in less than 5 year, before drawing more than $30,600, the only cost to the county taxpayers will be the approximately 95% of his full premium payments, paid over a 30 year period, billed to Schoolcraft County. The other 5%, paid in a lump sum by Commissioner X, was paid back to him with his first four retirement checks. If Commissioner X draws over $30,600, not to worry! The County M.E.R.S. plan, and or tax revenues will pay for it.
No matter how I slice it, from my perspective, the system of checks and balances, regarding local government spending, was circumvented and manipulated to provide free retirement to a select few part time Schoolcraft County government employees.
Call it whatever you wish, and do nothing; it is still a ripoff. I turned over the rock and found, again, that some public saints are private sinners, with public money.
The inquiry letter, that follows, might not make a lie of Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners Chairman Frenette's 06/15/04 statement that he knows nothing about the purchase of retirement time, with county revenues, at a fraction of the actual cost. It does indicate that he wanted to purchase county employment credit, at less than the 100% cost he voted for generic employment credit, on July 17, 2001. For others, that receive what Mr Frenette sought, that cost was ~5% of what most other Schoolcraft County employees had to pay.
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
But, when you've practiced for a bit,
You'll find you're getting good at it."
With years of practice, some never become accomplished liars.
County of Schoolcraft Chairperson, Ernest S. Hoholik, District No. 5 Vice-chairperson, Keith P. Aldrich, District No. 3 Commissioner Douglas W, Erickson, District No. 4 Commissioner Lindsley B. Frenette, District No. 1 Commissioner Oliver H. Sholander, District No. 2 March 29, 2001 Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Michigan 447 North Canal Road Lansing, Michigan 48917 Attention: Jennifer Willis Re: Schoolcraft County, Municipality Number 7503 Purchasing prior years of service Dear Ms. Willis: Lindsley B. Frenette has been an elected County Commissioner since 1969 to 1977 and from 1979 to 1990. During that time, elected county commissioners in Schoolcraft County were not included in the Municipal Employees' Retirement System. In 1997, the commissioners were included in the system. When Mr. Frenette was re- elected he was included in the system and now he would like to purchase those prior years of service with Schoolcraft County and the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners agrees. Terri A. Evonich worked as a part time employee for Schoolcraft County starting in June of 1972, working four months in that year. Mrs. Evonich then worked five months in 1973 and three months in 1974. The Payroll department erred in not reporting her part time wages for those periods of employment. Mrs. Evonich wishes to be credited for the total of twelve months to the Municipal Employees Retirement System and the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners agrees. Sigrid I. Hedberg worked as a full time employee beginning April 1964 until November of 1966. The Municipal Employees' Retirement system was not adopted until 1968 but Mrs. Hedberg wishes to be credited with those periods of employment with Schoolcraft County and the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners agrees. Very truly yours, Ernest S. Hoholik, Chairperson Schoolcraft County Board'of Commissioners Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners 300 Walnut Street Courthouse-Room 125 Manistique, Michigan 49854 Telephone 906-341-3611 Fax: 906-341-5680
There is little doubt, from reviewing the web site access statistics for this web page, that a fair amount of interest exists regarding its content. I can only request, from those that may find the information contained of sufficient substance to effect their voting choices, that due consideration is given to the likelihood that not all Schoolcraft County Commissioners seek a free lunch, or free retirement, for themselves or others. Not all those with knowledge of what happens have the luxury of speaking candidly, without risking their job. Not all those with knowledge of what happens have the luxury of speaking candidly, without risking ugly politically motivated retribution that may ruin their lives.
Given more objective reasons, guilt by association is a poor reason on which to base a voting choice.
At the candidate public forum of 07/15/04, a question by Ray Burns and another resident was addressed to the candidates for county commissioner.
Paraphrased: "What's to be done about the "free" retirement benefits of some part time county commissioners"?
Commissioner Aldrich stated, in so many words, that he couldn't answer the question because the County Clerk wasn't present with the information relative to the question. No other elaboration was offered.
Commissioner Frenette said "It was no big deal.", and that everything had been done in public with an actuary's approval. That statement was a marked change from his public total denial of knowledge, at the 06/17/04 meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Erickson said he had purchased 3.5 years of generic time at a lump sum cash cost, to him, of $11,356, consistent with the 100% M.E.R.S. requirements for other county employees, at the time of purchase.
Commissioner Erickson then pointed out that, to the best of his knowledge, other retired and sitting commissioners had purchased a collective total of 62.5 years for a collective total lump sum cost, to them, of $5,500. (with the 95% balance of the premiums paid with county tax revenues, financed over 30 years - author)
County commissioner candidates Barbara Hoffmeyer and Marian Helmus both spoke of how the questionable retirement financing bore no relationship to anything that either one had known of, heard of, or experienced in their professional careers. Both expressed views that considered such retirement schemes as inappropriate.
The following is a series of e-mails, regarding the topics I touched on, earlier. At the moment I am waiting for some acknowledgement from M.E.R.S., regarding my last elaboration. There is nothing in these e-mails that does not deal with professional consideration of M.E.R.S. business, and my interest in it.
I have withheld the e-mails until questions regarding some answers I got are answered. As you might imagine, there are some technical points that I considered as likely or possible, that are little more than my unsubstantiated speculation - in the light of pure fiction that I have heard at numerous county board and audit and finance committee meetings. The basic concepts of the retirement scam are as I deduced, and detailed, in the light of M.E.R.S. information from "M.E.R.S. Inc.", the corporate headquarters.
The problem regarding much of what I know is not "right" in local government is my ignorance of the specific legislation, rules, regulations, state legal opinions, etc. that applies to questionable government business I witness. Even with specific knowledge that a particular piece of government business is not in the general public's interest, or illegal, makes little difference to those that conduct, or are responsible for such questionable public business. To most "public servants", maintaining a false political image of untarnished perfection is far more important than dealing with the consequences of incompetence, human error, poor judgement, or corrupt behavior that is part of the human condition, and an "acceptable" part of Schoolcraft County's local government business.
Regarding the voting of Schoolcraft County Commissioners to grant themselves, and others, unearned retirement benefits paid for with future county tax revenues, it takes nothing more than a basic understanding that, in a civilized "democratic" society, no one should have the political power and right to prey on the electorate, as if the electors have made the choice to be pillaged. I know that I have never voted someone into office with the knowledge that the elected had the right to take tax revenue from my pocket, today and for the next 30 years, for non-existent retirement benefits of the elected's past employment. I have little reason to believe that anyone that earns their keep, in an honest and productive fashion, wants to buy the unearned retirement for another, even if that other voted themselves, or someone else, retirement benefits for that period of a life during which no retirement benefits existed.
I do not, knowingly, elect liabilities of their own choosing, and I have no desire to pay for the liabilities of other public officials that are created, retroactively, by elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility to represent my interests in an enlightened and honest government.
It would appear that, outside a substantial fog of voluntary ignorance, stupidity and corruption that pervades Schoolcraft County politics, some political and legal sanity exists.
Cox Files Suit Against Flint for Illegal Pay Raise August 9, 2004 LANSING – Attorney General Mike Cox announced today a lawsuit against the City of Flint, the Mayor of Flint and specific members of the Flint City Council to compel the City Council to repay the more than $235,000 they illegally granted themselves by resolution on July 1, 2004. "These public officials have a duty to the citizens they represent; to manage their city responsibly," Cox said. "By granting themselves an illegal pay raise, these men and women have helped themselves and harmed the city. It goes beyond ‘looking poorly’ to the general public. My office will not allow these actions of public greed to stand." On July 2002, a review team and an Emergency Financial Manager were appointed under the authority of Michigan law to manage the City of Flint’s financial crisis, which amounted to more than $20 million in debt. The Emergency Financial Manager took a number of actions to cure and correct the city’s financial condition, including four reductions in pay and benefits to members of the Flint City Council. On July 1, 2004, the City Council approved by a 7-0 vote a resolution introduced by Donald J. Williamson, Mayor of the City of Flint, to grant themselves more than $235,000 in retroactive back pay and benefits that they collectively lost under the tenure of the Emergency Financial Manager, Ed Kurtz. The question was raised by State Senator Bob Emerson (D-Flint) and posed to the Attorney General regarding the legality of the resolution. Cox contends that their actions are illegal. "These actions are unconstitutional, the pay raise should be declared null and void, and the money should be returned to the City of Flint," Cox stated. "This money belongs in the city coffers, not in the pockets of some elected officials." In a complaint filed at 2 p.m. today in the Circuit Court of Ingham County, Attorney General Cox contends that the City of Flint, the Mayor of Flint and the City Council, by their actions, have violated Article 11, Section 3 of the Michigan Constitution, which bars retroactive pay increases by elected officials. The complaint requests that the Council’s actions be declared void and unconstitutional and that the City Council members repay any and all compensation received per the resolution.It is interesting to note that the Flint politicians involved have no intent to return their mythical retroactive pay without suit being brought by the Michigan Attorney General. Based on my understanding, the substance of Mr. Cox's position is that if a legal basis for compensation did not exist for the period of time claimed, then there is no valid claim, today, that it existed, retroactively.
Hopefully, someone will apply a similar legal process to elected, appointed, and regular employees of Schoolcraft County that acquired retroactive retirement benefits paid for with future tax revenues. It is quite obvious, to me, that the administrator of the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. has no intention of recognizing the impact of her past and current support of efforts to maintain legally questionable and fiscally unsound retirement benefits. It is quite obvious, to me, that a majority of Schoolcraft County Commissioners have no problem with paying for past unearned retirement benefits with future tax revenues.
It is quite obvious, to me, that the corporate M.E.R.S. entity, with which Schoolcraft County does business, cares nothing about the morality of Schoolcraft County's "retirement" plans. As long as Schoolcraft County pays 100% of its M.E.R.S. premiums, consistent with the requirements of the county's M.E.R.S. contracts with the M.E.R.S. corporate entity, all is well with M.E.R.S...
It is quite obvious to me, that most local "movers and shakers" and media, with a responsibility to the general public to consider governmental issues regarding the consequences of official behavior devoid of ethics and morality, care little to nothing about the impact of fostering government by predators. Their silence is default approval.
This evening, I attended the Schoolcraft County Audit and Finance Committee meeting, followed by the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners meeting. On the agendas, for both meetings, was an item of business concerning M.E.R.S. B2 and B4 retirement plans, as requested by Commissioner "Lame Duck" Erickson.
County M.E.R.S. plan administrator, and Schoolcraft County Clerk, Sigrid Doyle, was present at both meetings, as was Schoolcraft County Treasurer, Terri Evonich.
In the audience were the two newly elected commissioners, Peggi "Pinocchio" Arnold, and Scott "Invisible Man" Chartier. Neither one offered any public comment regarding the business considered at the meetings of 11/10/04, or the M.E.R.S. retirement business considered at past meetings I have attended.
During the Audit and Finance Meeting, Commissioner Erickson repeated his continued concerns, about his understanding of an apparent fiscally irresponsible Schoolcraft County policy of paying M.E.R.S. retirement premiums at a B2 plan rate for current and retired, county employees, that will be, or are now collecting retirement benefits at a B4 rate. County Commissioner, Doug Erickson, repeated his past analogy, likening the mounting county M.E.R.S. retirement plans debt to the consequences of the irresponsible use of a credit card, where the debtor fails to pay off the principal owed and continues on a mindless spending spree towards a credit maximum, paying interest only, with no provision or intention to pay off the mounting principal debt.
Commissioner Erickson then referred to the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. "Annual Actuarial Valuation as of December 31, 2003" that showed, on page 15, based on 2003 M.E.R.S. plans premiums, the future retirement benefits of current union county employees were only funded at the 54.4% level, some $933,732 short of being paid "up to date". Given the unfunded debt of other Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. retirement plans, for other non-union groups of county employees, the total unfunded debt was close to $1.7 million.
Erickson then mentioned that a pending 2004 report would reflect the current year's situation, likely to be significantly worse, because of the absence of a one time subsidy paid to all state M.E.R.S. accounts, by the M.E.R.S. corporate entity, because of an outstanding 2003 investment year. That nugget of insight was found in the narrative of the introductory page of the 2003 actuarial report.
After Commissioner Erickson's reference to the figures in the 2003 M.E.R.S. report, Commissioner Aldrich suggested a County Board "M.E.R.S. meeting" to consider the merits of Erickson's concerns. The general consensus of board members was that such a meeting was appropriate. No action was taken regarding the time and place of a meeting. No serious public concern was expressed, by anyone else, other than me, to Erickson's, irrefutable substantiated concerns. It was as if an unconsidered, unfunded, unexplained, expanding Schoolcraft County debt of $1.7 million was "business, as usual", worthy of no more concern than an indefinite commitment to consider the mundane business at some undetermined future date, after "deer season".
I sat stunned. With no verified knowledge of the debt's cause, or how long it took to accrue, or the rate at which it accrued, from zero dollars, I did a little mental arithmetic. I assumed 50 months, and divided it into $2 million. Assuming a linear expansion process, over 50 months, the debt would be expanding at a rate of $40,000 a month.
The Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners were more interested in "beer camp" than the fact that there was no money to pay an obvious bill, of questionable causes, that was expanding at an unknown rate! I concluded that the majority of the board knew more than was obvious to me, that there was no reason to be concerned, so it was time to zip my lips regarding any speculation about the nature of the deficit.
I do not remember Schoolcraft County Board Chairman Frenette saying a word regarding M.E.R.S. business, at either meeting.
As a consequence of Commissioner Erickson's enlightening presentation, I had two questions for the Schoolcraft County Board during the following public comment period. They are paraphrased below.
1. Is the B4 retirement option, that you have referred to, before, a county employees union contract term that applies to all county employees?
2. Do current M.E.R.S. premium payments include paying off the $1.7 million debt?
The discussion that followed got a little heated. I felt my blood pressure, and likely, my voice, rise as I responded to the following display of evasion of those that have the fiduciary responsibility for a candid and responsible county M.E.R.S. county employee retirement plan process.
Schoolcraft County Clerk/M.E.R.S. Administrator/County Board Secretary/..., Sigrid Doyle, answered my first query. She said, in so many words, that the option to retire at a B4 benefit rate, applied to all retiring union employees that chose to retire within 3 "window" time periods, in a five year period, as specified in the county employee union contract. She then implied, in a fashion that I do not remember well enough to quote, that M.E.R.S. had 4 billion dollars from which to pay the Schoolcraft County employee B4 union contract retirement benefits.
My response, in an attempt to draw out more revealing information, and to vent my disgust with what I witnessed, pointed out that a union contract entitlement, for all county union employees, to retire with unfunded B4 benefits, was something I had great difficulty believing was appropriate, considering the past and current fabrication I had heard regarding the issues. Other than Sigrid's vague claims of a union employee entitlement to unfunded B4 retirement benefits, no specific reference had been provided for B4 union retiree entitlements, and no concern had been voiced by anyone, other than Commissioner Erickson, and I, concerning a total growing unfunded county retirement premium debt of $1.7 million.
After I voiced my disbelief, Commissioner Aldrich chose to close that discussion by stating that a future public M.E.R.S. related County Board meeting would be the appropriate place for further comments.
My second question was met with no other answer, other than Commissioner Aldrich referring me to a yet-to-be-determined public M.E.R.S. related County Board meeting.
During the following public comment period, of the subsequent Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Erickson chose to address my second question from the previous audit meeting. He stated, again, that the 2003 actuarial report indicated that current employer contributions (of Schoolcraft County) were only funding union contracted projected benefits at the 54.4% level.
I could only assume, from the manner in which he chose to answer my prior question, that he was prompting someone present, with the direct responsibility for the knowledge, to answer my question. No one spoke up, so I assume that no part of current M.E.R.S. payments goes to reduce an increasing $1.7 million premium payment deficit.
As I wrote earlier, it was obvious, to me, that, based on applicable arithmetic, and logic, certain retired county employees were collecting benefits at someone else's expense. I did not know how it was done at the time I knew it was done. How it was done became clear after my extended exchange of email with Lynda Pittman, of "M.E.R.S. Inc." and I read page 15 of the 2003 actuarial report, that provided the basis of Commissioner Erickson's 11/10/04 presentation.
Reading page 15 of the report referred to by Commissioner Erickson, I understood, in less than ten minutes, that, from the county's premium payments paid to M.E.R.S., the funding for any unfunded benefits paid out, is taken first, so that all funding of benefits paid out to currently "retired" county employees is funded by the county at 100%. The remainder of the county's premiums payments cannot fund the known projected future B2, or B4 retirement benefits, of current county employees, so, in a "few years", the county went from over funded M.E.R.S. plans, to a combined $1.7 million deficit, while the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. administrator remained silent, or tried to flim-flam Commissioner Erickson and I, regarding our concerns expressed at public meetings.
The devious cleverness of the apparent scam is that unless someone understands how the county M.E.R.S. premium payments are applied, by the M.E.R.S. corporation, to the various county plans it manages, they would have no idea how unfunded retirement benefits are funded! Try as I did, for whatever reason, I failed to obtain any relevant information from Lynda Pittman, that put me on the right track. She said, in so many words, that it couldn't be done.
Ten minutes with page 15 made it quite obvious that it could be done, and how. Mana did fall from heaven, if you knew how to make it happen, and no one got in your way. No one person, outside of a select group, would have any idea of what made it work.
A likely scenario of the process:
Past county premium payments, based on responsible 100% funding, prior to the creation of the commissioners', bogus retroactive retirement entitlements, helped to make the bogus funding, of the commissioners unfunded retirement benefits, that much easier. Sucking up part of the equity in the county's General division plan would be easy and unnoticed, unless a "too large" plan deficit resulted that would trigger a request from "M.E.R.S. Inc.", to Schoolcraft County, for additional premium money to reduce the unfunded portion of the plan.
If the unfunded portion of the plan did not grow too large, and county payments into the plan remained constant, then no one would have any reason to be alarmed with a small deficit. Theoretically, there was little for the commissioners to be concerned about. The few commissioner's unfunded benefits were being drawn from the equity in the county's largest plan, the county's union workers' M.E.R.S. General Division plan.
911, and the subsequent stock market decline changed everything. With poor plan investment returns, the equity was being sucked out faster than it was being replaced by county premium payments and the plan's investment returns. The unfunded portions of the commissioners' retirement benefits, and the unfunded portions of any other retirement benefits, created an expanding premium debt, as unfunded benefits were paid out, to commissioners, and others, at a greater rate than it was replaced with by plan investment returns and county revenues paid into the plan to fund the premiums for current union workers.
With no one any wiser about the details of why and how the deficit occurred, the natural response would be for the Schoolcraft County Board County Board members to hold a M.E.R.S. related meeting, wring their hands, in public, and cry about the ever increasing retirement costs, and then vote to pay the bills, while Chairman Frenette, Commissioner Aldrich, Ex-Commissioner Hoholik, Ex-Commissioner Lauzon, and others, chuckled with glee in the sure knowledge that undeserved and unfunded retirement benefits were secure, lost in a sea of legitimate Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. retirement business.
The previous contrived scenario is as likely as any, with most of the details required for any other likely variation. It sounds far more likely than the evasion and fabrication I have heard at recent meetings. It sounds as close to the real scenario as any, given the vindictive attempts to remove Commissioner Erickson from office. It sounds as likely a scenario, as any, given my awareness of the qualities and understanding of the individuals involved. Given no other reasonable explanation, for almost six months, I can live with my substantiated speculation, until some other substantiated reason is provided for what I view, at the moment, as little more than a retirement scam, from beginning to end.
It will be interesting to hear the attempts to explain away what is documented fact.
I have assumed, but have not verified, that Sigrid Doyle, the Schoolcraft County Clerk, and administrator of the various Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. retirement plans, gets all the information required, from "M.E.R.S. Inc.", regarding the M.E.R.S. related financial obligations of Schoolcraft County, relative to the various county M.E.R.S. plans that she has the responsibility to administer. I have no reason to believe that, as a career public servant, she does not know or understand the basic principles that underlay the appropriate funding of the county M.E.R.S. plans she administers.
I have no reason to believe that any of the above, real or speculated, could occur without the conscious efforts of anyone involved. I can attribute none of what I have described, assuming it is relevant, as anything less than the consequences of purposeful decisions made by the individuals involved, to obtain unjustified and unfunded retirement benefits at public expense, for which the public receives next to nothing for its money.
To me, the implication of Mr. Erickson's past and current voiced concerns, like mine, is that Schoolcraft County is engaged in hidden deficit spending, based on the retirement premium credit advanced to the county by "M.E.R.S. Inc." that manages Schoolcraft County's various M.E.R.S. plans accounts. The consequence of the hidden and contrived deficit spending, is that current and future voters and tax payers are burdened with the expense of paying off past accrued retirement premium debt, over which they had no control, that, short of a county bankruptcy, will be paid, out of revenues that would be spent on other Schoolcraft County goods and services that would benefit those paying the bills, rather than current retirees.
The other obvious implication of Commissioner Erickson's substantiated "deficit spending" presentation is, if he and I, as laymen, are correct in our mutual understanding of the essentials concepts of what is going on, then Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. plans administrator, Sigrid Doyle, understands her part in the county's aquisition of significant M.E.R.S. retirement premium debt.
The only significant public utterance that I heard, from the Schoolcraft County's M.E.R.S. plans administrator, at both of the Audit and Finance Committee meetings of 09/30/04 and 11/10/04, was her contention that, to summarize, "Don't worry! Be Happy! The M.E.R.S. organization has "billions" to keep Schoolcraft County's retirement plans happy." To me, her response had a bizarre fairy tale quality about it.
The Schoolcraft County Clerk was rumored to have said that there was nothing to be gained when I first started to "turn over rocks", regarding the history of Schoolcraft County Commissioners voting themselves retirement benefits, to which they had no entitlement. So far she is correct. I have gained nothing, and it has cost me a significant piece of my life. What I have verified, by turning over rocks, is that predatory human nature prevails when left unchallenged, and, by turning over rocks, I have come to understand certain specific motivations and processes of predatory "bottom feeders" in Schoolcraft County government service positions.
As I understand that part of the public record that I am aware of, and as I understand the business of certain Schoolcraft County Board public meetings I witnessed, I have no doubt that the Schoolcraft County Clerk understood what she was doing. Public documents record the creation of unfunded, unethical, if not illegal retroactive retirement entitlements for elected and appointed officials, followed by the creation of unfunded B4 entitlements in a subsequent county employee union contract.
Sigrid Doyle is not a qualified mental incompetent. She can read. It is her direct professional responsibility to know and understand M.E.R.S. business. She is provided the information and reference resources to make informed decisions. She gained, personally, by her public silence regarding the issues surrounding the commissioners' voted retroactive, cut-rate, future tax funded amortized premiums retirement, and the subsequential unfunded B4 retirement benefits that she knew she would receive, when she retired.
It is quite obvious, to me, that the public record indicates that she, and other recipients of the County Board's largesse, cared not who payed for her, and others', retirement benefits, or how much was paid, and when. After she retired, in the near future, she would not have to deal with a mess that occurred on her watch, with her documented knowledge. At the 11/10/04 Schoolcraft County Audit and Finance meeting, she, and Schoolcraft County Terri Evonich concurred, verbally, with Commissioner Aldrich's paraphrased statement that "...until a few years ago, the Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. retirement accounts were over funded..." ( ...and are now under funded by greater than $1.7 million. author)
Barring some more documented lunacy, that I am unaware of, I can only conclude that at least three public servants are now on record that they knew about a significant unfunded Schoolcraft County debt that accrued in a "few years", and the knowledge of which, to date, has initiated no significant official action from anyone, except Commissioner Erickson. Until now, he has been ignored for some two years, that I am aware of, regarding his concerns of the impact of current unfunded retirement benefits and future unfunded B4 retirement benefits on a steadily shrinking Schoolcraft County budget.
I have no doubt that a public record exists, in the minutes of a Schoolcraft County Board meeting, "a few years ago", of County Board action to create a B4 retirement benefit package, for all union employees, that is referred to in "Article 44. Pensions" of the current Schoolcraft County Employees A.F.S.C.M.E. Union contract.
It doesn't take a wizard to connect the dots to reach the likely conclusion that many movers and shakers in Schoolcraft County government, including Sigrid Doyle, knew about the creation of the B4 benefit package, and the reasons for its creation and inclusion in a subsequent union contract. There is little doubt, in my mind, that Schoolcraft County M.E.R.S. Administrator Doyle knows that it is unfunded, as is the majority of the commissioners' retirement benefits. To the best of my, knowledge, she said nothing of significance, in public, that might remove the onus of her responsibility for a total 2003 $1.7 million growing unfunded debt.
As I have connected the apparent dots, to date, I suspect the $1.7 million debt developed rapidly, after the commissioners voted themselves their generous unfunded and undeserved retirement package, and then granted a generous unfunded B4 retirement package to all of the county's union employees, to stifle any outcry from those county employees that did not have the option to purchase generic time, at 5% of its value, with the remaining 95% paid for with future county tax revenues, amortized for 30 years, at 8% interest; as certain commissioners did, or tried to.
From my perspective, for Sigrid to act out all her parts in what I call "The Schoolcraft County Commissioners Retirement Scam" drama, she, or someone else, would have to request a county budget appropriation to cover the increased premium costs of "free" retirement benefits for certain commissioners, particular county employees - and the subsequent "appeasement" union contract Article 44, B4 pension benefit. Had someone made the required appropriation request(s), to fund the various under funded and unfunded retirement benefits schemes, I have no reason to believe that any of the drama would be public knowledge, because no sufficient reason, or known public basis would exist to justify any serious inquiry.
Had Schoolcraft County Clerk, Sigrid Doyle, completed her part in an apparent scam, I conclude that she would have retired in peace. Instead, her failure to secure the appropriation, and the consequential effects reflected in the 2003 M.E.R.S. report, that Commissioner Erickson understood, and made me aware of, provided me with sufficient irrefutable figures to have significant confidence in my hazy awareness of the likely reasons for the apparent stink about her, regarding her intimate involvement with what I can only describe as rotten and corrupt retroactive retirement related business that she fostered, and a subsequential financial deficit, that she hid.
At the moment, I have no knowledge, whatsoever, of why the appropriations were not requested, and approved, or, if they were, why they were not implemented and why no one has referred to an existing appropriation, at any meeting I have attended. I suspect that the participants in the various aspects of the apparent "scam" suspected that Schoolcraft County Treasurer Terri Evonich was likely to voice her reservations concerning the apparent corrupt nature of the public business that needed specific funding to become lost in a sea of appropriate Schoolcraft County government business.
As a consequence of spending my life, seeking a qualified understanding of the personas and business behind the commissioners' retroactive retirement plan, I learned a great deal.
I have a greater understanding of the likely reason for the silence of Schoolcraft County union employees, regarding the commissioners' action to create and reserve special retirement benefits to themselves. It appears, to me, that their silence was bought with the subsequent union contract that included the unfunded B4 plan benefits that helped to create a $933,732/45.6% funding deficit in the 2003 funding of the M.E.R.S. plan for active Schoolcraft County union employees.
I understand, more completely, that aspect of human nature that motivates individuals to gain from another's expense, with no consideration of ethics, morals or means. I understand, more completely, why prevailing incompetents dislike/despise/hate those with greater competence, regarding any particular task. I understand, more completely, why competence and honesty are viewed with distrust, by many. I understand, more completely, why those that feel threatened by competents are likely to lash out to render impotent, or destroy, those they perceive to threaten their power and security. I understand, more completely, the common bond held by those of similar intellect.
I now understand the likely reasons for the rumored threats, attributed to past Schoolcraft County Board Chairman Sholander, against certain county employees that considered going public, concerning their knowledge of certain details surrounding M.E.R.S. issues I have touched upon. I now understand, in greater detail, my speculative reasons for current Schoolcraft County Board Chairman Frenette's documented libelous attack to promote the failure of Commissioner Erickson's write-in re-election efforts.
I now have a greater understanding of the Schoolcraft County Democratic Party's endorsement of Butch Jenerou, Lindsley Frenette, and Peggi Arnold, all of whom are documented blatant liars, that have slandered or libeled Commissioner Erickson, in there efforts to remove him from office. I now have a greater appreciation of my dislike for the leadership of the Schoolcraft County Democratic Party, which endorses those candidates that are documented deceivers. I now have a greater understanding why some past political acquaintances have such an overt dislike, that borders on hatred, in some instances, for those that try to stick to the "unvarnished truth", rather than resort to the prevailing evasion and deceit, that should be the exclusive tools of confidence criminals.
I now have a greater understanding of local "media" manipulation of information that denies earned credit and recognition to deserving public servants, and gives unearned credit and recognition to public parasites. I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of the difficulties that the average person has, when trying to determine truth and fiction, who is straight or bent, what is dangerous or safe, ... when "the media" fails to report information necessary for interested residents and voters to make informed and objective choices, political, or not.
Today, I heard, on WTIQ radio news, a report that implied that the unfunded B4 benefits, would be a likely problem, five or ten years from now, if nothing is done.
Regardless of the content or intended meaning of the news story, Commissioner Erickson provided the substantiated figures that show that, on 12/31/03, Schoolcraft County had a growing $1.7 million dollar unfunded retirement pension premium debt, and if funded today, with future tax revenues, then goods and services that would be purchased with that $1.7 million, will not be available to the taxpaying community that must pay for past unfunded M.E.R.S. retirement premiums. To a Schoolcraft County budget, plagued by the consequences of declining revenues, a growing unfunded $1.7 million debt is a problem, today. Whether it is a problem, five or ten years hence, depends on the will of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners to deal with the cause and effects, today.
If the impact of paying a mounting accrued 2003 M.E.R.S. debt of $1.7 million, unconsidered in the 2004 budget, and ignored, for "several years", by a majority of commissioners, until yesterday, is not a problem for 5 or 10 years, then lets give public accolades to those that created the non-problem, and ignored the non-problem; and get rid of that "vindictive bastard" Commissioner "Lame Duck" Erickson, tomorrow, for his today's attempts to prompt his fellow commissioners to deal with today's growing $1.7 million county M.E.R.S. unfunded retirement premiums debt.
It was about six years ago that I stumbled over the quote "All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men and women to do nothing." The older I get, the more profound is my understanding and appreciation of that quote, and the human nature of which it speaks. It never ceases to amaze me how, predictably, individual perception varies, consistent with an individual's personal interests in any particular subject, or activity.
For those with flexible ethics, the ends justify the means, and in Schoolcraft County government and politics, flexible ethics prevail.
Sigrid is angry because I "called her a liar" when I stated, during the 11/10/04 Audit and Finance meeting, that I had no particular reason to believe her answers to my questions because of her past fabrications, and current fabrication/lie, as in: either the MERS "billions" pays county employees benefits, or not!. Use this subject when writing about Mayor Hoag's rant about me calling "the city hall girls, liars", regarding the false information given to me by the girls, regarding information on the city's web site, and the cause of brown water, at home. And use Mike Dougovito's rant about me calling his wife, "a liar". How does the average citizen know when they are being lied to, when they go to the horse's mouth for the truth? Got lotsa examples...
As of 11/13/04, there is more fantasy in this than I care for; too many unqualified assumptions:
1. No actual understanding of the details that led to the $1.7 million deficit, in the "few years" from "over funded" to major debt.
2. No reference to establish which plan the retired commissioners are drawing from.
3. No reference to determine how much of the debt is due to the stock market drop.
4. No reference to determine how much of the debt was erased by the subsequent stock market rise.