‘Retire’ this idea

FI-EditorialMembers of the town’s Retirement Board are doing the right thing by delaying a proposal to change the makeup of the board. Now they need to go further and toss the idea right into the refuse bin.

The proposal to take the board’s five-person membership and increase it to seven by adding two residents from the town with experience in financial services may look fine on the surface, but the plan came across as poorly conceived and a disservice to the town employees who are the ones who actually draw the money from the town’s pension plan. Frankly, the change’s proponents did a poor job in their presentation and inadvertently showed disrespect toward the employees they are supposed to help.

From an outsider’s view, the insistence that only residents of the town with those specific backgrounds are sensible enough to make complex financial decisions was a poor tack to take. Were the proponents trying to send the message that town employees aren’t qualified to look to their own financial future? Were they trying to say that the “experts” (who incidentally did such a great job causing the 2008 meltdown) are the only ones with a voice worth hearing?

There may well be a very wide gulf between how things look and how things actually are, but the message isn’t coming across clearly if that’s the case. Fortunately, this can be fixed by having the board’s two “citizens” sit down with the town employees who serve with them and hashing out a reasonable compromise that benefits all concerned. It will not be fixed by pushing through a plan over the objections of town employees.

It’s not as though reform or change in the Retirement Board has to be off the table. It’s just that this clearly is not the kind of reform it needs. The proposal pushed forward by two of the board’s members and that squeaked through by a three-to-two margin is a mistake that was being rushed for no other reason than that the proponents wanted to rush it. It was a needless change coming out of nowhere, and pulling it off the table so it can, at the very least, be revised is a start.

Had the proposal gone forward and found its way onto the agenda for today’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the right thing would have been for the selectmen to vote it down and tell the board members who wanted the change that they needed to do a better job building consensus first. Now the selectmen won’t have to do that, at least for now, and that’s a good thing.

This plan looked rushed with no valid reason for the urgency. There was no consultation with the bipartisan group of liaisons the Board of Estimate and Taxation has with the board. And the refusal by the proponents to even consider an even split of one more “citizen” and one more town employee as the two additions, keeping with the charter provision of two citizens, two employees and the comptroller making up the board, just seemed stubborn.

A plan may well be feasible to improve the expertise of the board to try to improve the rate of return on retirement plan investments, lessening the impact on the town budget, but it is not this plan. And this goes to the heart of how town employees are focused on when it comes to budgeting. They are not a special interest group. They are the people who make this town work.

The people impacted here are our town’s police officers and firefighters and paramedics. They’re the people keeping the parks clean and beautiful. They’re the ones collecting the leaves and plowing the snow. They’re the ones getting roads cleared after a storm. We raise hell when they’re not there, so let’s do everything we can to keep them there.

This plan was not a good idea, and unless a better one is found, it’s best left forgotten.

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