I could be wrong……

But this may be a sly way of telling the folks back in Jackson County to FO but frankly I was rendered speechless by the former legal services queen:

Meantime over at SRHS Watch:

New Pension Plan Attorney Has Ties to Reeves & Mestayer

Bad settlement first and Justice later?

I guess the root of my heartburn comes from the retirees ostensibly paying for all the legal fees in a breach of fiduciary duty case and folks, it was not the Singing River Retirees that did the breaching. The folks at SRHS Watch have some heartburn too:

Opinion: Reeves on the Hunt for Pension Plan’s “Real Killers” ~ SRHS Watch

Keep an eye peeled because they have some good stuff coming:

Forthcoming on SRHS Watch: Certus Labs, Ethics Laws

ICYMI: Connecting some dots over in Jackson County

From a big picture standpoint the gang at SRHS sure was scared of Chancellor Harris and he was recused. It is beginning to look like the good ol’ boys now have just the state court setup they like. I’m still scratching my head on how a $6 million dollar legal bill can happen in a garden variety ERISA breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit but I’ll tackle that in another post.

Let’s analyze the proposed SRHS settlement: The Trustee

Do we have a true settlement or a glorified cramdown on the SRHS pension crisis? Before I get to a few numbers and highlight the court case that I think ultimately controls the proper resolution of this disaster, we need to take a look at the person that Special Master Britt Singletary tasked about a month ago with overseeing the pension plan go forward, former Department of Public Safety Director Steve Simpson.

After nearly a year long fight to get the pension benefits they were promised, Tuesday a judge told Singing River Health System retirees they should sleep restfully from now on. Special Master Britt Singletary appointed an independent trustee, former Circuit Court Judge Steve Simpson, to oversee the pension. And he said an announcement of a settlement deal between the health system and retirees is close at hand.

“What we believe was the root of a lot of the problem was there was nobody on behalf of the pension holders or the pension members to look out for their interest alone,” said Jim Reeves, who represents some of the retirees. “Now we have that person in place who is a watchdog, so to speak, for the pension holders.”

April Havens gave us even more background on Simpson:

Simpson, a Gulfport attorney who focuses on civil litigation, defense, governmental affairs and lobbying, premises liability defense, personal injury defense and criminal defense, is also a former Mississippi Public Safety Commission member.

The decision to put Simpson at the helm of the pension plan was made Tuesday during a hearing before Special Master Britt Singletary in Pascagoula.

“Singing River Health System and certain plaintiff’s attorneys have agreed to an order governing the administration of the retirement plan and trust,” SRHS attorney Brett Williams said.

Between the two accounts, anyone that did not previously know Mr. Simpson now understand that his background is impressive:

  • A lawyer that “focuses on civil litigation, defense, governmental affairs and lobbying, premises liability defense, personal injury defense and criminal defense”
  • Appointed by former Governor Haley Barbour as head of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety
  • A former Harrison County Circuit Court Judge

I am just guessing but to the extent litigation and in particular agreed orders inherently involves a negotiating process there is a good chance Mr. Simpson was a compromise choice. The public may never know the answer to the how the parties settled on Simpson but to me the real question is whether or not he is qualified to be a pension trustee. My personal opinion is not and by implication I think it is more likely than not that once again the cost of the bad decision making will be borne down the line by the SRHS pension plan participants.

It would not be fair for me to leave it at that but before I lay out why I think Mr. Simpson is not the right choice, what do the folks over at SRHS Watch think? That interactive website is heavily trafficked by retirees so the commentary is going to reflect some of what the group as a whole is thinking. The analysis is brutal but I think it is also reflective of a growing frustration among the retirees that has reached the boiling point: Continue reading “Let’s analyze the proposed SRHS settlement: The Trustee”

The SRHS Hopes Retiree Group turns 1 today

And the Singing River Disaster drags on as well. I will absolutely having something on the proposed settlement, which I have concluded is woefully insufficient, as soon as I can devote the time to writing the post but in wishing the SRHS Hopes folks a happy first anniversary I’d like to point out something that maybe reveals something about Slabbed and its readers.

When we began covering the wind-water litigation almost 8 years ago we zeroed in on two brave young women that were whistle blowers against an insurance giant in Cori and Keri Rigsby. As time passed we’d cover more such people that had the right combination of moxie, resolve and clarity of character which came together with the moment. In 2010 Slabbed would feature the story another such person in Anne Vandenweghe. As I look back through all the high quality associations between this blog and local Citizens trying to make wrongs right, we’ve featured is an impressive list of people like the late Margie Seemann, Anne Vandeweghe, Heather Hilliard, Cori and Keri Rigsby, Lana Noonan and SRHS Hopes with folks like Trudy Nelson, Kitty Aguilar along with Grandpa Grim and the ordinary folks doing extraordinary things like those retirees that have manned a picket line for close to a year. While I may be a man writing for this website, in so many ways Slabbed has had a distinctly feminine narrative through time. My own opinion is that we as a community are better off for it.

Happy birthday to the retirees in SRHS Hopes.

Runoff elections bring more change to Hancock and Harrison Counties while Jackson County reverts to the mean

Depending on the November general election here in Hancock County we may end up with a completely new Board of Supervisors but at the minimum four of the five Supervisors will be new now that Sup Tony Wayne Ladner was eliminated in yesterday’s runoff election. Meantime in Harrison County there is a new Sheriff in town to go with three new County Supervisors and Superintendent of Education.

We also had runoff elections in Jackson County with two County Sups in runoffs. Before I link Anita I’d like to revisit what was the prevailing thoughts on the primary elections dating to late July and the confab between elements of the media including Slabbed and the SRHS retirees. While there was no candidate promotion at that meeting a very frank discussion was held about all the candidates for the County Board of Supervisors as well as what people thought was their best guess at board turnover, such speculation also periodically appearing here on Slabbed in comments. Everyone pretty much agreed there would be no more than three seats change with two seats being the more likely number. No one saw what would come on August 4th, with two Sups losing outright and two more being forced into runoffs, especially given the overall low voter turnout raising the possibility of four new Supervisors. For those wanting change the Primary election exceeded expectations. After the runoff elections my mathematically oriented mind immediately thought of mean reversion to make sense of last night’s results:

Jackson County: Cumbest returns; Taylor wins; Ross advances ~ Anita Lee

I thought Sabrina Smith had Barry Cumbest on the ropes and he surprised us with a strong finish.  Political newcomer Sabrina Smith ran a spirited, grass roots campaign against an incumbent Supervisor that comes from a large Jackson County’s family that has been around for hundreds of years and took him to the wire.  She should be proud of the campaign she ran and to borrow and slightly change a football phrase she left it all on the campaign trail. Kudos to Ms. Smith.

Troy Ross advancing to the general election did not surprise me, especially since I was aware that he had the significant support among the SRHS retirees. You see folks people are motivated to vote for a number of reasons many of which are noble but mostly people vote their wallets. I disclosed the reason Sup Ross would win before the election here, specifically:

Ross supporters point to the fact he is a less divisive personality than Brodnax and that Ross will be able to more capably work with the new board to fix the myriad of problems the county faces.

Slabbed has had the privilege to report on this incredible story that involves the intersection of a major scandal with the fields of auditing, finance and the law, in the SRHS meltdown.  Even more significant is the political component in a group of people that cast aside personal differences to create a grassroots movement with a unified voice in the SRHS retirees. They have become a political power in Jackson County.

This group of folks and their determination to see justice done included picketing in the cold of winter and the worst of our summertime heat almost nonstop. This has gone on so long that the group has seen a few of its members die and yet more step up to post. I rather suspect these folks, despite the close bonds they have forged with each other, would much rather be inside in the air conditioning that manning a picket line in the 95 plus degree heat.

So think about the runoff from a retiree’s standpoint. Continue reading “Runoff elections bring more change to Hancock and Harrison Counties while Jackson County reverts to the mean”

Credit the retirees as the runoff elections loom…..

Karen Nelson checks in today with a great article that examines the aftermath of Tuesday’s primary elections in Jackson County, which despite the overall low voter turnout resulted in change in County Government. Karen gives credit to the scrappy group of SRHS retirees that will not go away quietly without answers along with accountability for the disaster that has resulted from a coordinated campaign of lies literally stretching over a period of years:

The tight-knit group handed out thousands of fliers, talked to voters, took out advertisements, picketed the hospitals and lawyers’ offices. They became good at giving interviews to the media and religiously attended Jackson County Board of Supervisors meetings to speak out about what they thought was fair and ask for answers as to why the county-owned system failed them and the community.

“I think people in the county were very upset about this,” Kitty Aguilar said Wednesday after the election. “It was unbelievable in most people’s minds that this would go on — the pension plan and how it was dealt with, and that county supervisors didn’t man up, take it straight on and deal with it.”

This brings me to another point because there has been a debate in comments as to whether or not the campaign teams hired by certain candidates in Jackson County actually met the definition of a professional political coms consultant, the majority of the commenters thinking not. For my part I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few folks over the years that actually qualify having spent a lifetime practicing the dark arts in the Louisiana political arena. A few of these folks could probably have taught Machiavelli a thing or two and that reminds me of a comment I left back in May which is based on the wisdom of one such professional political operative from the other side of the Pearl River:

Local politics is all about pleasing the proverbial chronic voter. The chronic voter is typically grey that has extra time on their hands to engage in political activity like going to Board meetings or manning a picket line.

Since Chronic voters are Grey, they also have a lifetime of social contact with the community which means they are a big influences on what I’d term the marginal voter, which is that part of the electorate that turns out to vote only part of the time.

In 2010 about 28,000 voters turned out of the total voting age population of about 100,000. My guess is somewhere about 18-20 thousand of the total would fit the demographic of a chronic voter. Also in that demographic are close to 3,000 SHRS plan participants.

This is all a long winded way of saying that the County Board of Sups has written off somewhere around 10% of the total vote straight out of the gate. It is not an election winning strategy IMHO.

The advice the Sups heeded which in turn lead to my making that comment did not come from a political coms professional or a seasoned political operative IMHO. I think the Sups actions were based on the advice of a lawyer.  If an elected official did what was best for their constituents over their own electoral self interest such would be a rarity in my opinion though it does happen on occasion. Continue reading “Credit the retirees as the runoff elections loom…..”

Jackson County Public Relations begins the tale of woe struck County retirees, Slabbed has the privilege of finishing it

Jackson County Attorney Paula Yancey
Jackson County Attorney Paula Yancey

Way back in 2013 April Havens over at the Mississippi Press began telling County Attorney Paula (Sue Nations Stennett) Yancey’s story of her tie-up with the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System on behalf of the Jackson County Sheriff’s office everyone should have known there was a major problem with the county’s compliance with certain laws and regulations, mainly because the early reports of the exact nature of the problem were largely incomprehensible and it is with the first incomprehensible report that I start circa March 15, 2013:

Jackson County is going up against the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System in an effort to save thousands of hours in leave that employees have accrued over many years.

County attorney Paula Yancey was in Chancery Judge Charles Bordis’ courtroom this afternoon to ask him to stop a March 26 hearing before the PERS board in Jackson.

Attorney Amy St. Pé, who is representing the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, joined Yancey in court. Representing PERS were Alison O’Neal and Jane Mapp.

So there we have it folks, all the legal players are laid out neatly by Havens and for this we should be appreciative. But she loses me terming the legal dispute “a debate” because while courthouses may indeed occasionally house debates featuring master debaters what was going on with the attempted home cooking of Mississippi PERS in a Jackson County Courtroom was not a debating society prattling away discussing esoteric issues:

The debate cropped up near the end of 2011, Yancey said, when the county was copied on a letter sent from PERS to a retired sheriff’s department employee.

The employee had been retired for about 9 months when PERS said he was retired in error and asked him to repay money he had received, she said.

PERS then asked for a copy of the county’s personnel policy.

On May 31, 2012, the county received another letter from PERS “that made an administrative determination” and included an analysis and interpretation of the county’s leave policy, Yancey said.

The letter said that allowing current county employees to continue using leave would be considered a “prohibited donation,” she said, and asked the county to wipe the leave off its books.

Jackson County is arguing that PERS doesn’t have jurisdiction to interpret a county’s policy with total disregard for how the county interprets its own policy, nor does it have the power to dictate policy.

“They are so far outside their authority,” Yancey told the judge, noting that PERS doesn’t have a role in the process until an employee actually retires.

So are we getting this folks, those nasty PERS people have no business telling the County how much leave its employees may apply to the system in order to collect benefits. As a former auditor that knows a few things about Mississippi PERS I can assure everyone the system has some very clear rules about how much unused leave can be applied to creditable service but you’d never know that from that early 2013 story. You see the problem wasn’t with PERS at all, rather it was the County’s own leave policies that was too generous with PERS benefits, such not being the first time a local government tried using PERS in a way that is financially detrimental to the pension plan to the benefit of the local employees. Evidently Ms. Yancey and the County Controller, an Ex State Auditor’s office employee, did not get that memo as we fast forward a year to March 2014 and an update from County PR:

Jackson County supervisors today passed a resolution asking for the state Legislature, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to clarify the authority of the Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Specifically, the county — which has been at odds with PERS since 2012 on an issue of retirees’ accrued vacation and sick leave — is asking the legislators to clarify whether PERS has authority to interpret a local government’s personnel policies.

Since 2012, the county has been trying to save thousands of hours in leave that its employees have accrued over many years.

According to the resolution, PERS has retroactively revoked or reduced benefits and asked some retired employees — many of whom have been retired for more than a year and a half — to repay certain benefits.

This was followed by another update two days later reporting progress on the legislative front:

An amendment passed by the House today on Senate Bill 2257 could help Jackson County in its fight against the Public Employees’ Retirement System to save benefits for many county retirees.

Earlier this week, Jackson County supervisors formally asked the Legislature to clarify PERS’s authority, which has been questioned by the county in court hearings.

The amendment, penned by Jackson County state Rep. Manly Barton, does just that.

The short amendment reads, “No administrative agency of this state shall interpret the personnel policies of local governmental entities. Local governmental entities are the initial interpreters of its personnel policies, and same shall only be reviewed by a court of this state situated within the jurisdiction of the local governmental entity whose policy is in question.”

The issue of policy interpretation came up in the county’s dealings with PERS, which began in 2012. The issue deals with accrued vacation and sick leave that PERS says is not creditable to certain retirees’ retirement.

Thousands of hours are at stake, and the retirement system has asked several county retirees to repay benefits. PERS argues that the county’s personnel policy was vague and did not comply with regulation, but the county argues it did comply and that PERS doesn’t have authority to interpret its policies.

“If we wrote the policy, then obviously we should be the ones to interpret our own policies first,” said Barton, a former Jackson County supervisor. “Then if there’s evidence that the personnel policy somehow does not conform to state law, then the state agency can take it to court. Rather than us proving we are right, they’ve got to prove we’re wrong.”

Barton was evidently drinking Ms. Yancey’s brand of kool-aid but his amendment was struck from the final bill that passed. Even worse Jackson County was losing in court.

Now it is at this point I’d like to remind everyone of a major catastrophe that was brewing right at the same time that Barton was pumping his anti-PERs amendment and that was Singing River Health System’s financial house of cards was also unraveling in March 2014.  This is important because the County supervisors are very clear that no tax money will be used to bail out the SRHS pension plan that was secretly terminated by the Supervisor’s appointees on the SRHS Board of Trustees late last year. With such parameters defining pension problem solutions in Jackson County, how did the Sups solve the problem they had with Sheriff’s Department Employees that had over collected pension benefits based on bad county leave policies?

I’d turn to April Havens for the answer but March of 2014 marked the last report on this matter that I could find. It seems as if the County Sups suddenly wanted to keep this matter quiet. Luckily for everyone I have the answer to this question. Continue reading “Jackson County Public Relations begins the tale of woe struck County retirees, Slabbed has the privilege of finishing it”

Guest Post: Cisco Aguilar’s Full Remarks before Jackson County Supervisors July 6, 2015

JCBOS Meeting
07/06/2015

Good Morning.
During the last meeting Mr. McKay, as well as two current hospital employees, showered high praise on Mr. Holland and the “new” Administration at the helm of Singing River Health System. We must now respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree with their appraisal.

Our problem with the current leadership is that it is following in the footsteps of the old one, using the same methods that produced the colossal fiasco the System is now in. In fact, most of the top leaders have not changed at all, as six out of the seven voting trustees are the same ones who actually presided over the entire debacle.

After all, it was Kevin Holland who on March 31, 20141 sought to lull us into complacency claiming that the pension plan was safe and sound on the heels of an incredible $88 million “accounting adjustment” announcement.2

It was also Mr. Holland who, with the support from other current Administration members3 and with the approval of the Board of Trustees, attempted on November 29, 2014 to eliminate the burdensome pension plan overnight, writing off SRHS obligations to the pension participants, as well as their future livelihood guarantees, with the stroke of a pen and no true hint of remorse.4

Seven months later, secrecy and deception continues to reign sovereign at SRHS, as evidenced by the struggle everyone is enduring to shine light on what actually happened to bring about this disaster.5

Continue reading “Guest Post: Cisco Aguilar’s Full Remarks before Jackson County Supervisors July 6, 2015”