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February 27, 2011

11

Beutler administration suddenly ready to change directors, aides’ retirement benefit — but the devil is in the details

by Deena Winter

What a wild week it’s been at city hall.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler

For me, this all began on Valentine’s Day. I’d long heard that the mayor and his staff were still getting the kind of retirement benefits he has long decried as overly generous for city employees. Basically, the city contributes $2 for every $1 the employee puts in. Mayor Chris Beutler began lobbying hard in July 2009 to get the unions to agree to a lower city match than that. He couldn’t get traction on changing the benefit for existing employees, but he was able to convince all but one city union to lower the match for new hires only.

But nobody ever asked the mayor whether he would be willing to take a cut in his own retirement benefit, which is actually even more generous than what the city employees were getting. The city gives the mayor and his dozen directors and several aides 12 percent of their salary toward retirement, whether they put up a match or not.

I’d heard that, but wanted to make sure it was accurate information, so I asked the city controller how much the city contributes to the mayor’s retirement fund. This is a question that should easily be answered in about five minutes, by looking up his payroll data. I didn’t get an answer for eight days. On Feb. 22, I received an email confirming that the mayor gets about 12 percent of his $75,000 salary — with no match required.

Coincidentally — or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence at all? — on that very same day, the mayor held a press conference to announce that he and his cabinet and aides had decided to take a .5 percent pay cut in the coming year (assuming he gets re-elected in May). I suspect this was some political operative’s idea of a great way to blunt the effect of any story I might write about the retirement match issue. I wrote about Beutler’s pay cut deal, but added the information about the nice retirement benefit the same crew get.

Two days later, Beutler is on “Jack & John” talking about the pay cut issue when Jack (or was it John?) asks him about the retirement issue I wrote about. The mayor says he always intended to “eventually” also cut his and his cabinet’s retirement benefit, he just hasn’t really gotten around to it and isn’t sure whether it can be done unilaterally.

The following day, Coby Mach is talking about the whole pay cut-retirement benefit controversy on “Drive Time Live” — and expressing incredulity at the whole thing, when during a break he gets a call from the mayor’s chief of staff, Rick Hoppe, who tells him the City Council has on its agenda Monday (first reading, no public hearing until the following week) an ordinance that would change the retirement benefit for directors and aides from the 12 percent no-match-required deal to a 9 percent city match with a required 7 percent employee contribution.

But the really incredible part is that Hoppe tells Coby they’ve been talking about this since November. As Coby pointed out, the mayor had just said the previous day that he didn’t know whether it was possible to make such a change. You would think that in the time between July 2009 and February 2011, his staff would have had time to figure out whether they could make the same sacrifice he’s been asking other city employees to make. Then again, would you be able to find time to figure out whether to cut your own retirement benefits?

So the upshot is that on the City Council’s Monday agenda, suddenly there appears an ordinance to change the deal for directors and aides — however, TWIST! — the way I read it, the legislation would ONLY APPLY TO EMPLOYEES HIRED ON OR AFTER APRIL 1, 2011. So basically, they’re doing the same thing the unions did by saying, “We won’t cut our retirement benefits, but we’ll cut the new employees’ benefits.”

Go figure.

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. maybe
    Feb 27 2011

    The smoke and miror’s never stop do they. Maybe I should say spinning mirror’s and rolling smoke.

    Reply
  2. Walter
    Feb 27 2011

    I don’t have an axe to grind against any politician specifically. Actions (plural, by intent) such as Mr. Beutler’s are the reason I have given up on the entire process. I occasionally am encouraged by individuals (I’ll not name, because of the risk of getting flamed), so I do have some home of a change. Haven’t figured out, yet, why a viable candidate hasn’t stepped forward to run against him. (emphasis on “viable”). You get what you deserve Lincoln

    Reply
  3. Roger Yant
    Feb 27 2011

    Hold on a second… OK. I have calmed down a bit. GOOD GOD, have they no shame?
    Way to go Deena, keep it up, you are doing a fantastic job.

    Reply
  4. Tony Williams
    Feb 27 2011

    Deena, precisely what would you like the Mayor to do about the retirement benefit? The city council sets the resolution at the beginning of each term. The City of Lincoln must be performing very well if you’re grasping at straws like this. The Mayor has denied himself a payraise and is making a small fraction of what he would in the private sector.

    Reply
  5. Feb 27 2011

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. Our elected officials are always happy to cut someone else’s pay when it get’s tough. But, when it’s time for them to walk the same walk, they just aren’t sure or haven’t figured out it that could be done, or haven’t gotten to that. WOW, does this surprise anyone, NOT. I say we vote them all out, get some fresh meat, not politicians that will actually work for the people, city and country. PS, I also think it should be across the board, all employees, current, at all levels need to be cut. I as a tax payer don’t have a cushy retirement plan, why the heck should I pay for them to have one?

    Reply
  6. Brad Carper
    Feb 27 2011

    Great article, Deena. Eventually, many of these political “pots” end up being colored “black”. As in many cases, they are only called to action when their own hand is found in the cookie jar. As time passes, I think the public microscope will reveal to more people just what a phony, self-serving, puppet of Lincoln’s Old Money Mayor Beutler is.

    Reply
  7. Opportunity to Improve Performance
    Feb 27 2011

    Mayor B. is a deliberative and nuanced leader. Were it the Legislature one could count on negotiations. Saddled with extraordinary budget challenges, and as a result of the spotlight, the administrative advisory team have had processes brought to light demonstrating that they are beyond their limits and are simply unable to acknowledge that .
    This has resulted in a a pattern of less than transparent outcomes, and flawed decison making.
    Time for Mayor to augment the admin team. Time to bring in reinforcements.
    That’s why NU model is always recruiting talent.

    Reply
  8. Amethyst
    Feb 28 2011

    “Old Money” equals Old ideas.

    Reply
  9. John Duhon
    Feb 28 2011

    I’m estimating that when Beutler retires the city budget will be around $150 million a year. This $9,000 pension represents .000072 of the budget, or 1/150th of 1 percent.

    Let mr know when you uncover a story with any real substance Deena. You get what you pay for, and if we get the incredible leadership of Mayor Beutler for $75K and a tiny pension we are getting one hell of a deal.

    Reply
  10. Jeffrey Poley
    Feb 28 2011

    Deena:

    I don’t see why city government should be any different than other institutions, public or private. Those in charge will kick the can down the road for things of less than crises proportions as long as no one notices. Lincoln’s high rollers are not concerned with chump change issues like the Mayor’s retirement. They want to continue to farm the city’s treasury for big ticket items like TIF subsidies and elimination of development regulations. Since the LJS has abandoned any watchdog role for our city, your blog may be the only thing offering any incentives for transparency by local government.

    Jeff

    Reply
  11. Glenn Beck Fan
    Feb 28 2011

    Deena, I really don’t understand why you haven’t pressed Mayor Beutler on his birth certificate? Why is it that nobody has seen his birth certificate? Are we supposed to just take his word that he was born here?

    Reply

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