Pension hearing not entirely about city pension system

A City Council committee just ended an informational hearing on the city's pension structure that was neither controversial nor terribly informative in the way of new facts - but it did seem to ratchet up tensions between Council and the Nutter administration, which was possibly the point in the first place.

Twice in the last year and a half, Councilman Bill Green, who chairs Council's Labor and Civil Service Committee, had scheduled a hearing to examine the state of Philadelphia's pension system and consider recommended fixes. Twice he postponed the hearing at the request of the administration.

A final straw seemed to come last week when Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver suggested that Council was "abdicating any responsibility" for finding ways to lower pension costs by refusing to pass a resolution creating a cheaper pension plan for newly-hired city workers. Council support for doing so was nil, with most members believing that was a collective bargaining matter to be settled at the negotiating table.

Within a few days, today's hearing was scheduled.

"When the administration last week said Council was abdicating its responsibility," Green said after today's hearing, "I decided there was no longer a need to accommodate the administration and not hold these hearings."

Four members of the city's board of pensions testified. All were city employees who represented the four municipal unions.

But nobody from the administration was able to make it, except for government affairs liaison Tumar Alexander, who offered prepared testimony on behalf of City Solicitor Shelley Smith and Finance Director Rob Dubow. In their testimony, both officials said they could not attend because of scheduling conflicts due to the "limited notice" of the hearing.

Smith's prepared testimony also contained an  unusual admission: The administration was wrong in its analysis last week of the consequences of Council not passing the pension resolution.

For instance, the administration had originally stated if the resolution were not passed, the State Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) could go to court to file a "mandamus" action to require the city to adopt a new plan. Not true, according to Smith's testimony. After further review, she wrote, "We have concluded that PERC can seek a write of mandamus only after Council has passed a resolution - if Council should do so - and failed to enact a lower cost plan by June 30, 2010."

In fact, Smith wrote: "After much review and additional discussion, we have concluded that the original analysis is an unduly aggressive interprestation of the applicable law..."

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