Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Financial Problems @ Bloomfield Township?

Hi All,
Bloomfield Township held a Study Session chaired by Treasurer, Dan Devine, on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 @ 10 AM to discuss a variety of items:  

A proposed Pay-To-Play Certificate of Compliance;

AND,   proposed changes in Investment Policies or Trusts:
  1. Defined Contribution Pension Plan
  2. Defined Benefit Pension Plan
  3. Retired Employees' Health Care Benefits Trust
 AND, a proposed reallocation of:
  1. Retired Employees' Health Care Benefits Trust portfolio
What Happened?
Well,  I arrived late due to obligations.  The meeting was in progress for about 20 minutes in the Conference Room on the upper level.  I took a seat near the 2 other "audience" members:
  1. former Township Supervisor, David Payne
  2. Downtown Birmingham Bloomfield  News Editor, Lisa Brody
I immediately sensed all is not well when the discussion was about amending the agenda to include all encompassing discussions about financial issues and chairman Devine saying that was not going to happen. The agenda was set and discussion would stick to those items.   According to Roberts Rules of Order, that motion "to amend the agenda" needed to be made BEFORE the first agenda item was discussed.  Attorney Hampton seemed to disagree with that interpretation, but because he didn't have materials at hand to research it, the Board did not make any motion but did continue to elaborate on how more information is needed and a broader discussion of all financial issues needed to be discussed in relation to the agenda items.

Trustee Brian Kepes peppered Treasurer Devine with many questions leading Devine to comment that it felt like he was on trial.  Devine told the group there have been no "shenanigans" and many of the board members commented that they didn't say that or suggest that.   Kepes was frustrated because he didn't think Treasurer Devine was fully answering his questions. Trustee Buckley reminded everyone that they all approve the investments.  Devine encouraged board members to be specific about what they wanted to know and he would research the data for answers...for the next meeting.

I had the feeling... that there is something that all the Board members are concerned about.. but, in my opinion, never said exactly what  "THAT"  is.
I have heard rumors about something that was perhaps not legal...perhaps criminal.  

IS there a financial problem...with the pensions...with the bond money, or other issues?  If yes, remember,  all 7 board members voted for the bond and for the investments and for the payroll and vouchers...contracts, etc. .... unanimously..... all the time.  That said, most of the time, much of the DETAILS are not easily accessible to the taxpayers....  the financial reports are done in study sessions and just posted at the end of board packets.  We don't see the contracts, nor the payroll and voucher figures.  This is NOT open and transparent government.  We should not have to FOIA documents like these.

Would the meeting have gone in a different direction without a reporter and a watchdog (unofficially, that's me)  in the room?
I can't wait to see the written minutes of this meeting. Those will not be available until the next regular Board of Trustees meeting for approval.  I did request a FOIA of the audio of the meeting... you can, too. Have not picked it up yet. I missed the first 20 minutes of this meeting...and honestly, didn't get much out of the last 90 min.

AT THIS MEETING there were random comments that seemed unrelated to any particular agenda item from all the trustees and these words were mentioned (and in no particular order):
  • redemption fees
  • reallocations
  • type A shares vs institutional
  • "very sensitive report"
  • who pays the fees
  • fee "hidden" in the consent agenda...  can't be hidden... each board member approves agenda
  • all financial changes have been UNANIMOUSLY approved by the board
  • Savoie saying he has the authority to do it...      (what? I didn't understand)
  • broader problem is the overall investment policies
  • there is a significant amount of assets in equities, much more than in past years
  • $350 is all that is allowed for donation to campaign fund... after law in 2012?
  • ethics policy
  • needing to conform to state laws
  • AAA Bond Rating for a reason
  • trust issues
  • doing what is best for the community
Never once while I was there for (90 minutes?)  did I ever hear "let's get back to the agenda". 
I don't know where they were in the agenda when I arrived... and when I left it was that they were going to meet again in 30 days.

As chairman of this financial meeting, Treasurer Devine did call for PUBLIC COMMENT.
  • I spoke about Pay-to-Play  and that the township also needed a policy about vendors and donations. When 2 vendors made $20,000 and $30,000 donations to Save Our Services, that promoted a YES campaign to approve a new millage in February 2010... and then basically benefited from the $4 million (times 10 years)  new money generated in taxes from the millage.. we all should object.  That particular SOS campaign was mostly vendor donations... but the campaign portrayed the issue as what the community wanted.  In truth, the vendors wanted to keep their contracts.... when in fact, the township should have been making cuts in 2010, in my opinion.
  • I again suggested that much of that $80 million Bond money should go into the Prudential fixed account that actually is responsible for the guaranteed pension payments.  I also suggested that the township look into hiring other financial advisors ... get other input into charges/costs/ success rates, etc. and perhaps change the township investment advisors.  Gregory Schwartz & Co.  earned over $491,000  just by investing the $80 million in a variety of investments including Type A shares, from what I heard.      NOTE: (but I don't think I said this at the meeting):  Since 2006 Schwartz has had a contract with the Township as investment advisors.   This particular STUDY SESSION was to make changes to the various funds.   Schwartz & Co. and Treasurer Devine and the entire seven member Board of Trustees  vote on those recommendation.  RARELY, if ever, are any financial reports an AGENDA item to be discussed in a regularly scheduled Board meeting.  That needs to change.  Regular Board meetings are audio/video recorded and archived for the record.
  • Former Supervisor, David Payne, also spoke during public comment. He doesn't live in the Township anymore. Since there wasn't any agenda followed, his comment was hard to understand.  He referenced an item #7  and he was absolutely opposed to that ? paragraph?   He said that as a retiree of the township, he felt that language violated his first amendment rights.  Payne mentioned the word "bankruptcy" in his public comment.... I believe as he would think that would be the worst thing that could happen to his retirement.   Treasurer Devine did say that that # 7 was put there for discussion (which didn't happen at this meeting).  I have no idea what that paragraph says and to what fund/trust it was associated with.
  • Downtown News Editor, Lisa Brody did not ask a question or comment.

I will keep everyone posted as to the date of the next STUDY SESSION.

Want some background reading?
Township website:  http://bloomfieldtwpmi.minutesondemand.com/
Read Study Session minutes/Board of Trustees  from:  4/22/13; 5/13/13; 11/11/13   and  1/30/14; 8/7/14; and when posted: 9/15/14.   They are all financial study sessions.

More reading:  see my archived list of blogs in the right hand column..... going back to 2011.
You can also find my blog on THE OAKLAND PRESS  under News/Blogs/Community/BloomfieldTwpHappenings

1 comment:

  1. Butler Benton, a former Wayne County environmental official retired in 2011 with an $80,000 annual pension. That's worth over $2,000,000!!!

    Time to cut pensions so city services can take place instead of paying for teas being sipped on Florida beaches.

    You can never make pensioners and liberals happy. Because when you ask them what they want, the answer is always: M-O-R-E.