In The News › New Orleans firefighters oust leadership of long-troubled pension fund

New Orleans firefighters oust leadership of long-troubled pension fund

By Richard Rainey | The Times-Picayune

September 04, 2013

New Orleans firefighters appear to have delivered a resounding message of no confidence in the board that has been managing their long-troubled pension fund, voting to oust the full slate of trustees who had represented them for at least the past decade.

The Fire Department’s rank-and-file members and retirees refused to re-elect four incumbents who tried to keep their seats on the New Orleans Firefighters Pension & Relief Fund’s board of trustees: Darryl Klumpp, firefighters union president Nick Felton, Terry Hampton and Richie Hampton.

Instead, they tapped firefighters Tommy Meagher and Nick Lavene and former firefighters Martin Gaal and Angelo Marchese to take their places.

Felton and Klumpp took the hardest hits as the only candidates to receive fewer than 400 votes. Gaal led with 537. The results were announced Wednesday at a scheduled meeting of the board.

Long-time members William “Bud” Carrouche, Keith Noya and Dean Disalvo chose not to run again for new two-year terms. None of them could be reached for comment Wednesday.

The departed trustees had been on the board between 10 and 23 years.

A reworking of the board’s governance by the state Legislature this spring triggered the new election. Lawmakers eliminated four seats set aside for elected firefighters and added a third mayoral appointment, reducing the total from 10 to seven trustees.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has appointed Scott Jacobs — husband of education reformer and, briefly, mayoral candidate Leslie Jacobs — to represent his administration. City Finance Director Norman Foster and newly appointed Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell round out the new board.

It’s unclear whether Richie Hampton, who has collected a $150,000 annual salary as the fund’s chief executive officer as well as the board’s secretary-treasurer, has also lost his paying job. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Trouble has plagued the pension fund for decades, with the city and firefighters often facing off in court over what taxpayers must pay to keep it solvent.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a government watchdog group, found last year that the fund had been earning only 2 percent returns on its investments, far below its 7.5 percent assumed annual rate.

The turnover also comes as tension between the Landrieu administration and the firefighters union is running high over pay, retirement benefits and budget cuts. The department lost $4 million in federal aid for 2013, while a Civil District Court judge in March ordered the city to pay the retirement fund $17.5 million. Another dispute broke out in July when two ladder trucks were taken out of service.

Landrieu had wanted a total overhaul of the pension fund that would have brought it entirely under City Hall’s control. Instead, he had to take what he called the “modest reforms,” including the board restructuring, that the Legislature gave him.

“While the reforms are a step in the right direction, there is certainly more work to be done,” Landrieu said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “I am hopeful that the newly elected board will work to make this pension fund more sustainable so that it can honor the promises it has made to our firefighters, and the city does not have to sacrifice critical services.”

After the vote, Felton said he didn’t see the results as a referendum on how the pension fund had been managed. Instead, he tried to paint the ouster of the longtime members as just a changing of the guard.

“It’s not a division,” he said. “It’s more a reorganization, a redeployment.”

He also remained adamant that he and other ousted board members would continue to fight Landrieu’s plans to change the way the pension fund is structured.

“While there are different people guiding the ship, we are still there,” Felton said. “The mission is still to protect our pension fund, to keep it out of the hands of a greedy mayor.”

The vote tallies were as follows: Retired firefighters gave Gaal 537 votes and Marchese 461, compared to 458 for Richie Hampton and 306 for Terry Hampton. Active firefighters chose Lavene with 530 votes and Meacher with 513, beating out Felton with 390 votes and Klumpp with 383.

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