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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Public and Private Pension Plans Can't Fund Retirement

February 26, 2012 - NEW YORK POST

The ticking time bomb of public and private pension plans has a shorter fuse now, given the paltry returns garnered in the markets.
In an eye-opening report, Credit Suisse says that of the 341 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index with defined-benefit pension plans, 97 percent are underfunded. In the US, unfunded pension obligations increased to $2.9 trillion.
This stunning bank report comes in the wake of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to shake up the state’s heavily subsidized public pension system by shifting state workers into less expensive 401(k) and other defined-contribution plans.
A study this month by the New York nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission confirms the trend: Public pensions are choking local taxpayers to financial death. Under the law, these taxpayers pony up hugely to keep public pensions fully funded. And that’s in the midst of periodic stock-market storms.
Defined-contribution plans, of which 401(k)s are a part, have really held their own during the most recent downturn.
According to a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the total average return on a 401(k) between 2003 and 2010 was almost 85 percent. This record was achieved even though the plans lost 30 percent of their value in 2008.
EBRI’s data shows that the 2010 average 401(k) plan had a return of 32 percent, which was the highest return over the period, but all years, with the exception of 2008, had double-digit gains.
In the 10 years through June 2010, New York’s state pension systems earned an annualized return of less than 4 percent — or 28 percent over the EBRI’s time frame, according to data from Bloomberg News.
By one calculation, New York City pension contributions are costing each resident $1,000 more today than they did 12 years ago.
In 2009, the most recent year for which there is comparative data, employer and employee contributions to local public pension funds in the US totaled $27.6 billion.
The amount contributed to New York City’s pension plans was $8.3 billion, nearly one-third of the national total. Of that total, fully $7.2 billion, or 87 percent, came from local taxpayers, and just over $1 billion, or 13 percent, came from employee contributions.
New York’s state-run pension system made 89 percent of the total contributions and workers just 11 percent — a ratio of 8-to-1, compared with the national average of 2-to-1 for other states. That’s the second-highest rate among the 10 largest state-run pension systems and the sixth-highest nationally.
While states rely on taxpayers to make up pension shortfalls, corporations such as General Motors and Bank of America announced last week that they are moving toward 401(k)s for salaried workers.
“The world has moved over to 401(k)s,” John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas said about the GM move.
“It’s been happening for the last 10 or 20 years. There are companies that are still providing traditional pensions, but they are in the distinct minority and on their way to changing themselves,” he added.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Unions Double Down on 2012 Elections

We’ve written previously on how much money labor unions are raising to compete in local, state and national elections this presidential cycle, but now we have a better idea of how much unions are planning to spend to maintain their political clout – $400 million.
“People are digging deeper,” Larry Scanlon, political director of the country’s largest public workers union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the Associated Press. “If Republicans take over the presidency, Congress and enough state legislatures, unions will be out of business, pure and simple.”
What Scanlon should have said is that unions are digging deeper into their members’ paychecks to fund their counter-assault on labor reform.
While labor leaders may be tapping their own bank accounts, a substantial amount of union political cash will come from hard-working, dues-paying members.
Last year, at the National Education Association’s annual convention, delegates passed a motion to assess a $10 per member fee to fund the union’s “Ballot Measure/Legislative Crisis Fund.”
In 2010, exit polls showed that 42 percent of union households voted for Republican candidates, but over 93 percent of union political support went to Democratic candidates.
Terry Bowman, a member of the United Auto Workers union, testified before the House Oversight Committee about union leaders taking his dues to fund political candidates he doesn’t support and policy positions he doesn’t share.

Considering that unions spent over $40 million last year to repeal an Ohio law that restricted collective bargaining rights and to recall Wisconsin lawmakers who backed a similar measure in their state, the financial toll on individual union members has not been insubstantial.
In addition to general election spending, unions are pouring millions more into Wisconsin for yet another recall election, this time to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
“Part of the Republican strategy is to try to bleed us,” Mike Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, told the Associated Press.
One wonders how much unions can bleed their membership before workers fight back.

Rhode Island City Faces Pension Tsunami

Prof: Providence retirees may face 73% haircut in bankruptcy
February 22nd, 2012 at 6:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and city retirees don’t agree on much, but they’d probably both acknowledge that Providence’s pension system has a sizable long-term shortfall.
The math is pretty simple. Providence has promised its workers and retirees $1.32 billion in pension benefits, but it’s saved only $362 million to pay them. Thus, the city pension fund was short $958 million as of June 30 (based on market value).
As is often pointed out, there’s no immediate crisis there. The city must pay that $1.32 billion over decades – it’s not about to receive a bill for the other $958 million, an amount that’s far more than this year’s entire $614 million city budget.
But a more immediate crisis – a bankruptcy filing by the city – could force the question sooner. And if that happens, the retirees may discover their unfunded pension promises are worthless IOUs.
That suggestion comes from David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and prominent expert on bankruptcy. In a recent working paper which argues that states should be granted the same right as municipalities to file for bankruptcy, Skeel suggests public-sector workers’ property rights only cover funded pension benefits – not unfunded ones.
If a judge agreed with Skeel’s argument, Providence’s retirees would find they have a secured claim on the pension fund’s $362 million in assets, but Providence could write off all or some of the additional $958 million in unfunded benefits the city promised but hasn’t saved for, or about 73% of its total pension liability.
“With a state’s unfunded pension promises, a court would likely conclude that the promises constituted a valid property right to the extent the state set aside designated revenues for them,” Skeel writes in the paper. “But an unfunded promise would be treated as an ordinary unsecured claim, subject to restructuring.”
Skeel elaborated on his argument in an interview with Voice of San Diego, another city where bankruptcy is being discussed because of unfunded pension obligations. Skeel suggested events in Central Falls, where pensions have been cut by up to 55% in bankruptcy, has shown retiree benefits are not untouchable.
“It had previously been the third rail,” Skeel said. “But after Central Falls, it’s unclear if it’s so much of a third rail anymore.”
Skeel suggested the retirees’ property right encompasses pension funds, not pension promises. “The question is what is fully protected, the promise or the pool of funds?” he said. “There is an argument, and I think it’s a pretty powerful one, that it’s the pool of funds.”
In the working paper, Skeel cited the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause as the main rationale for protecting retirees’ unfunded pension promises as well as pension funds, because writing off those promises “would defeat the beneficiaries’ ‘investment backed expectations.’”
“This argument is unlikely to prevail with respect to obligations for which no funds have been set aside, because there does not appear to be a property right for bankruptcy purposes in the absence of collateral,” Skeel wrote.
There may be a historical argument for Skeel’s theory in Providence, since the benefits weighing down the city pension system were granted based on the idea that the fund was in robust health.
When the union-majority Providence Retirement Board voted to award 6% COLAs in 1989, labor leaders defended the richer benefit as affordable because the city’s pension fund was “one of the wealthiest in the country.” They also incorrectly estimated the COLAs’ cost at only $750,000, while the city put the cost at $22 million.

Union-Controlled Rockwood School District to be Audited

Missouri auditor to review Rockwood schools
BY ELIZABETHE HOLLAND — | Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 12:05 am
Missouri plans to audit the Rockwood School District after a request from residents concerned with ties a School Board member has with the district's longtime construction "program manager."
"Rockwood is on the audit plan," Vanessa Chandler, a spokeswoman for the auditor's office, said Wednesday night. Chandler said the office hopes to begin the audit in the second half of the year but added that it's possible it could be delayed depending on other audits the office is required to conduct.
The residents group, Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions, requested the audit over concerns regarding board member Steve Smith but has since shared other concerns with the state, said Eileen Tyrrell, the group's founder.
Smith — the board's president until December, when he stepped down from the leadership post but remained on the board — has been at the center of a controversy over his dual roles as a board member and project coordinator for Glenn Construction Co., which has overseen all of the district's bond-related construction projects for the last 14 years.
To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Smith has abstained from voting on Glenn-related matters, as well as issues regarding retiree benefits and health insurance because his wife is a former Rockwood teacher and the two buy health insurance through the district. His wife also has worked as a paid consultant to the district in the time Smith has been on the board.
The Post-Dispatch first reported on those issues last fall, while also disclosing the longtime relationship between Glenn and Rockwood that has continued with little or no competition from other firms.
The residents group learned late last month that the auditor's office had tentatively scheduled Rockwood for an audit but waited until Wednesday to make that public. Tyrrell said the group had wanted to give the district the opportunity to announce the audit at a board meeting, but that no announcement had been made.
A district spokeswoman reached Wednesday night said Rockwood had not received notification from the state of plans for an audit.
Tyrrell's group launched a petition drive in the fall for an audit but found that many residents were hesitant to sign a petition district leaders might see, Tyrrell said. Despite the state's plans, Tyrrell said the group will continue collecting signatures in an effort to guarantee an audit should there be any delays.
The district was last audited by the state in 1994.

Another Big Giveaway To The Greedy Rockwood Teacher's Union

Rockwood to give superintendent, teachers raises
BY ELIZABETHE HOLLAND • > 314-340-8259 | Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 12:10 am
The Rockwood School Board voted Thursday night to give the cash-strapped district's teachers and superintendent raises and extended Superintendent Bruce Borchers' contract for another year.
Borchers was given a 2 percent salary increase to $234,600, in addition to the annual $8,000 car allowance he's had since his hiring in 2010. His contract was extended to June 30, 2015.
The board and the Rockwood National Education Association agreed to a two-year salary package that gives teachers a 2.75 percent raise in 2012-13 and another 2.75 increase in 2013-14. The agreement has a clause for the latter year that says salary negotiations will be reopened in the event of an increase or decrease in excess of 5 percent of Rockwood's total operating revenue from local and state sources.
The starting salary for a Rockwood teacher with a bachelor's degree is $39,097 this year.
Rockwood NEA president Suzanne Dotta in a news release called the agreement fair given the district's financial limitations.
Board president Janet Strate said in a statement the board recognized Borchers' dedication to the district.
Last year, the board decided against putting a tax levy on the November ballot because of reported budget woes but stressed that a tax increase would be needed soon. The district has a $43.2 million bond issue on the April 3 ballot.
The board also discussed Thursday a planned state audit of the district the board learned about Wednesday night.
Shirley Broz, the district's chief financial officer, told the board she verified the state auditor's plans Thursday morning and told the state its audit would be welcomed.
The auditor's office said Wednesday it was adding Rockwood to its list of planned audits for the second half of this year. The audit will not be a result of a petition by district residents, but rather one the state opts to do, meaning among other things the district will not have to pay for it.
Borchers was criticized last year for hiring two associates from his previous district as $1,800-a-day consultants. The two were later hired by Rockwood with six-figure salaries.
The district has also been criticized for its longtime cozy relationship with Glenn Construction Co., which has managed the district's bond-related projects for years. Board member Steve Smith works for Glenn as a liaison between the company and the district.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Letter to Call Newspapers From MCTA Co-Founder Rich Franz

Predicts Lindbergh will ask voters for tax hike in 36 to 48 months
February 22, 2012 - Call Newspapers
To the editor:
I had to chuckle when I saw the recent article in the Call wherein the Lindbergh school board president and the Lindbergh National Education Association president fell over themselves patting one another on the back for the great job they did shoving a 65-cent tax increase down the throats of the district's beleaguered taxpayers — "Board of Education, Lindbergh teachers pleased with direction of school district.''
Vic Lenz, current board president and himself a former Lindbergh teacher and current president of the National Education Association's Missouri lobbying arm, the Missouri School Boards' Association, crowed about how these collaborative tax-raising efforts are part of the Lindbergh district's "culture.''
And LNEA president Scott Fleming couldn't help but refer to the desire to raise the residents' tax burden as a visionary pursuit.
What a quaint way to describe manipulating more money out of the taxpayers' pockets.
The Lindbergh school board has additional former school teachers — Don Bee — as well as a professional politician — Vicki Englund — who I'm sure were more than happy to relieve the taxpayers of their hard-earned money.
Since the majority of the aforementioned 65 cents went to paying off the teachers' union in the form of higher salaries, it will be interesting to see what stories board members tell their community when they have to ask the taxpayers for more money in 36 to 48 months.
Rich Franz
Editor's note: Rich Franz serves on the Mehlville Board of Education.

Listen to Aaron Hilmer on the Mark Reardon Show on KMOX AM 1120

MCTA member Aaron Hilmer, chairman of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, tells us how the MFPD handles their firefighter pensions. Click HERE to listen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaching Skill Trumps Tenure

An Illinois Supreme Court victory for Chicago schoolchildren

CHICAGO TRIBUNE - February 20, 2012

In any school, no priority — such as employee tenure — should outweigh putting the most skilled teacher possible at the head of every classroom. You won't find that sentence in an important decision the Illinois Supreme Court handed down Friday. But that's the de facto impact of a big win for Chicago Public Schools at the expense of the Chicago Teachers Union.
The broad context here is that, in too many U.S. school districts, labor contracts perversely give more weight to the interests of adult educators than to the needs of young students: Seniority clauses protect inadequate teachers just as efficiently as they protect the very best.
The narrower context here goes to the summer of 2010 when CPS, facing a big budget deficit for the next school year, laid off 1,289 teachers. An increase in federal funding offset much of the deficit. In subsequently filling vacancies, though, CPS didn't give tenured teachers preference; instead the district recalled 715 of the laid-off teachers — but also mixed in new hires of its choosing. The CTU went to federal court, essentially arguing that the district had improperly fired many of its tenured members. After a tortuous path, the dispute landed in the Illinois Supreme Court.
All along that path, the core question remained: Do tenured teachers who are laid off for economic reasons have a right to be rehired as their school district fills jobs? Put another way, can principals hire the best possible job candidates to instruct the children in their care — or does tenure trump teaching skill?
The court found that, across most of Illinois, tenured teachers do have a right of recall: In general, that is, if they've been evaluated as satisfactory or better, they have a right to be rehired into vacancies that arise.
In Chicago, though, the rules are different. We would say blessedly different: In its 1995 Chicago school reform legislation, the Illinois General Assembly gave CPS the power to promulgate its layoff and recall procedures. The Supreme Court majority found that the 1995 law "reflects a clear legislative intent to change the statutory rights of tenured teachers in a layoff." Come 2010, then, CPS principals were free to hire the best teachers, tenured or no. That's what many of them tried to do.
On Friday the CTU noted the Supreme Court's finding that enabling principals to hire top-flight teachers doesn't mean they will: Justice Charles Freeman, writing for the majority, said the Chicago-specific law doesn't guarantee that, after any layoff, the most qualified or most experienced tenured teachers will be recalled.
To the CTU, "tenured" and "experienced" are synonyms for "most qualified." Not necessarily. The issue is, or ought to be, which teaching candidate appears best able to help students — given their individual ability levels — make the greatest possible progress that each of them can. So while the union stressed that Friday's decision "hurts tenured educators," our view is that it's a big victory for some 400,000 Chicago schoolchildren.
We've long argued that teaching tenure should be harder to get and easier to lose: If you want teachers to focus on their performance rather than on their seniority, end tenure altogether. In the year this dispute arose, Terry Mazany, the then-interim CEO of CPS, told the Tribune editorial board that, "The notion that anyone is granted lifetime employment in this day and age is an anachronism." The point, we wrote then, isn't that seniority is bad. It's that without excellent performance, mere seniority shouldn't guarantee anyone a job.
For the CTU, this ruling has to sting deeply: the state Supreme Court finds that state law gives CPS leeway — in these circumstances — to let teaching skill trump tenure. Don't be surprised if the union attempts to introduce the issue during negotiations with CPS on a new labor contract to replace the one that expires this summer.
If so, we hope the CTU has the same success with that topic as it deserves with its request, reported in Friday's Tribune, for raises amounting to 30 percent over the next two years. Don't get us wrong, we'd like to see teachers eligible to be paid — much more — according to their performance. Not that the CTU has shown much interest in that heretical concept.
As pleased as we are by Friday's ruling, we're also as puzzled as ever by bizarre practices that are so common in the U.S. public education industry:
Why would any district, or any legislature, in any state, let a labor contract stop principals from hiring the best educators they can find? What is the mission of the American public school — insulating adults or teaching children?

Disability Pensions Allow Some Firefighters to Collect While Working Elsewhere

Click HERE for a story about abuse of the local firefighter disability system at Mehlville Fire Protection District. 
February 19, 2012
Frank Palermo is a Webster University groundskeeper who has competed as a fourth-degree black belt in karate.
Joe Pree keeps order in a courtroom as a St. Louis sheriff's deputy.
Richard Griffard runs a financial services company that has managed $100 million in investments.
They share something in common: They retired early from the St. Louis Fire Department after the fire pension board ruled they were "totally and permanently incapacitated for duty."
The same could be said of about one out of every two retired St. Louis firefighters — 48 percent. All but a handful said their career-ending injuries occurred in accidents at work, helping them secure some of the nation's most generous disability pensions: 75 percent of the department's maximum salaries — tax free, for life, with annual raises.
On average, from 2001 through 2010, a firefighter who retired on disability was 42 — more than a decade younger than colleagues who retired based on years of service — and got a slightly bigger pension check that was tax-free.
Disability is supposed to be a safety net for those who risk their lives to keep the public safe, said Chief Dennis Jenkerson, a third-generation firefighter. The idea is that firefighters will be more aggressive — and save more lives — if they know an injury won't wreck their finances.
"But it's for the guys who truly get injured," he said.
With such incentives to retire, though, disability has become a costly entitlement program and a burden for taxpayers. A Post-Dispatch investigation found:
• Many disabled retirees go back to work, some to jobs that involve physical labor, and continue collecting their pensions.
• Firefighters rule the process. A longtime pension board member was also president of the firefighters union. Today, the eight-member board includes four active and two retired firefighters. The board has said its duty is to protect firefighters, not taxpayers.
•The pension board's longtime chairman acknowledges abuse in the disability system. But although the law empowers trustees to re-evaluate disabled retirees once a year, or reduce pensions for firefighters making more than allowed, the trustees almost never do.
• The city does not reassign firefighters who are capable of doing other city jobs. Meanwhile, it lays off workers, enforces furloughs and pay freezes and struggles to provide some services.
• Despite the high disability rates, the fire department has no fitness standards for active firefighters.
Mayor Francis Slay tweeted last week that "almost every municipal service in the future" depends on reducing the fire pension system's costs.
In a story last Sunday, the Post-Dispatch exposed how city leaders contributed to the crisis by adding benefits to a pension system that already could not meet its future obligations.
Today, using standard accounting methods, the pension system's unfunded liabilities total more than $100 million. Its auditor told the board Friday that the fund is in trouble. Disability payments make up nearly half of system's expenses, about $1.1 million a month.
No public official has succeeded in any effort to tackle the department's disability rate or substantially reduce costs.
Last year, the firefighters union backed a proposal to modify the pension by giving retirees with occupational disabilities five years of full pay, five years of college and a lifetime pension of 25 percent to 75 percent of pay, depending on years of service.
Chris Molitor, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local No. 73, said at the time he believed the proposed benefits would be less enticing to a firefighter considering a disability retirement.
"I think guys are going to try harder to stay on the job," he said.
But city budget officials said the plan didn't save taxpayers much. Slay killed the deal to draft broader changes introduced earlier this month.
Slay wants to dramatically reduce disability pensions for firefighters who are healthy enough to work somewhere else. His chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, said if that change is approved, "you will not see anywhere near one out of two people retiring for a disability."
Jenkerson said it irks "real firefighters," who work hard to overcome injuries, to know former colleagues are taking advantage. Without naming names, he said he thinks "there have been people who have come into the job with a focus more on the disability than the career of a firefighter."
"I won't put a percentage on it," he said. "But I will say some of the people who have gotten disabilities, if they would have wanted to be, could have been rehabbed and brought back, but they gave up."
Leonard Wiesehan, a firefighter who has been chairman of the pension board for 24 years, acknowledged abuse in the system but said "when you get three doctors who tell you (a) guy can't work anymore, it takes it out of our hands."
The fire department's disability rate far exceeds that of departments in San Antonio, Charlotte, N.C., and Phoenix. In fact, St. Louis has more firefighters on disability retirements than those three cities combined. The police department's disability rate is 10 percent.
There is no national standard for firefighter disability, and St. Louis does not have the highest rate. In San Jose, Calif., two out of three retired firefighters were on disability, a 2011 city audit found. Many of the disability cases were older firefighters who retired based on years of service and later were granted disability.
In Kansas City, about two out of five firefighters retired on disability, slightly less than in St. Louis and typically with a smaller payout.
Less than a third of the disability retirements in Kansas City are "duty" retirements that pay 62.5 percent of the department's maximum salaries. The rest were "nonduty" disability pensions that pay 25 percent of a firefighter's final salary plus 2.5 percent for every year served over 10 years.
Kansas City Fire Chief Richard "Smokey" Dyer said the pension board was protecting taxpayers by "really being stingy with line-of-duty injury pensions."
One major difference between St. Louis and many other cities is that the fire department expects every firefighter to be physically capable of fire combat after recovering from an injury — even if his job is inspecting buildings, working on an ambulance, investigating fires or teaching children to stop, drop and roll.
After a firefighter applies for a disability retirement, he is evaluated by three doctors chosen by Medical Services Management, based in Chesterfield, which works for the pension board. The company did not return calls.
The doctors determine whether a disability applicant can perform every firefighting task. They are provided a sheet of paper that lists firefighting duties and reminds doctors: "There are no part-time (jobs) or light-duty work in the fire service."
The pension board is not bound by the doctors' recommendations, but minutes of board meetings show it usually follows them.
In one exception, the board tried to block disability retirement for Earl Neal, an eight-year firefighter who refused to have surgery for a back injury. Neal appealed, and a circuit judge ruled in 1996 that the board could not ignore the medical board's findings and Neal wasn't obligated to undergo surgery to be entitled to a disability pension.
Neal retired at age 37 and became head of an ambulance district in Jefferson County and then of the ambulance district in Johnson County, Mo. A proclamation by the Missouri House in 2008 lauded his career of public service, as well as time spent as a youth football coach and baseball umpire.
In an interview, Neal said the ambulance-service jobs were administrative and didn't require physical strength. He said he "very rarely lifted patients up."
Without a doubt, the ranks of disabled retirees include firefighters who suffered serious, permanent injuries in the line of duty. Matt Held, 44, was crushed in a porch collapse in 2003. Now he walks with a cane, hunched and wincing with each step. A surgically implanted device delivers pain-relieving shocks to his spine.
His disability income of $3,700 a month helps him afford a small house on the South Side.
"If I didn't have this, I'd be living in a box," he said.
Jenkerson said he thinks doctors have little incentive to recommend denial of a disability retirement because they could be sued if the firefighter were reinjured.
Retiring on disability from other St. Louis city jobs is much more difficult. An employee of the forestry division, for example, must prove he can't hold down any kind of salaried job.
"It almost has to be a terminal situation," said Personnel Director Richard Frank.
But even when firefighters are capable of moderately heavy workloads, doctors will recommend they retire. Pvt. Romondo Battle, a three-year firefighter, injured his back while fighting a fire in 2008. Two months after surgery, his doctor found Battle could shoulder "medium-heavy" to "heavy" physical work, but not the "very heavy" firefighters' load, and recommended that he retire. The pension board agreed, and Battle retired at age 33 with plans to seek work as an aerospace mechanic, according to records in his workers compensation case.
If he lives to 78, the pension system will pay Battle about $2 million.
Battle confirmed the details of his injury in a telephone interview that was cut short when the line went dead. He didn't answer return calls.
Battalion Chief Cornelius Moore developed asthma and retired at age 44 in 1993 on a disability pension that currently pays him $63,000 tax-free a year.
Moore had 20 years with the department and would have qualified for a pension of roughly half that based on years of service. Heart and lung diseases and cancer are presumed to be line-of-duty disabilities in St. Louis. Because Moore's most recent physical had not flagged any breathing problems, the condition was presumed to have been job-related.
Even though Moore already had a management job in the fire department — as a battalion chief — he was awarded a disability pension under the rule that every firefighter must be combat-ready. So far, he has collected about $1 million in tax-free pension payments.
Interviewed recently, he said he had to retire in 1993 "because I was sick at the time."
Moore got a job as a security guard for the Department of Homeland Security. He then applied to be chief of the Robertson Fire Protection District in North County. Moore said it had been his dream to be a fire chief.
"Being a fire chief means running the department," he said. "It's strictly administrative. He doesn't necessarily have to be on the scene, and even if he's at the scene he isn't going to be in harm's way."
Over the years, the city has cut hundreds of workers and some city services — such as its animal shelter — almost entirely. Even the fire marshal's office lags in reviewing plans for sprinklers and smoke detectors.
Jenkerson said he did not 'see any problem" with moving some disabled firefighters into less demanding city jobs as an alternative to giving them lifetime disability pensions. "Most of the doctors when you get done looking at the (disability candidate) say that this individual is capable of gainful employment but just not at the level of a firefighter."
Molitor, the union head, said, "That has never been proposed by anyone in the mayor's office. If they have a proposal, we are certainly willing to listen."
However, Rainford insisted that moving disabled firefighters to other jobs would not save money.
In Atlanta, a disability pension is considered a last resort for firefighters who can still work.
"Today if I was to get hurt and I couldn't perform a firefighter duty, I would get put in somewhere in the city at the same pay … but I could not be a sworn firefighter," said Atlanta Assistant Chief Michael Simmons.
Joe Pree got another job in the city — but he gets his disability pension, too.
While moving a hose line to the second floor of a stairway in 1992, a firefighter ahead of Pree fell through a stairway and landed on Pree's left knee.
Pree, who retired in 1993 at the age of 38, said a surgeon removed a ligament and a tendon from his knee. He settled a workers comp case against the city for $12,000, and makes a $52,500 disability pension.
"I am physically not capable of being a firefighter," he told a reporter in a brief interview outside a St. Louis courtroom.
Pree, 57, started work for the sheriff's department in 2000. He said he applied because he needed health insurance. He makes $30,400, records show, transporting prisoners between jail and court, and securing the courtroom.
Pree said his most difficult task is walking into the court, but in 2008, he became involved in a struggle with an unruly inmate, hit his head on a wall and suffered a back injury. The city settled his workers compensation case for $5,000.
He said he plans to work until Social Security benefits — earned from other noncity jobs — kick in a decade from now. By that time, he also would collect a second city pension.
The left knee has continued to cause him problems — and cost the city money. While escorting prisoners in 2005, he turned sharply, heard a pop in the knee and felt pain, records show. He settled that claim against the city for $13,000.
Paradoxically, while the fire department has exacting standards for the fitness of injured firefighters, it has none for uninjured firefighters.
Firefighters take a physical exam every five years to determine the health of heart, lungs and bones, but have no requirements for speed, strength or endurance.
St. Louis is missing out on a national movement to keep firefighters healthier and safer, experts say. The International Association of Fire Chiefs says a firefighter fitness initiative is one of its top priorities.
The association supports a training program and regular fitness evaluations for active firefighters.
"Our goal is to say you're a more fit firefighter, better prepared to do your job and less likely to be injured," said Matthew Tobia, a battalion chief for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department in Maryland, and a spokesman for the fire chiefs association.
Charlotte, with a disability rate of about 12 percent, is one of several departments that have embraced the idea. "Disability is not a good thing here," said Deputy Chief Rich Granger. "It's a necessary evil on a very rare occasion if somebody gets injured that bad."
Jenkerson said forcing firefighters to take a fitness test every five years would "absolutely" cut down on career-ending injuries.
"People say there needs to be an incentive for firefighters," he said. "There (would be) an incentive — you get to remain in the pension system."
A disabled former firefighter can't earn more in a second salary than his pension. The pension board can ask for the tax returns of people earning disability pensions to see if they are making too much money.
But Vicky Grass, executive director of the pension board, said that rarely happens.
"On occasion — and it has been a very long time — we request that they send in their tax returns," said Grass. "It's been a long time since we've done it."
Richard Griffard retired from the fire department with a disability in 1988 at age 38. He said he had surgery to remove bones from two injured wrists and that the department told him to retire. He said he cannot even button a shirt.
In 2001, he founded the Sunset Hills firm Saxony Securities, according to documents filed with the secretary of state.
Today, Griffard is listed as the president.
Griffard, 61, said the pension board has never checked his income. He declined to discuss his salary but said in most of the years since his retirement he did not make more than his pension.
"If you think I got filthy rich off my fire department pension and what little I'm making here, you need to rethink it," he said.
Several other disabled retirees own businesses. Douglas Mueller just recently sold his safety consulting business, Safety Technologies and Solutions LLC. He told a reporter he did not make much money with the business. John Kuehner owns a south St. Louis wine bar, 3500 Winehaus. Retiree Mike Dinzebach owns a home-remodeling firm in St. Charles that has worked for the ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
Neither Kuehner nor Dinzebach returned calls for comment.
Are they entitled to disability pensions?
The pension board doesn't know because it doesn't ask.
The trustees also rarely ask that disability recipients be re-evaluated for possible return to duty.
Said Wiesehan: "Experience has shown that the doctors will not change their opinions, and each time we do that it's an added cost to the system."
Chief Jenkerson knows of at least two firefighters he would like to see assessed.
Baby Ray Webber Jr. and Dedrick Harris each retired on disability for post-traumatic stress disorder after two fire engines T-boned in a spectacular collision in October 2008. A firefighter was hospitalized for a head injury.
Harris retired in September 2009 at age 43 and Webber a year later at age 35. Each gets an annual tax-free pension of $43,471.
"It's cliché to say it, but it comes with the job," Jenkerson said. "It's what you get paid for. You see a lot of atrocities over 25 years with the fire department. You see things that people can't even imagine ...
"There are all types of counseling available. I guess sometimes it's just easier to say, 'Yep, I'm done, I'm not going to work at it, I'm not going to try to get back.'"
Webber declined to comment. By retiring on disability, he followed his father's footsteps: Baby Ray Webber Sr. retired on disability in 1992 at age 46. The elder Webber could not be reached for comment.
Harris settled a workers' compensation claim against the city for $30,000 and is suing the captain of his engine company in circuit court, alleging he gave an order to run a red light.
In an interview, Harris said that the crash was so traumatic "it flicks a switch on/off inside of you to where you don't want to be in that situation again."
Harris got a new job where he doesn't have to ride fire engines.
He drives a MetroLink train.