from Steve Cottrell
From my perspective, the commission has "reinterpreted" the terms and conditions of the employment agreement that I entered into with them last August.
Specifically, the retirement benefit I believed that I was to receive (15% of salary during my first year and 17% in my second year) has effectively been reduced to 3% the first year and 6.8% the second year, due to their unilateral imposition of a five year vesting requirement.
I was told when the attorney and I modified my prior Belleair employment agreement to accommodate the concerns and issues of commissioners, as well as during my tenure as interim, that the city had multiple "deferred compensation retirement plans," a fact also listed on the city web site as among the benefits offered to all city employees.
Although the contract purports to offer me the "choice" of retirement plans, the commission has now determined that my retirement plan options are theirs alone, and not something over which I have any decision making discretion.
Imposing a requirement for a tenured city manager to re-vest in a retirement plan with each new position of employment is not the norm, nor was "vesting" ever a part of any of our discussions during contract negotiations. The term "vesting" does not appear anywhere in the aforementioned employment agreement, nor does it appear within any of the benefit documents that I received as a part of my employment application process.
During contract negotiations, all commissioners were apprised of and agreed to the costs associated with my proposed salary and benefits.
No commissioner, other than Mayor/commissioner Ockunzzi, disagreed with the final terms and conditions of my employment agreement. One of his objections was the city's proposed contribution to my retirement.
Subsequent to the annual budget adoption process and final public hearings another commissioner accused me of sabotaging his efforts to make further cuts to the budget, when in fact the final budget was adopted through a typical "consensus" process common to any city budget approval process, in which a majority vote prevails.
Frustrated elected officials often take out their frustrations upon us city managers. However, I do not believe that one party to a contract can unilaterally change the meaning of that contract for self-serving reasons, albeit reasons that may perhaps be "politically" motivated.
In keeping with a provision of my contract, I may deem myself to be terminated "without cause" if the other parties to my contract do not adhere to it and fail to provide me with the salary and benefits that the contract states that I am entitled to, or reduces same. In keeping with this provision, I believe that I am entitled to severance pay, inclusive of all benefits.
Although a 401(a) plan and 457 deferred compensation plans are two of the three "retirement plans" presently offered to all Indian Rock's Beach employees, some employees also participate in the Florida Retirement System (FRS) as well. The Florida Retirement System retirement plan is not presently available to me, or to any employee that was hired after January, 1996.
However, only the terms "401K and FRS" were the only two plans mentioned within the "Deferred Compensation Retirement Plan section of my employment agreement. The term "457" that refers to the city's only "deferred compensation" retirement plan was from my perspective inadvertently omitted, and is the only retirement plan option supposedly available to me (and all employees) among the three potential plans offered by the city that does not require "vesting." I did not expect that inserting that plan acronym/component into the employment agreement would be controversial, or was a deviation from the terms and conditions that I believed were negotiated and acceptable to the commission.
The "new" interpretation or "political spin" is that the inclusion of the 457 plan option is an attempt on my part to "materially change" my employment agreement. I obviously disagree. The change would simply allow me to effectuate what I believe was the intention of the majority of the commissioners who approved my employment agreement.
Now, however, the aforementioned suggested change to allow me to select the city's 457 retirement plan for purposes of investing the city's 15% contribution to my retirement is deemed unacceptable. I am now told that I must "vest" in the city's 401 (a) retirement plan, only.
The city's 401(a) plan requires a five year time frame to effectuate full (100%) vesting. My employment agreement's term is two years. Therefore the city would retain 60% of the funds intended for my retirement, during that two year time frame. Had I been informed of this "interpretation" during contract negotiations, which I was not, I would never have agreed with or signed such an agreement on August 14th.
Lastly, I do not believe any of the four commissioners who agreed to the terms and conditions of my employment agreement had any idea about the provisions of any of the city' respective retirement plan components and requirements therein during contract negotiations. If they did, and intentionally did not inform me of same when I provided each of them with a comparison of the cost impact of the contract I requested, with that which I enjoyed in Belleair, then I must conclude that I was deceived, because none objected to the dollar impact so presented at the culmination of our negotiations.
- Steve Cottrell
Return to Current Edition