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In The Dallas Pension Fund Debate, Police And Fire Retirees Say They Haven’t Been Heard


Retired Dallas police and firefighters may be able to pull money out of their pension accounts again under a new policy unveiled Thursday. A judge still needs to approve the deal. Those retirees have formed an association to get their voices heard.

Those are the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the troubled Dallas Police & Fire Pension Fund. The fund and city officials -- especially Mayor Mike Rawlings -- have repeatedly warned that it will go bankrupt in a decade if it’s not fixed. Last month, withdrawals from the fund's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) were suspended.

Retired police sergeant Pete Bailey is leading the new group of retirees, called the Dallas Police Retired Officers Association.

Interview Highlights: Pete Bailey…

…On whether freezing DROP account withdrawals was fair:  

“No, it's definitely not fair. And not only was it not fair, it was illegal. It's called ‘theft by conversion.’ You can't deny someone access to their money and while you're denying them access to their money, take that money and invested in another purpose and make yourself money while denying them access to their own funds.”

…On Mayor Rawlings’ statement that pension fund members voted in big benefits for themselves:

“It’s a spin and it's a lie. First of all, police officers and firefighters do not have any say whatsoever what goes into the plan document. That is done by the members of the board, of which there are four city council persons. Before the plan document can be put to the [pension fund] members for a vote, it has to be approved by the city of Dallas, the [pension fund] board and the actuary. Only then do the officers get an opportunity to vote up or down whether or not they'll take what the city has designed and is offering them. So how would you fix the situation, if they would have fixed it back in 2009 when we begged them to fix it? We wouldn't be where we are today.”

…On why the DROP accounts were created in 1992:

“Chief of Police Bill Rathburn went to the city council and said ‘I cannot hire officers to cover attrition, we can't get qualified candidates. The reason we cannot get qualified candidates is because the city of Dallas will not pay a competitive wage.’ So the chief of police went to the city council and said, ‘if I can't get new people, let's see what we can do about keeping the ones we have so we can stabilize the experience and gray up the department.’

The city manager, the mayor and the council unanimously supported a DROP ... because it actually saves the city millions of dollars because it enables the city of Dallas to have a police officer, a firefighter worked for 25-35 years and they're only paying [them] a 20-year-check.

It wasn't some deal crafted under the dark of night by greedy police officers and firefighters.”

…On the Texas Rangers’ current investigation of the pension fund:

“We absolutely welcome any investigation because nobody has a more vested interest in finding out whether or not criminal activity occurred in that fund than the men and women of the police and fire department. We're not a fox guarding the henhouse. We're the ones that want to find out if somebody did something illegal with our money and if they did, hold them accountable.”

Editor's note: After this interview aired on the radio, an aide to Mayor Mike Rawlings took issue with Bailey's statement that "...police officers and firefighters do not have any say whatsoever what goes into the plan document." The aide pointed out that the pension system's board -- which includes police, firefighters and four City Council members -- approves the document.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.