When the town's financial advisers met with the Legislative Council Monday about the failing pension fund, some council members found it difficult to get answers to their questions, the most pointed of which was, how did we get here?
One of the advisers said he was too new to be able to recount what led to the pension fund crisis.
"We as a firm were just hired earlier this year," said David Lee of Dahab Associates. "Typically we don't see this scenario where the funds are running out of money so quickly."
They make recommendations; the town decides how much money to put in the fund, Thomas Dawidowicz, an actuary with Segal Co. told the council.
"What we do is every two years we make a recommendation as to what should be contributed," he said. "It's the town who makes the decision what to contribute -- I don't know who makes the decisions and I can't speak to who makes the decisions."
Some are laying the blame at the feet of the Retirement Board and demanding changes be made regarding the make up of that body.
"If we do Pension Obligation Bonds, before we start that process, I want to see the Retirement Board dissolved and start over," said Michele Mastropetre, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
"We need people who understand investments, and I don't want to see employees approving disability payments for coworkers," she said, referring to the number of town employees who sit on that board. "This needs to be fixed before we do anything."
"The Pension [Retirement] Board is not elected, it's just there," said Dunbar Hill Civic Association president Bill Burns. "They don't have to talk to anybody and they don't talk to anybody."
"I hope in six months we have a plan for the pension fund, and a reconstitution of the Pension Board," said Councilman Harry Gagliardi, one of two Democrats to vote against the $192 million budget the council approved this week.
But another council member said the council shares the blame with the Retirement Board for the pension situation.
"This council is as much to blame as is the Retirement Board, and also the mayor" Republican At-Large council member Betty Wetmore said. "It's because for a time we put zero in [the pension fund], and that was not the recommendation of the Pension Board but of the mayor."
Over the last two decades, contributions to the pension fund have been when millions more were recommended by the town's financial consultants.
"I think they [the Retirement Board] is taking the hit more than they should be," she said. "The council has the final vote, and we dropped the ball as much as anyone else did."
The Legislative Council is the town's fiscal authority, and it needs to start acting like it, Burns told them Wednesday, shortly before the budget was approved.
"You need to move on getting a council attorney and you need to have a presence on all boards that have any control of money in this town," Burns said. "You are the fiscal authority and you need to have a presence."
Recently several council members requested to be allowed to sit in on the negotiations for a contract extension for TrashMaster, something that Chief Administrative Officer Curt Leng dubbed "very unusual."
While some on the council threatened to vote against a bid waiver for the contract if they were not allowed a seat at the negotiating table, the waiver was approved despite no such promise.
"You need to find out if they're doing the job they're supposed to be doing," Burns told the council. "You need an attorney to read all these documents.
"This is 50 years in the making," he said, "and anything to do with finances has to come before this board -- if you don't know what is going on, you can't intelligently vote unless you just rubber stamp."
It was encouraging to see some council members demand such things as inclusion in the trash negotiations, Burns said. "You made a good start this year, asking questions that haven't been asked for years and years," he said. "Why aren't you in contract negotiations? You should be, you are the fiscal authority of the town and you need to know if we are giving away the farm or if there are quid pro quo negotiations going on."
Often council members receive paperwork hours before meetings, making it impossible to digest it properly before voting, Burns said.
"You really need to start sharpening your pencils and start working for the town in an independent fashion from the administration," he said.
"We hear all of you," council president Judi Kozak told the speakers, "and we are taking notes and will be addressing everything you have said."