By John Schaffner
For years, I have supported editorially Atlanta’s firefighters in their quest for pay parity with the city’s police officers. I think it is right. I think it is just.
My commentaries about that issue likely did not endear me to the police officers or their union.
This commentary likely will not endear me to Atlanta’s firefighters and their union.
I believe the Atlanta City Council made some very bad decisions regarding the pension plans for city employees—including fire and police department decisions—in both 2001 and 2005.
Those changes in the pension plans that now are on the verge of busting the city financially were made by City Council virtually in a vacuum—without the actuarial studies and financial impact studies by the chief financial officer of the city.
The result is that since 2005, the unfunded liability of the city of Atlanta has exploded to $1.5 billion. The city spends $154 million annually to fund these pensions. This represents 28 percent of the total general fund budget and is the second largest budget item in the general fund.
The Fulton County Taxpayer Foundation has filed a suit against the city testing the legality of the legislation that authorized the massive increases in pension programs in 2001 and 2005.
The suit is against the city, not the firefighters, although we understand a decision in the suit could adverse affect the pension payments for firefighters and their families in years to come.
Mayor Kasim Reed, as well as all the mayoral candidates last year, has said “The biggest threat to the city is the cost of the pension funds. These costs are unsustainable and could only lead to insolvency.”
If the firefighters believe they are lawfully entitled to their pensions, then they should not worry about this suit. But if it turns out the legislation that granted these unaffordable pension benefits was passed in a manner calculated to circumvent the constitutional process, as the suit contends, why would the firefighters or anyone else demand entitlement to taxpayer money so obtained?
Because of the Fulton County Taxpayer Foundation’s participation in the suit, the city’s firefighters have decided to boycott the organization, those who do business with it and, apparently, the businesses of its board members.
The Cherokee Town Club cancelled an April 27 scheduled luncheon meeting of the Taxpayers Foundation when the firefighters threatened a picket line of 300 or more outside its grounds.
A prominent Taxpayers Foundation board member apparently has been pressured to resign from the board or face boycotts and picketing at all of his many Buckhead restaurants.
I believe in the freedom of speech, but I think the firefighters are out of line and make a mockery of their commitment as public safety servants by standing on the street waving signs and shouting at passersby—even shouting obscenities in some cases.
Like members of the Taxpayers Foundation, I strongly support the Police and firefighters for daily risking their lives in the line of duty for the city and its residents. I just can’t believe they want to see the city they vow to protect financially destroyed by pension benefits that may prove to have been illegally obtained.