JOHN KEANE: Council’s Punching Bag

I realize that the default mode when it comes to discussing John Keane, the ex-executive director of the Police & Fire Pension Fund, is outrage.

We’re to be appalled by his annual pension, which exceeds $200,000. We’re to be appalled by the shady circumstances under which the Police & Fire Pension Fund senior staff voluntary retirement plan was formulated. Reportedly, there are questions about whether it was conceived in the “sunshine.” And definitely, the creation of the plan was “unauthorized,” if you agree with the General Counsel and not the PFPF, which obviously believed it had the right to do what it did.

Anger is a clarifying thing. But anger can’t drive policy decisions. Those should be liberated from the lurid garb of emotionalism, and rooted in cost/benefit analysis.

When it comes to Jacksonville’s City Council and John Keane, cool heads never seem to prevail. The outsized rhetorical flourish, the ad hominem parry and thrust …these seem to be operative modes, with a contempt shown for Keane that defies easy categorization.

Exhibit A: At a Feb. 16 Finance Committee meeting, discussion moved toward the “life expectancy projection” of Keane and his wife; Keane is expected to live another 12 years, and his wife another four.

Councilman Bill Gulliford described these projections for the Keanes as “overly aggressive.” That’s the kind of cheap shot you take when you don’t think anybody’s listening.

Gulliford had extenuating circumstances; he’d spent Monday night in the ER with a kidney stone issue, so it’s possible that the malady or his recovery from it affected his internal filter. Who knows? Gulliford was similarly candid last June, when a member of the Eureka Garden Tenants Association came to Council’s public comment and wanted redress.

When the lone Eureka Garden speaker was up front for her three minutes before a half-engaged Council (at the time), Gulliford sardonically read an apartmentfinders.com review of the complex, talking about “hoodrats” living there, police sirens so soothing, they help residents sleep at night, and “weed and alcohol on every corner and
in every doorway.”

Councilman Matt Schellenberg wasn’t recovering from a kidney stone incident at Finance last week when he said, regarding potential legislation that could cost the city more than a million dollars (it would be on the hook for the PFPF defense and General Counsel soft costs), “The citizens don’t care if they lose the case. They’d be willing to pay $2 million on the principle … the money means nothing to me,” in part because “if you look at where we’re going on the unfunded liability, we’re going the wrong way.”

Schellenberg hit these themes again in Council last Tuesday, as if the Finance meeting was a dress rehearsal for demagoguery and high dudgeon on a bigger stage.

Schellenberg alluded to the money the pension fund lost last year. The Jax PFPF’s annual report indicates a major downturn in equity investment income, mirroring that of the tanking global equity markets.

The annual money-weighted rate of return for 2015 is 4 percent. Many funds are performing worse.

It was the third straight year of decline, though the fund outperformed its 7 percent rate of projected return in the preceding three years.

The fund was hammered in international equity, and energy holdings: international equity returns, down 11.78 percent; energy holdings returns, down 38.77 percent. U.S. equity returns were down about a half percentage point. All told, the net value of fund holdings is down year over year by almost $50 million.

Schellenberg then postured about how “going to court for two million dollars … seems kind of insignificant” because it’s “time for us to be on the offense.”

“By going to court, we will aggravate the hell out of [John Keane],” Schellenberg added, saying that he doesn’t want John Keane to be able to “go on a cruise” or “enjoy his grandchildren.”

“We’re willing to aggravate you, because you’ve been disrespectful to this Council, the administration, and the taxpayers,” Schellenberg said, slipping into the second person to address Keane, who was not in the room.

It’s funny. Mainstream Republicans clucked and maundered oh-so-sadly about the emergence of Donald Trump. But when it comes down to it, Trump lives in that attack-dog mode — he doesn’t save it just for soft targets of media-driven opprobrium. Which is more than I can say about Schellenberg’s comments as they relate to John Keane.

The City Council seems to think that by “indefinitely postponing” the settlement agreement, it will get a better deal from the PFPF/Keane. However, there’s a real case to be made that the Council is outside the bounds of good faith negotiation. And there’s an equally compelling case that the Council’s extralegal and irresponsible preening and posturing are breaches of promissory reliance.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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