A recent State Supreme Court decision ordering the Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees to vote on a resolution offered by the head of the Captains Endowment Association is being hailed as a victory for the balance between city employees and union officials on the board.
“Two significant issues were decided by the court,” said Robert Ungaro, the CCA’s attorney. “First that the board itself cannot deny a trustee the right to present a resolution to a vote, and second that it is the purview of the board and not the Corporation Counsel to make decisions.”
No Need for Opinion?
Deputy Insp. Roy T. Richter, president of the CEA and a member of the pension fund’s board of trustees, offered the resolution, which dealt with how a statute regarding calculation of police pensions should be interpreted. The city representatives on the board refused last May to vote on the matter. Those board members said the Corporation Counsel had already issued an opinion interpreting the statute. Because the City Charter provides that the Corporation Counsel is the exclusive legal authority for Pension Fund business, they said, the board was prohibited from weighing in.
Mr. Ungaro argued that under statute, legal doctrine and case law, the Corporation Counsel can advise the board but cannot impose its own decisions on legal matters.. “The City Law Department is neither independent nor objective with respect to employee-employer benefits or issues, and the board of trustees is free to reject their legal conclusions,” he wrote in a memorandum to the court.
Justice Cynthia S. Kern ruled for Mr. Richter on April 6, saying that on the contrary, “the board has no authority to refuse to vote on a resolution, whether that resolution pertains to an individual case or to the interpretation of a statute generally.” The provision of the City Charter cited by the city’s board members does not prohibit the board from interpreting statutes, she decided. “In fact, every time the board votes on an individual determination it is, implicitly, interpreting the governing statute,” she wrote.
‘Law Dept. Can’t Dictate Policy’
Mr. Richter said in a statement: “The Police Pension Fund is controlled by a board of trustees with voting power split evenly between the police unions and city representatives. The Law Department [headed by the Corporation Counsel] sought to circumvent the authority of the Trustees by fiat, which they refer to as a legal opinion. This is dangerous given that the Mayor is the Law Department’s ultimate master. This decision merely restates the role and authority of the Pension Fund trustees and that of the Law Department as a body that gives advice and counsel to the entire board. The Law Department is not a body that has authority to dictate policy.”
Mr. Ungaro said a decision favoring the city’s representatives would have “disenfranchised the entire board, making the Corporation Counsel free to decide how any pension statute should be interpreted.”
Karen Seeman, a Senior Counsel for the Law Department, said, “We disagree with the decision and plan to pursue an appeal.” Justice Kern’s decision is on hold pending the appeal.