BCC has legal opinion – 401(a) legal

Escambia County Clerk Pam Childers last month proclaimed the county’s 401(a) program was illegal and all the commissioners who selected must return to the Florida Retirement System – with no document that expressly stated such, just an email to herself.

Earlier Childers recommended to County Attorney Alison Rogers that the county didn’t need seek a legal opinion.

Now we know why. The attorneys say the program is legal.

The Escambia County Commission voted last night to release an outside legal opinion from Michael Mattimore of Allen Norton & Blue that states the county’s 401(a) annuity plan is  legal for elected officials and senior management.

The vote was 4-0 because Commissioner Doug Underhill walked out of the chambers before the discussion and vote.

NorthEscambia.com has the full account – here.

Childers sat silently while the discussion took place, according to NorthEscambia.com

Read Opinion Letter.

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3 thoughts on “BCC has legal opinion – 401(a) legal

  1. Mr. Lewis, as a County political advocate, it’s very frustrating for me to see you post so much pertinent and important context and back information along with so much hooey, a lot of it born of ignorance. Do you ever watch a meeting any more? That’s a serious question. This is why I said on another post this past week that, although I typical learn something from your comments, I’ve learned to be very careful from separating the wheat from the chaffe in what you throw against the wall.

    Steven Barry clearly stated last night that they were preserving the second legal opinion and all other documentations as work product. Why? Because who knows what hairbrained idea the Clerk’s office might get up to next, including a pointless lawsuit to drag this out ad infinitum so she can continue to gather the praises of those who don’t know any better, or are happy to pretend they don’t.

    What was actually discussed and decided upon last night, in two separate votes, was (1) to release enough legal opinion and explanatory language to make it abundantly obvious there was nothing illegal/criminal about elected officials opting for the local plan; and (2) to have a look into ALL the retirements benefits, across the County, including those of constitutional officers such as the Clerk of Court, along with an expert financial analysis of returns and efficiencies. Moreover, Commissioner May took it further and said he would like to see a court weigh in on the legal question. This was not a lighthearted discussion.

    In all the meetings I have sat through or watched, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Escambia official make a more dunderheaded move than Ms. Childers backing herself into a lose-lose corner on this in exchange for some fleeting folk hero celebrity. And that’s saying something, given Doug Underhill sits the same dais. A more savvy politician would have instantly realized the moment of checkmate and recognized there was one way out, and one way only: apologize for her error, and commit to working with the County Attorney and the BOCC towards the best combined solution for the taxpayers and the benefits holders. Instead, she was as silent and motionless as a gargoyle.

    It’s never too late for an apology, however. And she’s not alone in those who should be offering one. The editorial team of the PNJ literally slandered commissioners and the County Attorney, with seeming intent. Studio 850 carelessly reported the illegality as a fact, even though a careful reading of Ms. Childers’ bizarre emails showed no evidence whatsoever of that. ECW…oh, never mind. It’s time to get back to watching Pensacola burn down from covid while our governor fiddles, anyway.

  2. For starters, where’s the missing July 2, 2021 Opinion Letter? It’s cited in the very first sentence of the July 21, 2021 Opinion Letter but not made public too. Let everyone see the July 2 Opinion Letter so we can better understand the July 21 Opinion Letter. Allen Norton & Blue is not really “independent” of Escambia County, is it? The law firm is paid by and advises Escambia County on labor & employment law to include acting as its agent in collective bargaining negotiations. I read that in BOCC agendas and meeting minutes. Michael Mattimore who signed the July 21 Opinion Letter does collective bargaining work to include for Escambia County. What is Mattimore’s specific state law expertise on the Florida Retirement System in general and public and/or private 401(a) annuity programs in particular? [Mattimore is the same attorney who years ago sent the City of Pensacola some legal opinions asserting that the new City Charter preempted and constructively repealed the Pensacola Civil Service Act. It did no such thing and the new Charter included and still includes a section that expressly protected city employee rights. In a ten-page document provided to city voters in 2009 and that I have many, many, many times given to City Council members, Charter Review Commission Chairwoman Crystal Spencer specifically mentions continuance of the civil service system. She also sent a July 2009 letter to the council on that specific issue. She wanted to get rid of the Civil Service System but advised that it was outside the scope of the new Charter. Mayor Ashton Hayward ignored all the above and got away with it because the City Council did not want to stick out its neck when its power was usurped. Dying State Representative Clay Ford and living State Representative Clay Ingram then got the Florida Legislature to abolish the city’s Civil Service System. Mattimore’s opinions were written by former City Attorney Rusty Wells. After Wells was fired in early 2011, he went to work for Allen Norton & Blue. Wells even included his initials on one of the letters he drafted for Mattimore to sign. In these opinions, Wells advised exactly the opposite of what he had advised the city council when he was the City Attorney.] Mattimore now cites Section 121.182, Florida Statutes, and asserts that it “explicitly” authorizes the actions taken by Escambia County. He uses that exact word – “explicitly.” I read it. No, that’s not what it says or does. Chapter 121 Florida Retirement System, Florida Statutes, mentions “annuity” or “annuities” a total of 166 times. There are multiple references to a “Senior Management Optional Annuity Plan.” That seems different from what Mattimore refers to as a “Local 401(a) Annuity program.” This political soap opera is dragging on too long. Escambia County should next ask Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody for a “free” Advisory Legal Opinion.

  3. A couple of our elected officials would of garnered a lot of respect if they would of stepped up today and admitted to making a mistake. The brunt of the county’s petty personal issues, vengeful tactics, and fragile egos, end up harming us tax payers in the long run. Apparently we’ve failed to elect real adults .This has been an embarrassing display of emotional/compulsive based reactions.

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