After nearly three months of proclaiming the county’s 401a annuity plan was illegal, County Clerk Pam Childers balked at using the word at the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Aug. 19.
During her report segment of the meeting, Childers told the commissioners that she didn’t accept the two legal opinions from the county’s labor attorneys that said the ICMA plan was legal.
“I still believe that the ICMA contribution plan for elected officials is outside general law,” she said. “I cannot find any language that is permissive of it. I will conclude my research. I will provide formal writing. Those of you that are in the plan, I will give you plenty of time to decide what you want to do as a county or as an individual when the contributions cease.”
Since early June, Childers said publicly and during interviews with local media she had researched the ICMA plan since last summer. Several times, the clerk said her research and that of her general counsel had determined the plan was illegal.
On June 17, she told the commissioners, “With all due respect, it’s illegal. The rates will be changed July 1.” (Inweekly, “Comptroller vs. BCC,” 6/24/21).
Since July 1, Childers has refused to make the contributions established in the contract to the commissioners’ annuity accounts. At the board meeting on July 22, she emphatically stated the state had passed judgment on the annuity plan. (Inweekly, “The Buzz,” 7/26/21)
“The state has determined it is illegal to have a 401(a) for elected officials,” said the clerk. “They emailed me yesterday.” She later failed to produce any such email.
At the Aug. 19 meeting, Commissioner Bender asked Childers whether the ICMA was illegal. The clerk responded, “I’m not using the terms illegal.” Pressed by Bender, she later added, “I have always said it’s outside general law. It is your commissioner that wanted it to be said illegal.”
Childers said, “I’ve put it in writing that it’s outside general law. Bergosh demanded that we state that it was illegal. In my opinion, when you continue outside general law, it does become illegal. We are avoiding illegal by getting it within general law.”
County Attorney Alison Rogers said she had asked the clerk’s office to join the board in asking for an opinion for the Florida Attorney General but the clerk refused. Rogers said, “I have asked the Attorney General’s office, and they will not weigh in on behalf of one party. They won’t do it if there’s a contested matter between two agencies or offices.”
Bender asked, “Pam, why can’t we just jointly request the Attorney General’s opinion?”
Childers replied, “I have a feeling where we’ll get stuck is how you present the issues, and how I present the issues.”
As Inweekly predicted in June, this matter will have to be settled in court—where facts, not opinions, will decide the issue.