Something must be in the water at the MC Blanchard Judicial Building, County Clerk Pam Childers dropped another bomb at today’s BCC meeting, declaring the state had told her the county’s annuity retirement program was illegal.
However, when County Attorney Allison Rogers requested Childers’ documentation, she had nothing but a link to the new FRS enrollment form. Through a public request, I received the email trail between Childers and Rogers.
From: Alison A. Rogers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 22, 2021 10:06 AM
To: Pam Childers (COC) <PCHILDERS@escambiaclerk.com> Cc: Codey Leigh (COC) <CLeigh@escambiaclerk.com>
Subject: PRR: Your comments during BCC meeting
Please consider this a public records request for the opinion, memo, email or other similar record which you indicated during the Board meeting came from the State regarding the legality of elected officials participation in a 401a program.
In her response, Childers said FRS has eliminated the option to withdraw from the state pension for a local annuity plan. Another staff member has written communications and all of hers were verbal.
She doesn’t identify who told her the local annuity plan was illegal for commissioners.
Childers says the commissioners need to be “walked back” out of the plan and should repay the money. She also told Rogers not to get a legal opinion on the matter.
On Jul 22, 2021, at 10:37 AM, Pam Childers (COC) <PCHILDERS@escambiaclerk.com> wrote:
See the FRS website. The form for Elected Officials has been updated. There is no longer Option #5 that states “Withdraw from the FRS to participate in a local annuity plan”.
There are limited reasons to opt out of FRS. FRS is compulsory if statutes do not allow an opt-out provision.
When Codey returns, he will share our follow up written communication. My communication was all verbal. There is no need to amend the statute because the statute is clearly written.
We will need to talk through walking back those commissioners in the 401a to migrate back to FRS. The statute is clear how that happens.
During a previous meeting, all commissioners agreed to give back the money if it was deemed illegal. I will prepare calculations for the amount that can legally be kept and that which should be returned to the county. The contribution rates are clearly written in the statutes, we can compound a reasonable rate of earnings.
I suggest that you cease in obtaining the written opinion requested by the Board regarding a “settlement”. You informed me by email that it has not been received.
Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller
First Judicial Circuit, Escambia County
Rogers points out to Childers that FRS allowed the commissioners to opt-out. If FRS changed its mind, then the agency – not Childers – should have contacted the commissioners. The standard policy has been to grandfather-in people when a program changes.
The County Attorney said she has the legal opinion from outside counsel and doesn’t intend to send the memo to Childers because it’s “attorney work product.”
From: “Alison A. Rogers” <email@example.com>
Date: July 22, 2021 at 11:18:34 AM CDT
To: “Pam Childers (COC)” <PCHILDERS@escambiaclerk.com> Cc: “Codey Leigh (COC)” <CLeigh@escambiaclerk.com>, District1 <District1@co.escambia.fl.us>, District2 <District2@co.escambia.fl.us>, District3 <District3@co.escambia.fl.us>, District4 <District4@co.escambia.fl.us>, District5 <District5@co.escambia.fl.us>
Subject: Re: PRR: Your comments during BCC meeting
We have three commissioners who the FRS specifically allowed to opt out of FRS in order to participate in a local annuity; one would assume if FRS has changed its mind on previously participating officials, then it should reach out to those it knowingly allowed to do this. I would have to assume participants would be grandfathered. Of course, I will see what Codey provides.
As for the memo, we are now in receipt of it, but like I indicated, it is attorney work product unless waived by the Board.
At some point, Childers will have to provide written legal opinions on her pronouncements. Why hasn’t she gotten a legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General?
She says she has worked on this for nearly two years, plenty of time to get one.