Four Dallas City Council members have filed a lawsuit to keep retired Dallas police officers and firefighters from withdrawing money from their deferred retirement accounts (DROP accounts) until the pension system and DROP distributions are "deemed actuarially sound" and "would not reduce or otherwise impair the constitutionally protected benefits" of pension system members.
Council members Jennifer Staubach Gates, Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston and Erik Wilson – who each also serve on the pension system's board – filed the lawsuit Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the pension board's February meeting.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are: the Board of Trustees of the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System, the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System, Samuel Friar, Gerald Brown, Clint Conway, Ken Haben, Brian Hass, Joe Schutz, Ken Sprecher and Tho Tang Ho.
The lawsuit argues that the system's financial situation is so dire that continued withdrawals could do irreparable damage to the system's future financial viability.
"We can tell from math that paying that money out is going to reduce our ability to pay benefits going forward. That's not acceptable," said Councilman Philip Kingston. "Every dollar that goes out is a dollar that I can't use to later pay the regular monthly benefit for some of our oldest and most vulnerable retirees."
The lawsuit also calls for the pension system's assets to be put in receivership for better management. Kingston admits the ongoing fight over the system has put retirees in a tough spot. Proposals to "claw back" some of the deferred retirement money have angered many retirees who want the money they earned while protecting Dallas residents.
"I was loyal to the city of Dallas, and in retirement I expect them to be loyal to me," said retired Dallas Fire-Rescue Lt. Joel Lavender.
Lavender retired in March 2016 after 34 years of service to the fire department. His wife is a Dallas police officer, and they both have DROP accounts. Lavender said he wants the money his loyalty to the city and the department earned him.
"You're starting to shake people's faith," he said. "Not so much faith in the system, but faith in what I have later on. That's a scary thing."
The pension system responded to the lawsuit Wednesday night, accusing the city of playing politics with the retirement of first responders.
"Here they go again. Rather than work collaboratively with state legislators and the pension board to find a long-term solution based on shared sacrifice, the mayor and city officials continue to push a confrontational litigation strategy to get their way," said Sam Friar, chairman of the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System.
Friar also accused the city of moving the goal posts each time the two sides get close to an agreement.
The pension board will meet Thursday morning to continue to discuss the crisis.