Escambia County commissioners Steven Barry and Lumon May say they don’t want any back payments from a 401(a) annuity retirement plan settlement, but they will continue to work to help other senior level county employees that were not told about the program.
Barry told NorthEscambia.com Wednesday afternoon that the overall issue is bigger than just the board.
“There is a bigger issue,” he said. “The bigger issue is how this information (about the 401(a)) is being distributed.”
The 401(a) annuity program is available under state law and is offered only to senior management service employees and commissioners that opt out of the Florida Retirement System (FRS). It’s available statewide, not just in Escambia County.
Many employees, along with current and past commissioners, have said they were never informed of the annuity plan’s existence, and they lost significant retirement revenue as a result.
Barry asked the state ethics commission if the county commission could vote on a settlement plan that would allow payments to him, other commissioners and other county employees that were not told about the annuity plan by the county’s human resources department. The ethics commission agreed that the county commission could vote on paying lost earnings from the 401(a) plan to impacted commissioners and county employees.
At the county commission’s last meeting, May seconded a motion by Barry to move forward with discussion to discuss the program, and May also seconded an ameded motion to seek a legal opinion on the matter first.
“Quite frankly, in my opinion, this action, it’s not about county commissioners,” May said during the BOCC meeting. “It’s about those employees who have served in the dark without knowledge of this program and that they should have the opportunity to exercise any retirement benefits, not for themselves, but the sacrifice that they made for their children and those they may leave upon their death and their retirement.”
The payout could total as much as $1.9 million, including just over $225,000 each for Barry and May. But both commissioners now say they will not seek the money for themselves.
“Personally, I’m not going to seek any back payments, but I am extremely supportive of continuing to seek a legal opinion about a fair and equitable resolution for our senior management employees, many of whom were never informed of even the existence of the 401(a) plan, much less the details of the plan,” Barry said in a text message to NorthEscambia.com Wednesday afternoon.
“We have a responsibility to advocate for the fair treatment of all our eligible employees, not only a select few,” Barry continued.