published Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Chattanooga City Council OKs pension plan amendment

OTHER COUNCIL BUSINESS

• City Council also approved an amended agreement for the new phase of the Tennessee Riverwalk that will extend into St. Elmo for nearly $1.5 million. The funds are from a $1.2 million donation from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and nearly $300,000 in private funds.

The Chattanooga City Council voted Tuesday to keep future retirees who are re-employed by the city from dipping into their current retirement while contributing to a new city pension.

But first council members gave an exemption to two of their colleagues and one other city employee.

The ordinance was drafted after the General Pension Board discovered Councilmen Moses Freeman and Yusuf Hakeem were drawing checks from their city pension, contributing to a new pension plan and making a salary that totaled close to $100,000. Another city employee in the Economic and Community Development Department, Countess Jenkins, was also drawing nearly $40,000 from her pension and paycheck.

After months of studying the discrepancy, the board voted that any future retirees re-employed by the city won’t be eligible to contribute to a new pension and draw their current pension.

But Hakeem, Freeman and Jenkins were allowed to keep drawing their pension and told to decide if they wanted to make the mandatory contributions of a new hired employee —2 percent of their salaries — toward a new pension plan. Or they could opt out of the plan and receive a refund for any contributions already paid.

Hakeem and Freeman abstained from voting Tuesday in the 7-0 vote.

Freeman said this was a fair solution because his colleagues are all contributing to a new pension plan and it’s a promise the city has already made to him and Hakeem.

“That was not the time to say you couldn’t [draw from your pension]. The way you do it is what they did now, it’s for anyone in the future,” Freeman said. “It’s fair and it’s appropriate. It’s moral. It’s legal and it’s ethical.”

The City Council also approved the final reading of a controversial sound ordinance that will introduce a music district downtown. The ordinance will allow venues that receive a permit and are located within the district to play music that is heard outside their venue at 80 decibel sound levels and 90 decibel levels of bass.

Multiple Southside residents and business owners criticized the ordinance and several City Council members admitted the piece of legislation needs more work. But they said this was a good first step and the ordinance will be reviewed again in six to 12 months.

Freeman said he expects to have multiple changes to the ordinance in six months.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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