Other Voices

Does Fort Worth have a pension crisis or integrity crisis?

An unidentified man died early Tuesday morning in an accident on Interstate 20 in Arlington, police said.
An unidentified man died early Tuesday morning in an accident on Interstate 20 in Arlington, police said. Courtesy

Walk into any first-grade classroom around the country and ask this question: “If you make a deal with someone and promise them something and they hold up their end of the deal, should you honor your promise?”

Look around the room and watch each hand raise and hear each little voice shout “YES!”

Now travel to a meeting with the management of a local government that has declared a pension funding-gap crisis and ask them if they should honor the promised benefits that their employees have earned over a career of 25-30 years of service. The response will undoubtedly be less certain.

We’ve arrived at a challenging time in our history. We have become so polarized by the perceived burdens of leadership that we, at times, forget that the only real responsibility of leadership is to do what is right.

What is right and what is fair seem to have become malleable terms that are subject to interpretation and slanted articulation. They have become terms that are predicated on which side of the partisan aisle you stand. But these are terms that need no further definition than what we received in grade-school: right is right, and fair is fair.

Simply put, an unfunded liability is a promise made to an employee that has not yet been funded. Those promises must be funded — not because that’s the easy thing to do, or the popular thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.

Employees are not asking for a “free ride,” however, and have pledged to pay more. The FWPOA has offered the following:

The FWPOA has offered to raise the police employee contribution to the retirement fund by over 50% of current levels (from 8.73% to 13.73%.)

The FWPOA has also agreed to modify the benefits they were promised by eliminating the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for future service.

The men and women of the FWPOA have been more than willing to explore all options. The FWPOA has only asked for one parameter on the discussions: that promised benefits for the years of service that have already been worked for and earned be protected.

Public employees across this nation make a promise to perform difficult, dangerous and sometimes deadly jobs to benefit the whole of society, and the public officials responsible for administering their benefits make a promise that they will be secure in retirement. The employees have kept their promises and provided decades of service, at much lower than private-market salaries because they believed the benefits they were promised would be there upon retirement.

It is understood that those in charge of these plans today did not negotiate the benefits that were offered decades ago. But just as those who assume leadership positions inherit the benefits and prosperity of those who came before them, they also inherit the promises made and the responsibility to keep them.

So, the question remains, does Fort Worth have a pension crisis or an integrity crisis?

Fortunately for our city leaders, the moral solution to this crisis is clear: a promise made should be a promise kept. Increased contributions coupled with go-forward structural changes can solve this problem and protect the earned benefits that our public servants worked so hard for.

We are blessed to live and serve a community that values public safety, and we are fortunate to have an outstanding elected governing body that is working hard to find solutions to issues affecting our extraordinary city. There is a tremendous opportunity here to do something great, and I believe we can come together to set an example for the entire country.

We are dedicated to finding a solution that keeps the promises made to those who came before us — a solution that protects the integrity of Fort Worth and all who live, work and serve here.

Manny R. Ramirez is president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. He has earned a Masters of Business Administration from Texas Christian University.