Vote on Dallas PD-Fire pension cuts halted by judge

A judge has suspended a vote on benefit cuts at the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System because a lawsuit claims the pension board violated its authority.

The vote set for this week and next was set to save the pension system $1 billion and get it on the path toward survival. The two sides were set to go before a judge on Thursday to iron out the issue. But late Tuesday, the pension board attorneys filed for continuance. Any ruling by the judge is now indefinitely delayed.

The pension board asked for more time to respond to the lawsuit.

"I think every public safety and taxpayer of Dallas is tired of uncertainty,” said Philip Kingston, Dallas councilman and pension board trustee.

Kingston said he has no idea what kind of ruling to expect. The hearing was set for Thursday but was pushed back to the first of next month at the request of the pension board.

The pension is losing money at an alarming rate and could run out in just 12 years. Members were expecting to vote on changes that could cut their own benefits, but five police and firefighters sued on the eve of the election.

"It's kind of disappointing that a few members would hijack the process,” said Police and Fire Pension Director Kelly Gottschalk. "I think it is selfish, they came up with a reason everyone says a few dollars and anyone can file a lawsuit, and that's where we are today."

Chris Ayers, the attorney for the plaintiffs, claims the board is acting outside its authority.

"We are not trying to make the system insolvent. In fact, we are trying to do just the opposite,” Ayers said. “To conduct an unlawful vote, and have people's career's changed would bring liability to the pension system. It would not help it would hurt it.”

The lawsuit says state law mandates a seven-member board, but twice the board approved expansion and is now 12 members. The pension system director says the board expansions were approved in accordance with state law and she questions the timing of the lawsuit.

"I know there are certain members who have been vocal that they don't want the proposed changes to go through, one is a party to the case. I think he's throwing up a Hail Mary to try to stop it,” Gottschalk said.

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