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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Bottom of the Barrel

Proving once again that they are incapable of understanding court rulings, the PERS Board is planning to appeal to Judge Kantor to "stay" the injunction he imposed against further collection efforts. PERS wants to continue billing retirees while this matter wends its way through the courts. In contrast, the attorney for the Robinson case (14b), Jim Coon, has announced his intention to oppose PERB's motion and to insist that not only must PERS NOT bill retirees, it must return any money collected so far. We'll get to see how deep in the barrel the PERB attorneys will dig to keep collecting money that Judge Kantor says is being collected illegally. The message this all conveys is how much contempt the PERB has for both PERS members and for the Courts. When this is all over, I want the PERB and its attorneys slapped on their collective a**es for their utter contempt of the courts in this state. I don't understand how they've been able to get away with this for so long. They are truly the bottom of a fertilizer barrel.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Out Come the Freaks

Readers of this blog are quite good about keeping me posted on their interactions with PERS and others involved with PERS. My letter-writing campaign challenged retirees to communicate with several of the key players with influence on Governor Kulongoski, who has been temporarily laid up following spine surgery. I sent letters to Ted, to Tim Nesbitt (Ted's Chief of Staff), Representative Greg MacPherson, State Senator Richard Devlin, and former State Senator Tony Corcoran. Of that group, only Senator Devlin has had the courtesy to respond. Friends have now sent me several responses they've gotten from Tim Nesbitt, and also an updated response from Senator Richard Devlin. From these responses, it is clear that PERS is providing no more information to their inquirers than they are to retirees. The answer Senator Devlin provided reads like a verbatim quote from PERS' website outlining what PERS has done in the wake of Judge Kantor's ruling. Mr. Nesbitt's response is more of the same, but includes the statement that could be interpreted to mean that the Governor's office still believes PERS has to find a way to recover the overpayments. In short, it appears that the Governor's office is not going to get involved in stressing to the PERB or to PERS Staff that the combination of the Supreme Court ruling and Judge Kantor's ruling combine to indicate that there is actually nothing to collect as the benefit being paid is legal and without errors. Both Nesbitt and Devlin have shared the information that those of us who haven't yet been invoiced by PERS will see a COLA on our monthly benefit, when our July payment comes out next Wednesday. Oh happy day, but the failure to ask the relevant questions is just palpable.

As for the question of PERS' compliance with the Judge's ruling, there is considerable argument about whether they are, in fact, even close to being in compliance. First, there is the matter of "suspending" collection activity and invoicing after June 20, 2007. From evidence reported on OPDG, this isn't happening universally. For example, lump sum recipients who elected the installment payout option are exposed to the recovery. One recent recipient (retiring about 2003) is about to receive the final installment on a 5-year payment. The payment is due August 3, 2007 - nearly two months AFTER PERS told all members and the court that they had suspended collection activity. Not shockingly - but cetainly contrary to what they are reporting - this member is in receipt of the final payout letter, which informs that $18,500 will be withheld from the last installment to recover the overpayment from the 1999 earnings, in acccord with the Strunk/Eugene remediation plan (suspended June 20, 2007). It is a bit hard to reconcile a plan that is temporarily suspended, with an action directly contradictory to that suspension. So much for compliance.

As this freak show continues, PERS and its enablers seem almost Clintonesque in their parsing of the English language contained in court rulings. Pretty soon we'll be debating the meaning of "is" again. Deja vu all over again.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

From the emails I'm getting, some folks are just plain unaccustomed to using "terminal" or "console" applications, especially in Windows. Here's a piece of advice for those of you unaccustomed to these kinds of applications. It starts with the download. If you use any of the common browsers, the response when you click on the download link is whether you want to "run" the program, or "save the program to disk". As some have discovered, you CANNOT run the program from my website. It isn't set up for that - the website is Unix-based, while the applications are either Windows or Mac based. Neither will run on Unix. Consequently, when you try to run them from your computer while still tethered to my web site, the programs will do very unpredictible things. Save yourself some grief and me some time. ALWAYS "save the program" to YOUR disk. The "desktop" is a good place for both the Windows and Mac version will run from their respective desktops without any special tricks. The Windows version is known to run on Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. The Mac version is known to run on Tiger starting with 10.4.5; it is not guaranteed to run with earlier versions. If you follow these simple instructions, you will save yourself a great deal of trouble.

P.S. Another Mac user reports success with Panther 10.3.9.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Good Intent

In my writing crusade to get some pressure put on the PERS Board to "back off" and start paying what the Court has ordered, I've written lengthy emails to Representative Greg MacPherson, Senator Richard Devlin, the Governor, former Senator Tony Corcoran, and Tim Nesbitt, the Governor's chief of staff. Until today, I hadn't heard from anyone except a canned response from the Governor's office bot. Today I got a brief note from Senator Richard Devlin, who has already written to the PERB asking precisely what they are doing to implement the latest Court ruling. I'm not expecting anything but more double-speak from PERS/PERB, but Senator Devlin, who was just elected as Senate Majority Leader, at least has started the ball rolling. Senator Devlin also promised to get back to me once he hears from PERS/PERB. For the record, Senator Devlin was one of the few to vote AGAINST HB 2003 back in the 2003 Legislature. I feel very fortunate that he is my Senator, but I am also very pleased at his good intentions here. One more good guy trying to help. Thanks Senator Devlin.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shine On

Saturday's Salem Statesman Journal had another Steve Law piece about PERS. This one was about Friday's PERS Board meeting and the Board decision to provide COLA for those window retirees who haven't yet been "touched" by the Strunk/Eugene remediation. I wasn't at the Board meeting for personal reasons, but my friend PEG attended the entire meeting and took good notes. Mr. Law's article appears to leave out some important details about what went on at the meeting, and proves how important primary sourcing is. First off, PEG reports that Mr. Law didn't arrive until just AS the discussion of the COLA was beginning. She noted that before settling in, he was fiddling with his PDA, checking for emails etc. As a result, he failed to note two important facts: 1) the PERS Board was NOT asked for its approval to restart the COLA. In fact, the PERS staff merely was informing them as a matter of courtesy as they had the legal authority to do this without the Board's approval. And second of all, the staff wanted it made clear that this did NOT constitute a *restart* or *restoration* of the COLA for window retirees. Instead, it appears to be a one-time event until they get clarification and direction from Judge Kantor about the meaning and scope of the Arken and Robinson decisions. This important fact changes the complexion of what was done. We're happy to have the money, but not satisfied that this isn't the start of the whole restoration project. 2) PEG also reported a stunning monologue from PERB Chairman Michael Pittman chastizing PERS staff, and in particular Steve Delaney, for the number of legislative bills that were passed during the 2007 Legislature relating to PERS. Mr. Pittman chided Mr. Delaney (he's the Legislative Liason for PERS) for failing to better "manage" the Legislative process. Apparently Mr. Pittman doesn't read updates from Mr. Delaney, doesn't pay attention at Board meetings, and seems completely unaware of how the Legislature works. Perhaps he ought to take a civics lesson in "how a bill becomes law". Perhaps he might look at all those PERS bills and see who proposed them. They didn't all come at the behest of PERS. I'm always amused when these private sector types act confused and dismayed that they don't get their way in the Legislative process. This wasn't reported at all.

What the SJ reported was not inaccurate; just very incomplete and the slant somewhat misleading. This is one of the reasons why attending the PERS meetings and watching and listening to the exchanges may alter your opinions about what is really going on. I'm really sorry I didn't get the opportunity to attend, but 3 emergencies in one week just was more than my quota and something had to give.

Note: minor corrections made 7/23

Friday, July 20, 2007

Our Time Now

Although I didn't attend today's PERB meeting, PERS has already updated its website with the news that the Board approved the staff recommendation to pay a 2% COLA (seen in the next - August 1 - check) on the currently "frozen" benefits of some "window retirees". Those retirees who have already passed through the Strunk/Eugene sieve have had benefits adjusted and their COLA set (or already) to resume. Only the uninvoiced window retirees remain. The Board has now lifted the COLA freeze on the group of retirees who have not yet been subjected to the Strunk/Eugene process. That process is also currently suspended pending the outcome of a Status Conference on the Arken/Robinson cases before Judge Henry Kantor in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

While this is a useful beginning, it is important to not be lulled into complacency. According to the Strunk ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court, PERS has no right to collect anything from retirees for they are receiving a legislatively defined "fixed benefit" that doesn't contain errors. No errors, no collection. And even more significant is that PERS has no legal right to withhold COLAs from any retiree receiving monthly benefits. Thus, today's action takes care of 2007, but still leaves 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 as outstanding obligations. If you run my calculator (see left - SartainLipcomb files), you'll see how much PERS really owes you, contrasted with how much PERS thinks you owe them.

So, be happy you're getting something above your currently frozen benefit, but don't forget to keep your eyes on the prize.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Fought the Law

A fellow commentator (JRS) on the Oregon PERS Information and Discussion Group (OPDG), sent the following letter to Steve Law of the Salem Statesman Journal in response to Mr. Law's article in this morning's SJ concerning the proposed resolution for the PERS Board to pay "window retirees" a 2007 COLA. JRS's letter is reprinted below with his permission:

"Steve –

"Your report about PERS paying a COLA this year includes the following statement, which is somewhat misleading:

'PERS has been withholding COLAs for about 35,000 retirees, as a result of 2003 pension reforms, a string of court decisions and an out-of-court settlement of a ruling by Marion Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb.'

"It is incorrect to say that, until Judge Kantor's recent ruling, PERS has withheld a COLA "as the result of" the pension reforms and a string of court decisions. The reforms that initially provided for withholding the COLA were ruled unconstitutional and a breach of contract several years ago by the Supreme Court in Strunk, and there is imply no "string of court decisions" that caused PERS to withhold the COLA.

"In fact, the only court to rule on the COLA issue before Judge Kantor's recent ruling was the Supreme Court in Strunk where that court ruled that the COLA could not be legally withheld. As for the ruling by Judge Lipscomb that you mention in connection with PERB's settlement agreement, that ruling said nothing about withholding a COLA, but actually cautioned against trying to make any recovery from retirees. Finally, Judge Lipscomb's ruling has been dismissed by the Supreme Court since the appeal from that ruling was dismissed as moot.

"Bottom line: Until Judge Kantor's recent ruling, PERB chose to continue violating the statute mandating a COLA be paid every year, notwithstanding the fact that the Supreme Court specifically ruled that a COLA cannot be legally withheld. The only event that has "resulted in" PERB continuing to withhold the COLA all these years is PERB's claimed justification of the "settlement agreement" which is itself still under review by Judge Kantor [White v PERB, mrf] to determine if PERB violated its fiduciary duty to retirees by entering into such an agreement. PERB simply does not have any statute or court decision that supports its withholding of the COLA all these years."

For the record, JRS is a retired prosecutor (attorney). Perhaps "the Law" would like to clarify his article publicly. I'm happy to offer him the opportunity to reply to all, as well as whatever individual response he may offer to JRS.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An End Has a Start

It is becoming clear to me that the "end" of our PERS struggle may be getting closer than we might have thought as recently as a month ago. It started with Judge Kantor's ruling in the Arken/Robinson cases last month. It continued yesterday with the filing/posting of the Arken plaintiffs motions for clarification to Judge Kantor at the upcoming status conference on August 16. For the first time, the right question and the heavy squeeze is being put on the Judge: do not rule that our first and second claims for relief in Arken are moot. On the contrary, they *are* the issue. They ask you to order PERS to comply with the Supreme Court ruling in Strunk (via Sartain) that the Legislature defined a "fixed benefit" that cannot be said to contain errors. Those are the Court's words, not mine, not the PERS Coalition, not Judge Kantor. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature cannot withhold a COLA on any retiree benefit. The COLA is statutorily required, not optional. Thus, settlement agreement or not, PERS has no basis to collect anything from retirees as their benefits - newly defined by the 2003 legislature as "fixed" and do not contain errors. To add to the point, Judge Kantor ruled that PERS erred in sending out their January 28, 2006 "notice of intent to collect" as it violated the statute it claimed to represented - ORS 238.715. In the meantime, Judge Kantor ruled that IF PERS could figure out a legal basis for collection, they were constrained by the Legislature's HB 2003, section 14b1, which Kantor ruled as the "exclusive" remedy offered by the Legislature to the City of Eugene case. PERS didn't have 238.715 available, and even if they did, they didn't follow the rules in applying it. The notice was improper and illegal. End of story. Statute of limitations has run out, but more importantly, there is nothing to collect as no errors were made in the computation of the "fixed benefit". Judge Kantor started the end.

In the meantime, PERS seems hellbent on continuing its vendetta against retirees, all under the guise of "fairness to actives". If the retirees win, the actives will be forced to subsidize retirees. Nonsense. The Supreme Court answered the question quite clearly. If the fixed benefit is a new benefit created by the legislature, it cannot have any errors. No errors, nothing to collect, no subsidy by actives. The retiree benefits are paid from the BIF (Benefits in Force ) reserve. COLAS are normally funded by the BIF reserve. Benefits are funded by the BIF. In short, the money to cover retirees has already been collected from retiree accounts and from employer matches and sits in either the BIF or the BIF reserve. The BIF reserve is huge right now as a result of a stellar stock market for the past 4 years and continuing. There is no PERS crisis. The reforms permitted and permissible have been implemented; the stock market has soared and PERS is fully funded and sitting on top of more than $2 billion in reserves. The PERS crisis was over 2 years ago.

It is time for us to do our part to pressure the "heavy hitters" to start putting the screws to the PERS Board. The Governor is the heaviest of the heavy hitters. He appointed this board and he can influence its behavior. He may not be directly responsive, but letters pointing these facts out aimed at Representative Greg Macpherson (D, Lake Oswego), Senator Richard Devlin (D, Tualatin/Lake Oswego), Tim Nesbitt (Governor Kulongoski's Chief of Staff and former Oregon AFL-CIO President), and former State Senator Tony Corcoran all have strong influence with the Governor. Your own legislator may also be influential if he/she is from the same party as the Governor. If not, the influence may be limited. I am assembling all the needed email addresses and will place them in a link to the left later today. Now is the time to start exerting the pressure. We need to be respectful, but we don't need to be patsies any more. We won in the Supreme Court; we've won in Judge Kantor's court, and we stand before Judge Kantor real soon now to request even more. The PERS Coalition has placed compelling issues before Judge Kantor. They will be hard for him to ignore. It is time we begin to exert our own influence and remind those "heavy hitters" that they were put in those positions by the actions of "organized labor" and its subsidiaries. The reforms have worked; the crisis is over. Accept the gains and stop fighting about the losses. Give us what we are entitled to and shut down this expensive, draining, and foolish tilting at windmills. Otherwise, we are doomed to another 4 or 5 years of litigation. Pretty soon the courts will get tired of us, tired of PERS, and tired of this bickering over issues that were settled in 2005. Enough is enough already. Pay me what you owe me and I'll go away and live my retirement the way I had planned.

Update 1:30 PM. I have posted the list of those representatives and others who carry sway with the Governor in a pdf file accessible from the top link on the left. I am certain of the email addresses for all listed EXCEPT for Tim Nesbitt, whose email I'm still trying to verify. I'm pretty sure it is correct, however.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Burn Down This Town

The PERS Coalition has released the text of its motion to be presented to Judge Kantor for argument at the August 16, 2007 Status Conference. You can read it here. Informed sources tell me that Judge Kantor has set aside an entire day for the Status Conference. The reconsideration motion that the PERS Coalition has filed requires one hour to argue. Apparently PERS has filed its own motions, but I have not yet seen them although I'm trying to get my hands on copies, as well as any copies of motions to be filed by the 14b plaintiffs' attorney Jim Coon. I *will* keep you posted. I've chosen not to summarize the Arken motion for reconsideration as I believe EVERYONE should read it for themselves. It is easy to understand and makes explicit some of the things we've all been talking about. It is a pleasure to read.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Good Intent

I just got through reviewing the Board packet that accompanies the meeting agenda for the PERS Board (PERB). The monthly meeting for this month is Friday July 20 at 1 p.m. The agenda doesn't appear to be terribly interesting, but there is one item that should please almost all "window retirees". Apparently, as a result of the Arken/Robinson ruling, PERS will consider restarting the COLA process for all "window retirees" who haven't been invoiced under Strunk/Eugene (these people have COLA restoration already but under different circumstances). The PERS staff is recommending that the July 1 2007 COLA be restarted for all the uninvoiced retirees effective immediately. This would mean that if the PERB approves the staff recommendation, we should see a 2% increase in our next (August 1) payment. This will have a small impact on the Strunk/Eugene balance if that process resumes, but that question remains quite open right now. I will be attending the meeting on Friday and will know for certain whether there is any opposition to this proposal. I doubt there will be as there is more than sufficient money to do this and PERS staff appears to be somewhat "sensitive" to the fact that some of us have gone almost 5 years without any benefit increase. This is the first ray of sunshine for many of us in a very long time. The Arken/Robinson outcome was really good news, but actually resuming the COLA process is even better news. Hopefully, we can count on this to take place. I'm very positive about it. I'll be even more positive if we start seeing reimbursement for the previous 4 years of lost colas. Please don't mistake my optimism as a sudden reprieve for PERS. Run the SartainLipscomb calculator and find out what you're really missing. This barely takes the sting away, but they have to start somewhere and now is as good a time as any.

There are some who are very suspicious of PERS' actions and motives for doing this. I would be derilect if I were not to acknowledge the downside of the PERS decision. It could be that PERS is doing this to look like a good citizen before going before Judge Kantor on August 16. If they had just let another COLA go unpaid, they could be subject to all kinds of repercussions from Judge Kantor. This may be nothing more than another attempt by PERS to distract attention from what they are really doing. At this point in the game, I wouldn't put this past them. On the other hand, PERS has admitted in its staff memo that COLAs are automatic UNLESS there is an exclusion list, which has been what all window retirees have been on since 7/1/2003. If COLAs are automatic and all it takes is a "no exclusion" switch in their RIMS system, it will make it much harder for PERS to claim hardship if the court orders restoration of all past COLAs. So, even if PERS is just playing legal games, this could come back to bite them. Too bad, so sad. (And BTW Curtis, I agree with you. Arken/Robinson is the catalyst that makes everything else happen. It deserves more credit than I gave it above. The COLA resumption is driven by Arken/Robinson, not the reverse.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Strange Becomes Acceptable

Apathy, disinterest, diffidence all seem to characterize many "window" retirees' attitudes towards PERS. PERS has been screwing over retirees for some years now, yet a large percentage of those affected (or to be affected) seem completely unaware of the size and magnitude of the hole PERS is putting in us. The strange has become acceptable. It is time to change. It is time to get off the dime and stop permitting this to go on. If you haven't already, take a few minutes to read my post from yesterday "Heading For the Light". Download the calculator that works best with your system. When you're all done running it (it is easy, trust me) calculate your "spread" - the difference between what you are reputed to owe PERS and what the Sartain verdict says PERS owes you. If you find out that your spread is less than $10,000 I'll be very surprised. Nevertheless, when you find out just what this "spread" is, try to be more than just plain sanguine or indifferent about it. This is real money - your hard-earned money - that we're talking about. Time for some activism. Join the PERS discussion group (OPDG, link on left near bottom) and find out what others' spreads are. Post yours. Get involved. The next court hearing at which PERS retirees' fates will be discussed is a Status Conference to be held at 9 am on August 16, 2006 in Judge Henry Kantor's courthouse (Multnomah County Courthouse - 4th Avenue entrance). Be there to watch the PERS lawyers try to spin and dissemble and delay. Be there to watch PERS retiree lawyers Greg Hartman and Jim Coon try to get Judge Kantor to clarify his ruling and to urge PERS to just comply and quit stalling. What should aggravate you no end is that PERS is using member and retiree money to fund the legal fees needed to prevent retirees from getting what is due this. What gall! What chutzpah! The strange is UNacceptable. Let people know this. Don't let them continue to stomp on your bones, because that's all that will be left if we let PERS continue its delaying tactics. Time for a movement, some attitude, and to restore our benefits. Delay, indifference, and apathy are our worst enemies. The PERB is "doing its job"; unfortunately that "job" is on us. Time for it to stop.

Bring It Back

It never left. For those of you using the new "SartainLipscomb" calculator, the output is automatically saved as a text file that you can print, edit, do with what you want. To distinguish it from the old calculator, I've named it "sartain.txt". It should be saved in the same directory from which you ran the software. If not, use Spotlight (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC) to find it. It is there. It even says this in the "PLEASE READ THIS" screen of the software. If you can't find it, I need to know. But please don't ask until you've looked first. It is part of the code and an essential piece of output. It is there so you don't have to "print" the screen.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Heading for the Light

Prior to her death (and before I knew she was sick) Martha Sartain helped persuade me to rewrite my "Lipscomb" calculator to compute the outcome if PERS were to be forced to implement the Sartain decision from the Supreme Court's ruling in Strunk. Under the Sartain decision, PERS is obligated to restore the COLA on the fixed benefit retroactive to July 1, 2003. PERS has not implemented this ruling and has tried to avoid it by throwing up a fog based on the "Settlement Agreement". Until the recent Arken and Robinson rulings in Multnomah County Circuit Court, there seemed no likelihood of the Sartain ruling ever being implemented and there was no incentive for me to offer people a false hope. But the calculus has changed and I now believe there is *some* hope that we might finally get justice (not quickly mind you, but justice nonetheless). In anticipation, I thought it would be fruitful for retirees to examine their situation under the "Settlement" (or Lipscomb) outcome, and also under the "Sartain" decision. For those who have fallen under PERS' BS about the benefit cuts being small, the outcome under the newest calculator will be truly eye-popping. PERS' baloney only smells good if you never believed you were entitled to something else - what your retirement contract actually calls for. Now you will be able to see the light and hopefully shed your indifference and apathy regarding what you truly are entitled to.

Windows users can go here for the program. Mac users will find their version at this location. The Mac version is a "universal" binary that will run under OS X 10.4.5 and higher and should run on older Macs with the PPC chip, while also running on the newer Intel-based Macs. Good luck with your calculations and let the light shine in corners it has never shone in before.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Knocking on Heaven's Door

St. Peter welcomed our sister, Martha Sartain, today with open arms. She was sent off in a wonderfully special and simple service. I haven't been to a memorial service that showed as much love and affection as Martha's today. There were probably 75 people in attendance, including a few of us from here. Martha selected two people to speak after first having to be urged to even permit a memorial service. It became clear from the two selected that Martha was an incredible person, both as a talented and path-setting engineer with ODOT, a terrific and inspiring mentor for many, and a wonderful, funny, and loyal friend. Leave it to Martha to remark just before her passing that her biggest regret in life was that she wouldn't live long enough to collect social security. That brought a smile to everyone's face. Martha chose a beautiful piece of "real estate" (her term, not mine) for her final resting place. It will give me great pleasure to remember her each Memorial Day with flowers that she loved. I learned many things today about Martha that I didn't know. We all knew how smart, how worldly, and how articulate she was. I didn't know that she was a wonderful mentor, an amazing (and mischievious) friend, and I surely didn't know how talented a poet she was. The poem she wrote (but didn't expect to be read aloud) was specifically for attendees at the memorial and others who would mourn her passing. It was beautifully written and, while it brought a tear to my eyes, it comforted me in many ways as well. I hope that someone in her family or her circle of friends will urge its publication - it was that good. Martha is now at peace; may we all rededicate ourselves to the mission she set out to accomplish on *all* our behalves. It would be a wonderful memorial to her to actually get the justice she won.

Apropos of that justice, after the service I had a chance to talk "shop" with Scott Jonnson, the attorney who represented Martha and retirees in the Sartain v State of Oregon case that was part of the Strunk consolidated matter ruled on by the Oregon Supreme Court two years ago. Scott filled me in on the tardiness of the Oregon Supreme Court in issuing their final ruling in the "fee award" portion of Strunk. In her final days, Martha was concerned about the disposition of "her" case should she die before PERS was forced to implement. Scott assured her (and then me) that he would continue pursuit of PERS until they complied so that Martha's estate could get what she was denied in her lifetime, not to mention all the retirees she represented. There is no legal uncertainty created by her death. He also noted that Martha would live on forever through the case, as legal precedents are always referred to by the cases in which they were decided. Thus, "Sartain v State of Oregon" will become an historically important case and will continue to be cited in both Oregon and other state pension cases. One interested factoid emerged that I was unaware of. The attorney fee award in the Sartain case was tripled by the Special Master because he wanted the award to be sufficient to cover expenses and the donations made by OPRI members to subsidize the litigation. This is to prevent double jeopardy to OPRI contributors - the original donation plus the cost levied against retirees to pay OPRI for the legal fees incurred in its litigation against PERS. Thus, OPRI will have a difficult time NOT offering to refund the donations once PERS pays them what the Court is expected to order. The Court (in particular Judge Breithaupt, Special Master) made this an important part of its recommendation.

Finally, I now know the date, time, and place of the Arken/Robinson status conference. It is scheduled for August 16, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. in Judge Kantor's courtroom in the Multnomah County Circuit Court. A nice turnout would both honor Martha and provide us with important clues about how PERS is going to treat the ruling. Scott thought that with a summary judgement, PERS may have about 90 days (probably not any more) to decide whether to appeal. Nearly 30 days have already elapsed and we'll be up to almost 60 by the time of the status conference. PERS is going to have to fish or cut bait fairly soon and no one seems to be certain what they'll do.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rough Justice

I've received quite a number of requests from retirees for me to resurrect my calculator that computes the COLA on the fixed benefit.  Although I never had such a calculator (wishful thinking on my readers' parts), I've decided that I will include a "good news" section to my Lipscomb calculator.  In honor of both the court decision that called for it, and in memory of a good friend whose name is associated with the decision, the revised calculator will be called the Lipscomb/Sartain Calculator.  As before, the Lipscomb piece will compute the scenario for window retirees under the now enjoined method PERS intended to use to recover money from retirees.  The Sartain portion calculator will unwind the process, extract the original "fixed benefit" and calculate the COLAs due retirees on that benefit.  It will provide an estimate of the current benefit as of 7/1/08 (note date carefully; I'm not expecting PERS to hurry), in addition to the amount PERS owes each retiree to for lost COLA.  I am unaware of any provision that will require PERS to pay interest on the "held" money.  

I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea about what this calculator is for.  Its existence in no way suggests that PERS has rolled over and will suddenly pay us what they've refused to do for 4 years.  But, if the contrast between the Lipscomb outcome and the Sartain result motivates apathetic window retirees, many of whom have seemed to accept their fate without a fight, to rethink the importance of the battle, then I will consider the outcome a success.  I don't know how much work this will involve - I've only briefly examined the Lipscomb source code.  I'm guessing it will take me a few weeks to get a clean run and so watch for the revised calculator in early August -- before the status conference on the Arken case.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Magical Mystery Tour

On August 8, at a time and place to be announced, all attorneys involved with the Arken and Robinson cases are scheduled for a status conference with Judge Kantor. The agenda is not set, but will surely include the PERS Coalitions' request to clarify the order and to address claims not answered by Judge Kantor in his opinion and order. PERS will also be required to show how they are complying with Judge Kantor's order. That ought to be an interesting tap dance. No doubt they'll employ Steely Dan's "pretzel logic" to come up with their latest justification for doing nothing. I can't wait.

Note at 6 p.m. PERS have changed the date on their web site to August 16th. It is unclear whether there has been a genuine scheduling change, or the date was wrong initially. I will try to clarify and repost soon with a correct date (and maybe time).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Feet In the Clouds

Yesterday morning, one of the main plaintiffs in the Strunk et al case, and my friend, Martha Sartain, passed away from complications related to lung cancer. Martha was the "face and soul" of "window retirees" as she agreed to have her name and her life explored in relentless detail during the proceedings leading up to the Sartain v PERB case in 2004. This case, sponsored by OPRI, involved the COLA freeze issue for window retirees and it still stands front and center as the Arken case wends its way through the courts, and the fee reimbursement issue remains before the Oregon Supreme Court.

I will remember Martha as a smart, savvy, and keen observer of the goings on at PERS, and an impossible person to put something over on. I'll remember Martha's companionship through endless hearings in Strunk, in Arken, and in the final days of the hearings related to fee reimbursements of lawyers in the Strunk cases. I'll also remember her generosity in sharing copies of court transcripts and her persistence in getting audio documents of important hearings for me to use in writing my blog. Without her assistance, many of my posts would have been impossible to write.

Martha was a tireless advocate for "window retirees". She served on the OPRI Board with distinction and should be credited with getting the Board to recognize "window retiree" issues and for pursuing an agenda of openness and use of modern technology.

Martha's memorial service will be held on Thursday July 12th [NOTE: corrected date] at Belcrest Memorial Park Cemetary in South Salem at 2:00. Martha's family asked that in lieu of flowers or charitable gifts, please "instead treat your family or a close friend to meal out .... and remember friends".

Godspeed Martha. We will all miss you.