DALLAS (CBS11) – Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and council members said Wednesday they’re hopeful about a conceptual agreement reached with the majority of police and fire associations over how to keep their troubled pension fund from going broke.
In a statement, Mayor Rawlings said, “We have made substantial progress in our ongoing talks with all relevant parties regarding the future of the Dallas Police & Fire Pension Fund. I am optimistic that we are close to a resolution.”
The announcement follows two days of marathon meetings hosted by State Senators Royce West, D-Dallas and Don Huffines, R-Dallas at the state Capitol with Mayor Rawlings, Council Members Jennifer Gates and Adam McGough, leaders of the Dallas Police & Fire Pension Fund and representatives of the eleven police and fire associations.
On Wednesday afternoon, McGough said, “I’m optimistic. I’m encouraged.”
Council member Erik Wilson said, “I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Asked why it took until now for all parties to get into the same room together, Wilson said, “This could have been, and I feel should have been done a long time ago.”
Dallas city leaders and the city’s police and fire associations aren’t opening any champagne bottles yet.
Many said the conceptual agreement is still a work in progress.
But seven of the 11 police and fire associations are supportive of moving forward.
When asked Wednesday if he wouldn’t be on-board if he didn’t think it was better for his members, Mike Mata, President of the Dallas Police Association said, “That’s correct. This is not about a personal opinion of Mike Mata. This is about what is best for the not just members, but we truly are partners with the city. It’s best for the city too.”
But four of the associations aren’t on board, including the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas.
The organization’s president, Thomas Glover said one reason centers around the governance of the new police and fire pension board.
Glover said under the conceptual agreement, the city would select six members of the pension board, while five would be selected by police and fire groups.
Any major changes to the fund would require a two-thirds vote.
Glover said he prefers the city select five board members and police and fire groups select five, and have someone neutral who would only vote to break a tie. “We should have an equal voice. The city has an equal voice and if we can’t agree, that number 11 position would be a neutral, outside retired federal judge.”
Glover said he’s also unhappy the pension board could vote to “claw-back” money already given to hundreds of officers and firefighters. “If you don’t give it back, you’re going to go into my savings account in my bank and take it back? That’s not right anywhere in America.”
Under the conceptual agreement, Council Member Adam McGough said city taxpayers won’t have to bear as great a burden as in the bill the House passed unanimously last week, which he said, “Could be catastrophic.”
The continued negotiations could result in the Senate bill.
McGough said, “I’m hoping it’s manageable for all parties.”
A source familiar with the conceptual agreement tells CBS11 that it funds the pension plan for the foreseeable future and has important safeguards built-in to prevent further financial problems.
During a council meeting Wednesday, council members voted to delay indefinitely a resolution backing a permanent fix to the pension fund.
Wilson said, “We just didn’t want to jump the gun.”
A lot of work must still be done for the conceptual agreement to become an official deal.
If and when all the parties do agree, the Texas Senate must still approve a bill.
Then it would be up to the House to approve any changes from that chamber’s original bill.
That must happen before the state legislative session in Austin ends in the next two weeks or so.