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Bravo, Bateman

February 18, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Wow. It's a rare day, indeed, when you see a government employee - or any employee, for that matter - step forward and put their job on the line by publicly correcting information that has become a political lodestone.

Nonetheless, Cape Coral Financial Services Director Victoria Bateman did just that Monday by verbally shredding a pension and benefits presentation by Financial Advisory Committee Chair Don McKiernan as well as statements previously espoused by some former and current officials and their supporters.

Opening with a statement to city council that as a financial professional she deals with "facts and figures, not politics," Ms. Bateman ripped fiscal findings and "doom-and-gloom" conclusions she says she has corrected repeatedly in her 13-month tenure.

Information that would lead the taxpaying public to believe that the city of Cape Coral is in bad shape with its pensions is false, said Ms. Bateman, who repeated the word "false" and its two-step sister "not true" throughout her comments to the elected board.

According to Ms. Bateman:

n Any conclusions that the city of Cape Coral does not have good pension boards, diligent pension trustees, or that the city does not look at its investments or is not funding its obligations are false.

n Impressions that the city's pensions are grossly under funded - that they are under funded to the tune of $176 million to $191 million that the city is one day "going to be slapped in the face to pay" or that the city has future obligations of $6 billion to $ 8 billion that it won't be able to meet - are not true.

n Information that the municipality is in a "big financial crisis" due to the funding - or lack of funding - of its pension and Other Post-Employment Benefits funds is not true.

What is true is that the city has paid 100 percent of its required annual contributions to employee retirement funds; it is not delinquent.

What is true is that the city's credit rating is good and Cape Coral has managed to save significantly due to this fact in the last year.

Ms. Bateman compared the city's future OPEB obligations to a mortgage. The disclosure numbers, including interest, show total obligation. If you never make a payment, it's a pretty big number. But the reality is, it's pay-as-you-go - which is what the city does.

Ms. Bateman said after months of chasing down numbers, correcting numbers, and explaining numbers, she is frustrated.

We don't blame her.

Ms. Bateman has been extremely patient and has remained professional despite her obvious frustration this week at what she adamantly believes has been a skewing of the facts.

A couple of things.

The city is absolutely correct in scrutinizing retirement pensions and other benefits that will continue after retirement.

These are and should be a top priority for contract re-openers and negotiations. In the long run, they're actually as, if not more, important than current wages and benefits.

However, we've never been of the mind set that the best way to effect change is to attempt to demonize a particular group - in this case public safety and general sector employees - and then work to scare the pants off the public.

But maybe that's just our high regard for the intelligence of the taxpayers, an opinion apparently lacking in too many who play politics.

Please, as Ms. Bateman asks, stick with the facts.

Given the state of the economy and the legacy costs inherited from the good times, yes, there may well be some storm clouds ahead as the city - and the unions - continue to wrangle with retirement and other benefits costs.

But as Ms. Bateman so succinctly stated, the sky is not falling, at least not here in Cape Coral.

And given the forecast she outlined so passionately and so well, it's not going to, not on her watch.

- Breeze editorial



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