City's obligation to PERA

Last September, I wrote an op-ed in this newspaper about the financial risks of the ongoing litigation between the city and the State Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) over the question of whether the city was liable for the unfunded pension liability associated with the leasing of Memorial Hospital. At that time, I cautioned that if the city continued on its course, it stood to lose not only the money that had already been allocated for that liability, but also the funds that had been set aside for the community health foundation.

In fact, the interest on this unpaid obligation is about $50,000 per day and now has consumed about $20 million of the funds intended for the Memorial Foundation to address community health needs.

At the time my op-ed ran, I was criticized by a few community leaders and supporters of the city administration who believed that the very discussion of this issue was not appropriate or helpful - an interesting position, to say the least, when millions of dollars of public money are at stake. Now, to be clear, I am not a fan of the PERA system. Our state pension system is in bad need of reform and I have supported reform efforts throughout my legislative career. But, this is not a question of whether one thinks PERA is the right system or not. The issue is one of the city's obligation to PERA, which it voluntarily chose as Memorial's retirement system some years ago, as well as ensuring adequate funding of the PERA obligations to the affected current and future retirees.

The judge has now dismissed the city's claims and the city must decide whether to appeal or resolve the case. If the appeal drags on and the city loses, most or all of the funding for the community health foundation will be gone. The decision now seems pretty obvious - settle the matter, resolve the liability and preserve the foundation funding. Oh but wait, maybe we shouldn't be discussing this!

Bob Gardner, State Representative, House District 20, Colorado Springs


Issue should go no further

An open letter to the Colorado Springs City Council:

As a School District 11 retiree, I am grateful that I could pay into the PERA system and am now grateful to have that pension, but I am also a citizen of Colorado Springs and hope to see my city fulfill its promise to its employees, retired, current or future.

It is time for the city to acknowledge its obligation to PERA. Judge Bockman, who was hired by PERA and the city, found that a "withdrawing employer pays for the accrued unfunded benefits of its retirees and employees before leaving PERA." The city received $259 million to cover probable liabilities to PERA when it leased Memorial Health Systems to the University of Colorado Health system in 2012. This has been a costly issue to the city and should go no further. It should not be on the shoulders of the current and future city employees to cover Memorial retirees' PERA payments. The employees pay their share and so should the city.

Peggy Gardner, Colorado Springs


Refreshing sensible heads prevailed

Many people are under the mistaken impression that PERA is a government program that is given freely to most government workers. That is so far from the truth. I paid in to my PERA retirement every payday for 30 years. I actually paid more per paycheck than most pay to Social Security. When I retired, I receive no Social Security benefits (only PERA); and when my husband passes away, I will not receive any of his Social Security benefits (he was never a government employee) because of my PERA retirement. I do not get the advantage of both retirement programs, and I did pay my fair share.

As a retiree from Peyton, I was pleased to learn that a judge said the city has to fulfill their responsibilities to PERA for workers like me who deferred our compensation saving for a future retirement. It's refreshing to know that sensible heads prevailed. The money owed to PERA pales when you consider the economic value of the $394 million we PERA retirees in El Paso County receive and probably spend every year. Let's be a true "City for Champions" and not renege on our obligations.

Mary Arndt, Peyton


Student is still just a minor

Regarding the article about the Cheyenne Mountain High School teacher molesting a student - I'm sure it's perfectly legal for you to publish the texts that the two sent back and forth to each other. However, please remember that the teacher is in trouble because what he has done is illegal. The student, even if she is 17, is still a minor and while she may not be perfectly innocent, she certainly does not deserve to have everyone that knows who she is (or anyone, for that matter), know the details of the texts that she sent to her teacher. Imagine if that were your sister or your daughter, etc., how mortifying that would be!

How about protecting her instead of trying to make her look bad, and have her memories of this awful experience even worse.

Everyone makes mistakes. He was old enough to know better and she was not.

Michelle Chambliss, Colorado Springs


Comic brought tears to the eyes

As a very old ex-Marine, we were taught to never cry, never say you were sorry, always move forward, never retreat, nothing was too much to overcome, but today in the comics, Funky Winkerbean (Feb. 15), tears came to my eyes, it was more than I could contain. This was not the first time this comic brought tears to these old eyes. Love this strip.

Joe McMullan, Colorado Springs