Scranton City Council members heard several resident’s opinions Thursday evening, February 26, at the weekly city council meeting regarding the recent announcement that the PA Auditor General’s investigation is slated to begin Friday into whether six nonuniform city employees should have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in double pension benefits since 2002. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is conducting the investigation independent of law enforcement; however, DePasquale stated earlier that he would turn over any criminal evidence that he may discover in the course of his investigation.
Both inquiries stemmed from nonuniform pension board solicitor Larry Durkin’s report to the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations in January. Durkin made the decision to place the call to law enforcement following his review of documents pertaining to the six pension awardees.
City council member Pat Rogan stated he is pleased to hear about the investigations, but did ask who authorized the payment of “these excess pensions”? Rogan continued, “It appears it wasn’t the pension board — I hope — so we need to figure out why it happened and whether it was done criminally or whether it was done accidentally. In one case scenario money has gone missing in Scranton so anything is possible.” Rogan also requested that council members be allowed to review the documents that sparked Durkin’s report to the state police. “I do think we should look at those documents and see what’s in it for our own investigation as well,” he said. Rogan said he feels that it is important for council to know what, exactly, Durkin saw that raised suspicions, adding, “I would like to know what was contained in those documents.”
Council oversight of the pension board
One Scranton taxpayer, Marie Schumacher, spoke to council and asked for clarification regarding who from city council, if anyone, is required to attend pension board meetings. Schumacher stated she attended the pension board meeting Wednesday morning and noted that no city council members were present. Schumacher read from information handed out at the pension board meeting which she said stated the president of city council should be a pension board member. Schumacher asked, “Do we even have a pension board that is legitimate?” City council president Robert McGoff, Jr. said that he sends the city clerk, Lori Reed, as a proxy to the pension board meetings, but he later explained that “there are a number of pension boards that meet.” McGoff continued: “In the past I have attended meetings of the composite pension board, but I have not attended meetings of the nonuniform pension board.” He explained that in lieu of his attendance at the composite pension board meetings the city clerk does serve as his proxy. “But until a few weeks ago — a month ago — I did not realize that I was also — as president — had a seat on the nonuniform pension board.” McGoff explained that he had “inadvertently attended the wrong pension board meeting. I thought the issue was going to be discussed at the composite meeting.” McGoff explained that he did speak with Attorney Durkin regarding proposed plans and meetings that will take place in the future. “I’m sorry that I was just a little confused on which meeting to attend,” said McGoff.
David Burgerhoff, a taxpayer currently collecting signatures to run for city council as a Republican, expressed his dissatisfaction with the city’s current situation. Burgerhoff wondered why, if the six employees were not entitled to the excess funds, shouldn’t they pay it back. He said, “I raise my son and always told him you don’t get rewarded for good behavior — you get punished for bad.” He said the individuals who received the double pensions would “be making all kinds of excuses as to why they can’t pay it back, but at the end of the day you weren’t entitled to that money, and banks don’t make errors in your favor. You owe that money back.” In response to Burgerhoff’s comments, McGoff said that employees “who accepted the pensions were told that they were eligible.” He defended the six employees, stating, “I believe these people were innocent of any wrong doing,” adding that the investigations would “determine what was appropriate and what wasn’t.”
Meanwhile, the double pension benefits have cost Scranton close to $500,000, and the city’s nonuniform pension fund is expected to be depleted in about 2-1/2 years. Regarding the prevention of any future issues, McGoff said that “hopefully out of this investigation there will be something as far as what safeguards there are and if there is a need for further legislation to ensure that this type of situation does not reoccur.”