Members of the Police and Fire Pension Board were amazed and surprised to hear something you rarely hear from government officials.
The discussion was between the board and a city government lawyer, Jan. 21.
Board members were told that employees of the JEA were not city employees and, therefore, retired police officers and firefighters could be employed there.
But, board members said, for years you told us they were city employees.
Then came the magic words from the city’s lawyer: “It was a mistake.”
The previous legal opinion came at a time when the city was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — and forcing the board to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars — trying to prevent the former director of the pension fund from getting his pension.
Both city officials and the media had lambasted John Keane, the former director, for years as his struggle to collect his pension droned on. He was portrayed as greedy, sneaky and unethical as everyone acted upon the general counsel’s erroneous advice.
The crux of their argument was that Keane was a city employee and therefore not entitled to the pension because the charter prohibits city employees from retiring and then going back to work for the city.
Like the JEA, the pension board is an independent authority of the city.
The general counsel’s office now says employees of the independent authorities are not city employees. It had booted the question to an outside counsel, which found likewise, and changed its position afterward.
It wasn’t quite the admission of error that it seemed. In the interim, the city changed its general counsel. So, the error was laid at the former counsel’s feet, in effect.
Still, for government officials to admit error is not an everyday occurrence.
One board member wondered aloud whether the pension fund should try to recoup the nearly half-million dollars it spent as a result of the general counsel’s mistake.
It was also suggested that Mayor Lenny Curry might have influenced the conclusion of the first opinion. We would ask Curry about that if he deigned to speak to Eye on Jacksonville. But he doesn’t.