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Detroit Public Workers Sue Consultant Over Pension Problems

Downtown DetroitDetroit is probably the most obvious and unfortunate example of a once-great American city fallen to ruin — in many more ways than one. To add one more financial issue to the pile, city workers and retirees are now blaming what is perhaps an unlikely suspect.

Many people don’t think about where city trustees get their financial advice, but there is usually an unseen entity calculating risk, weighing financial options, and advising trustees as to what will be the best course of action. These are called actuaries, and Detroit’s is the one catching the blow back for the city’s latest financial gaffe.

According to The New York Times, city workers and retirees blame Gabriel Roeder Smith and Company, an actuarial consultant that advises on public pensions for hundreds of clients across the country, for its financial woes. Detroit has worked with Gabriel Roeder since the city started offering pensions in 1923.

One of the effects of Detroit’s bankruptcy is that the pension fund is short and has led to cuts in pensions. In response, a few workers and retirees have taken steps to actually sue Gabriel Roeder. One of the estimated 35,000 workers, retiree Coletta Estes, claims that the consulting firm hid a growing problem with the pension fund and offered poor spending advisement to trustees, which led them to spend money that they didn’t have.

According to Estes, who worked for the city’s water department for 20 years, the firm knew about the issue “in concert with the plan of trustees to further their self-interest.”

Estes is not the only one who blames Gabriel Roeder for the shortfall; members of the city’s police and fire departments have also brought lawsuits against the firm.

Gabriel Roeder says that the lawsuits “are factually, legally and procedurally infirm and reflect a gross misunderstanding of the nature of actuarial services.”

This isn’t the first time that Detroit has been in hot water over their handling of public pensions. According to The New York Times, just last year it was uncovered that the city had overpaid billions of additional pension benefits, much more than the city could afford, and much more than was necessary. The pension problem in Detroit escalates the issue of already financially burdened Americans and retirees — about 25% of Americans believe that they will have to work until the age of 80 to be able to retire comfortably. Many retirees dependent on pensions to help them manage in retirement, which is problematic when the city slashes them.

What does this mean for the recipients of the overpayments? For Estes, at least, she must pay back $25,000 to the city when she reaches the age of retirement.

Detroit isn’t the only bankrupt city, but for others the financial fallout doesn’t always amount to a pension problem. According to The Los Angeles Times, Stockton, California, has filed for bankruptcy but has been able to formulate a way out of it — while keeping public pensions intact.

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