Knowing when to fold 'em Gary should end fruitless legal battle over '89 pension bill.

June 12, 1996

JOHN G. GARY may want to wage the legal battle over the Anne Arundel County pension system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it's time to stage a strategic retreat.

The county executive made his political point that the pensions were grossly generous and that a number of former elected and appointed county officials acted in a blatantly self-interested fashion with little regard for the taxpayers of Anne Arundel.

U.S. District Court Judge Andre Davis decisively ruled against the county in its efforts to roll back pension benefits for 93 elected and appointed officials. In his ruling last week, Judge Davis said a number of Mr. Gary's reforms don't pass constitutional and legal muster. He ruled that the contractual aspect of the pension system enacted in 1989 was valid and cannot be changed retroactively, even though payment of excessive retirement benefits will be costly to the county for years to come.

Mr. Gary said the county is prepared to argue before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that flawed information given to the County Council concerning the pension legislation was grievous enough to require its repeal.

Mr. Gary contends that officials who stood to benefit from the generous provisions grossly underestimated the ultimate costs to the county. As a result, the council was misled and enacted a law based on self-serving information.

This line of argument is a weak foundation on which to base a case. Unless the council violated its own rules, the county charter or the Maryland Constitution, no court will substitute its judgment for that of elected officials. If the council members neglected to challenge the information given them, the courts are not about to get involved. It is almost certain that this appeal will fall flat.

The protracted legal battle over the pension bill has sidetracked efforts to correct the pension system. Reforms designed to slow the growth of benefits, reduce the taxpayers' burden and ensure the long-term financial health of this system are absolutely necessary.

They should take effect sooner rather than later. Instead of trying to rescue a flawed piece of legislation, Mr. Gary and the County Council need to focus on honing pension reform bills that will withstand judicial scrutiny.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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