Politics & Government

Judge considers request to block Bevin’s changes in Kentucky pension board

Bill Thielen, executive director of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, testified Tuesday that he does not think Gov. Matt Bevin has the authority to revamp the pension board.
Bill Thielen, executive director of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, testified Tuesday that he does not think Gov. Matt Bevin has the authority to revamp the pension board. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

A judge said Tuesday he will rule as soon as possible on a request for a temporary injunction to block changes Gov. Matt Bevin made in the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd held a 4 1/2-hour hearing Tuesday in the lawsuit initiated last month by Thomas Elliott and Mary Helen Peter, members of the former Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees. They claim Bevin did not have the authority to remove board chairman Elliott of Jefferson County from the panel. Elliott had been appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear.

At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Shepherd allowed Attorney General Andy Beshear, the former governor’s son, to intervene in the case on the side of the plaintiffs. Beshear has two other pending court cases in which he is challenging Bevin’s authority to revamp boards and commissions.

Shepherd delayed deciding on whether to allow state Treasurer Allison Ball to intervene in the case. He said her request has not been “fully briefed” by the various attorneys involved.

Ball wants to stop the board members from using $50,000 in legal funding from Kentucky Retirement Systems to sue Bevin. The system that oversees pensions for state workers, county workers and state police faces unfunded liabilities of more than $19 billion.

After issuing an executive order removing Elliott from the board in April, Bevin issued another order order to abolish the 13-member board and re-establish it under new rules with 17 members.

Bevin sent state police to a board meeting to threaten Elliott with arrest if he tried to participate in KRS business with other trustees.

Under Bevin’s change, 11 trustees will be appointed by the governor, including four to newly created positions. The six trustees who are independently elected by public employees and retirees, including Peter, will remain on the board.

The next scheduled meeting of the full board is Sept. 8.

In about three hours of testimony Tuesday on the issue of a temporary injunction, Bill Thielen, executive director of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, said he thought Bevin did not have the constitutional authority to make the changes.

Thielen also voiced concern that some senior managers in the program will retire early instead of being governed by the state Personnel Cabinet as Bevin stipulates if there is no immediate court injunction.

Judge Shepherd asked Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, why Bevin made the changes. Pitt said it did not matter why the governor did it and argued that the law gives the governor the power to make such changes.

Pitt added that the court system would be “getting into deep, deep water” if it focuses on why a governor issues executive orders.

Pitt also noted that a temporary injunction requires the presence of harm to someone. “Where is the harm here?” he asked. “Is the world going to come to an end?”

Beshear disagreed. “Any time you violated the Constitution, it causes irreparable harm,” he said.

Bevin has insisted he has “absolute authority” to disband any of the state's boards and commissions. Along with the retirement systems board, Bevin has wielded his executive powers to reorganize the University of Louisville board, Kentucky Horse Park Commission, the Kentucky Racing Commission and the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

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