Audubon Park demands retirees repay more than $200,000 in pensio - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Audubon Park demands retirees repay more than $200,000 in pension benefits

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Carl Reesor Carl Reesor
Dorn Crawford Dorn Crawford
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After 30 years as a police officer for the small city of Audubon Park, Carl Reesor retired just before Christmas in 2011 with a $5,028 monthly pension from the city.

That is, until February – when the city not only stopped paying Reesor, but demanded in a letter that he return all the retirement payments – a total $131,373 -- he had received the previous two years.

“I couldn't believe it; I had given this place my whole adult life, with the promise of a pension,” Reesor said in an interview Tuesday.

In fact, Audubon Park claims it's made more than $213,000 in invalid retirement payments since 2009 to Reesor, another former police officer and a former city clerk.

Now the city – a subdivision of about 600 houses off Preston Highway – is trying force the three former employees to repay the money.

Audubon Park sued former police officer Dale Vittitoe on Dec. 8, demanding he repay the $74,858 he received in monthly checks since his 2009 retirement.

Meanwhile, Reesor and former city clerk Stephanie Lee-Williams sued the city in April shortly after getting letters saying their payments had been stopped. In a counter-suit, Aububon Park demanded that Reesor repay the $131,373 and that Lee-Williams, who retired in 2013, repay $6,884.

At issue, according to Jefferson Circuit Court records, is a retirement plan the Audubon Park city council adopted in 2009 under former Mayor Michael Scalise, which obligated the city to pay workers with as little as ten years of consecutive employment a percentage of their final compensation for 2 to 10 years following their retirement.

The size and duration of the payouts depended on the employee's years of service. Employees with more than 20 years, such as Reesor, were entitled to 60 percent of their "last full year of wages" for 10 years.

But Dorn Crawford, the city's current mayor, says Audubon Park had no legal authority to promise those benefits. The employees made no contributions to the so-called plan while working for the city, and the council never budgeted for the pension payments, Crawford said.

“These are just streams of money paid to them without any legal basis,” Crawford said in an interview Tuesday.

Pension plans typically require employees to pay a percentage of their compensation into a fund, which is invested to provide for benefits years later. Local governments throughout Kentucky, for example, pay into the County Employees Retirement System, which is administered by the Kentucky Retirement Systems.

Beneficiaries then draw their pensions from the plan, not from the city or county that employed them.

But regardless of the structure, Audubon Park made a legally binding promise to the employees, said attorney Thomas Clay, who filed suit on behalf of Reesor and Lee-Williams.

“It looks as if..the mayor thinks he can treat former employees any way he wants to without regards to the contractual obligations that were entered into by his predecessor,” Clay said.

Crawford acknowledged the situation was “unfortunate, to be sure” for the former employees, but he said they aren't completely blameless in the city's decision to dole out the benefits.

“These are people who were involved during their entire tenure in the administration of the city and in the development of its programs and in the administration of its business,” he said.

Reesor became an Audubon Park police officer in 1984, ascending to chief of the small department in 1987 until his retirement at the end of 2011; Lee-Williams worked for the city just over ten years beginning in 2003, according to their lawsuit.

Reesor's retirement payout suggests he was making about $100,000 annually when he retired. Reesor said his regular salary was actually about $76,000, but the pension payout was based on his total compensation reported on his previous form W-2, including a deal he reached with the city not use all his paid time off in exchange for a payment and supplemental pay.

The pension was to be based on the "last full year of wages reported on the employee W-2," according to a copy of the agreement filed in court. 

Vittitoe retired in 2009 after 15 years with Audubon Park, according to a memo from then-Chief Reesor filed with Aububon Park's lawsuit.

WDRB could find contact information for Vittitoe, who now lives in Sevierville, Tenn., according to the lawsuit. 

But in a letter he wrote to the city on March 23, Vittitoe said he was “shocked” to receive Crawford's demand that he repay the nearly $75,000 he had received. 

“I served the City of Audubon for over fifteen and a-half years (sic), 24 hours a day and 7 days a week,” he wrote. “I earned my retirement and expect the City of Audubon Park to live up to their obligation.”

A call to a listed number for Scalise at his home went unreturned Tuesday.

Audubon Park, where about 1,500 people live, is among about 80 Jefferson County municipalities that exist independent of Louisville Metro government.

Audubon Park has been trying to clean up its finances following a special examination by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen last year that noted “weaknesses in policies and procedures that promote accountability (and) sound fiscal management.”

Scalise resigned as mayor Oct. 21, 2013, just after Edelen's examination was released. 

The city has a $737,120 annual budget.

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