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Legislature Releases Revised Akers Age Waiver, Pension Cap and All…

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill officially enters the Akers age waiver chat. (WMP&I)

On Monday, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Service reported out the age waiver to allow Springfield Police Superintendent Lawrence Akers to serve until age 70. As WMP&I reported last week, the Committee redrafted the home rule petition, which the Springfield City Council and Mayor Domenic Sarno had forwarded in February. The Committee’s changes essentially reverse those the city had made.

In February, Akers appeared before the Council for a suite of bills related to pending superintendency. The top cop-to-be, who later took office in April, was floored to discover the home rule petition age waiver would also cap his pension at what he would receive were he to retire at 65. This was consistent with a longstanding policy of Beacon Hill and the state regulator of government retirement systems.

Since 1987, Massachusetts has required that all police, fire, and correctional employees retire at 65. The legislature routinely approves waivers to age 70. However, in recent years, those waivers almost always freeze the employee’s pension calculation at what they would receive at age 65.

Earlier this month, the Joint Committee sent its redraft of Akers’s age waiver to the House Clerk’s office for a new bill number. The Committee had said that the redraft was to bring the bill into line with the practice of capping pensions for public safety employees seeking age waivers.

Lawrence Akers

Déjà vu, superintendent? Well, at least it looks like he can stay on the job…if he wants to. (WMP&I)

Redrafted, renumbered and now favorably reported, it has moved to the House Policy & Steering Committee. This is likely the last stop before the House floor. Once the House passes it, it will go to the Senate and then the governor for her signature.

Akers had previously declined to comment on changes to the legislation until they became law.

On balance, this situation can seem like a narrow, even banal issue. Moreover, Springfield has been the nexus of far more episodic public employee pension stories. High pensions some state officials received prompted a reform a decade ago. Public outrage over sweetheart deals jeopardize the stability of rank and file workers’ pensions.

Yet, the Akers situation does not fit neatly into this history. In public comments, he made clear that his own retirement loomed before he was offered the job. Certainly, Akers had no obligation to defer that without some benefit to himself. Some of that would come from a much higher salary. Yet, it would be reasonable and fair for him to think his pension would increase, too.

When Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila highlighted this language in the home rule petition, it clearly surprised Akers. Perhaps the then-deputy chief should have looked at the legislation more carefully. However, Mayor Sarno may have aggravated the situation when he purported to have fixed it.

In the moment the fix fit the alleged goal of his broader legislative package. Sarno encountered resistance to gutting the Police Commission’s powers. Yet, the mayor’s demand that Akers be similarly situated to outgoing Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood raised few objections.

Despite reporting that the Public Employment Retirement Administration Commission and legislature routinely cap pensions, the mayor left the impression that removing the language would correct the situation. Reading from a letter the Springfield Retirement Board’s executive director sent, the mayor offered a legally true statement about new language, namely its omission of a pension cap. However, his statement neglected the political reality that Beacon Hill was unlikely to ever let it happen.

Akers Home Rule

The original home rule petition the Council passed on February 20 at left. The version without the cap which the Council and mayor sent the legislature, passed on February 27, is at right. (via Springfield City Hall)

The revised language is virtually identical to the home rule petition that never left 36 Court Street in February.

Akers Home rule

The highlighted portion is nearly identical to the language Springfield declined to send to Beacon Hill. (via

The City Council had approved the original version with the pension cap on February 20. Ostensibly, the mayor, whose approval was necessary, axed it before it could go to Beacon Hill. Instead, he sent the Council a new version without the cap. This passed on February 27. The mayor approved it shortly thereafter. State Rep Bud Williams introduced it in the House on March 14.

A WMP&I estimate based on public records shows his annual retirement benefit could be as much as $47,000 lower than if the law allowed him to use his years after age 65 and he served for three years. He should still have a substantial pension, perhaps as much as $133,000 annually, depending whether anti-spiking provisions apply.

A six-figure benefit would rarely engender public sympathy. Still, whether the fruit of neglect or sloppiness on the part of the mayor’s office, Akers never had all of the information to which he was entitled before accepting the position.

Now superintendent and his retirement plans postponed, leaving at or before his 65th birthday may be impractical. However, he now has little incentive to remain Pearl Street’s leader for very long, let alone until he hits his revised mandatory retirement age of 70.

Other than for Akers, the fallout could be minimal. It could, however, complicate the city’s ability to attract talent for top positions if candidates are unsure the mayor’s representations are accurate.