WVEA challenges 'flawed' PEIA meetings

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 1, 2009

CHARLESTON - A state teacher's union wants a state agency's decision denying retirement benefits to new state employees overturned based in the agency failing to conduct an open meeting.

The West Virginia Education Association, and its president Dale Lee, filed suit against the state Public Employees' Insurance Agency, and its Finance Board. In their complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on Sept. 18, WVEA and Lee allege the Board conducted a meeting in violation of the state Open Governmental Proceedings Act.

According to court records, the Board, which consists of the Secretary of Administration and eight members appointed by the governor, voted on May 14 to end retirement benefits for state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2010. The vote occurred despite the proposal not being included on Board's agenda.

On June 4, the Board voted again on the proposal, but only to reconsider the motion to put the proposal before the Board. Because the original vote was not rescinded, WVEA and Lee called the "after-the-fact hearings" the Board subsequently held as "a sham."

Eventually, the Board met again on July 30 to vote on eliminating new hire benefits. The vote was the same except the date was effective date was changed to July 1, 2010.

In addition to the open meetings law, WVEA and Lee allege the Board's "preordained" decision may have violated other provisions of the state code.

According to their suit, the board is mandated to develop annual financial plans to fund PEIA beneficiaries for a period not to exceed five years. Making decisions 30 years in the future is something WVEA and Lee maintain the Board "has no authority and business taking."

Because the entire process the Board conducted on the new hire benefits proposal was "fatally flawed," WVEA and Lee are asking the court to declare those meetings unlawful. As a result, they are asking the court to prohibit PEIA from implementing the Board's decision.

Bradley J. Pyles, with the Logan law firm of Pyles and Turner, represents WVEA and Lee.

The case is assigned to Judge Jennifer Bailey.

Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 09-C-1747

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