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Retirement system denies ex-teacher’s claim for 2nd time

by Michael R. Wickline | April 3, 2012 at 4:14 a.m.

— For the second time in the past three years, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System on Monday denied a former Greenbrier Junior High School teacher’s claim for about a year’s worth of additional retirement benefits.

In a 13-1 vote, the trustees approved a recommendation by administrative hearing officer Ann P. Faitz that they reject Annette Marie Hodge’s claim for these benefits.

System attorney Laura Gilson said the extra benefits sought by Hodge would total about $40,000.

Gilson told the trustees that Hodge alleges that she retired at the age of 66 rather than when she was 65 based on “incorrect information” from the system’s staff.

In 2009, the trustees agreed with the initial decision by system Executive Director George Hopkins that Hodge isn’t entitled to an extra year of retirement benefits, Gilson said.

Hodge appealed the trustees’ decision in Faulkner County Circuit Court, but a judge sent the case back to the trustees after Hodge “wished to introduce an extra piece of evidence into the record,” Gilson said.

The new evidence consisted of a single-page computer printout of historical data related to Hodge’s retirement account, her deferred retirement plan balance and certain annuity projections dated Feb. 10, 2005, Faitz said in a written recommendation to the trustees. Faitz said the document included some handwritten notes from Carolyn Harlan, who was a system retirement counselor at the time.

Gilson said the new evidence “had absolutely no effect on the outcome of this case at all” when Faitz considered the case for the system.

Attorney William Brazil of Conway, representing Hodge, said Hodge told a system retirement counselor that she wanted to draw her full retirement benefits and full Social Security benefits and keep on teaching when she became 65 in 2006, and the counselor told her that she couldn’t do that.

Based on that information from counselor, Hodge continued to work, started getting Social Security benefits and didn’t apply for retirement benefits, Brazil said.

But he said Hodge later found out in 2007 that the counselor’s information was “absolutely wrong and that she could have in fact drawn her Social Security, her full retirement and kept on working.

“All we want to do ... is to pay this lady the year that she was entitled to had she had gotten the correct information,” Brazil said.

Hodge said she visited with several system retirement counselors over several years and they gave her the same information.

Gilson said Faitz determined that Hodge asked to retire at the age of 66 and asked a retirement counselor for projections to be made for her retirement at the age of 66.

“It was only in retrospect that Miss Hodge decided, ‘Oh, I could have retired at 65, and gotten more money,’ did the calculations and is now back here asking for that,” she said.

In other business, the trustees approved four new investments totaling up to $135 million in private equity and real estate funds.

They approved private equity investments of up to $35 million in the Riverside Fund V managed by Boston-based Riverside Partners LLC, Court Square Capital Partners III, managed by New York-based Court Square Capital Management, and TPG Credit Strategies Fund II, managed by TPG Credit Management of Minneapolis, Minn.

The trustees also approved a real estate investment of up to $30 million in Rockwood Capital Real Estate Partners Fund IX, managed by Rockwood Capital of White Plains, N.Y.

The trustees learned in a preliminary report from investment consultant Hewitt Ennis Knupp of Chicago that the system’s investments were valued at $11.55 billion as of the end of February. The system’s investment return for the first eight months of the fiscal year is 0.6 percent, reflecting investment gains made since losses in the first quarter, according to the report from Hewitt Ennis Knupp.

They also approved emergency rules to allow members exiting the deferred retirement plan to place all or part of their plan proceeds into a cash balance account at the system. The system would pay interest rates of between 2 percent and 4 percent on the cash balance accounts based upon how long a member leaves money in his account at the system.

Arkansas, Pages 10 on 04/03/2012

Print Headline: Retirement system denies ex-teacher’s claim for 2nd time

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