Wood steps down as chair of Macon pension board, Schlesinger calls for attorney Lovett’s firing

Accusations and conspiracy theories flew throughout a chaotic 2½ hour meeting of the Macon Fire & Police Employees Retirement System on Thursday, with Chairman Lynn Wood’s announced resignation and board member Larry Schlesinger’s demand that Bob Lovett, the board’s hired attorney, quit or be fired.

Wood, whose eligibility to serve on the board has been legally questioned by Mayor Robert Reichert, sent a letter to fellow board members Thursday to announce that he’s stepping down as chairman but intends to remain as citizen-at-large member of the board.

Wood’s eligibility has been questioned because he lives outside city limits, a possible violation of board rules; but he said his resignation as chairman stemmed from a recent increase in his professional workload. He is a vice president at SunTrust Investment Services.

Wood left partway through Thursday’s meeting, but stayed for several votes, which Schlesinger said should be considered “null and void” due to his questioned status.

“We’re not going to go there,” said Macon Police Lt. Andrea Grinstead, the board vice-chair. She presided Thursday; other members agreed to leave Grinstead in charge, and elect a new vice-chair at the next meeting.

Schlesinger said at the Aug. 16 pension board meeting, he opposed Lovett’s recommendation of Atlanta actuarial firm BenAssist without a formal bid. He also accused Lovett of “borderline unethical” conduct in planning to tell an Atlanta auditing firm details of a Macon firm’s bid before the Atlanta firm submitted its offer.

After the Aug. 16 meeting, Lovett bumped him hard in the hallway, then when Schlesinger asked for an apology, Lovett jabbed his finger at Schlesinger and accused him of “not playing ball with him.”

“Mr. Lovett’s physically aggressive behavior towards me -- a client of his own firm -- was undoubtedly inappropriate, unquestionably unprofessional, and more akin to the conduct of a playground bully than of the fine, upstanding attorney that he purports to be,” Schlesinger said.

The board took no action on Schlesinger’s demand.

“I’m sure there are two sides to this,” Grinstead said. It wasn’t the board’s problem because it happened after adjournment and there were no other witnesses, she said. If Schlesinger wants to pursue it, he should make a report an assault to police, Grinstead said.

Lovett ignored Schlesinger’s statement during Thursday’s meeting, but afterward denied the allegation, said he would not resign and accused Schlesinger of pursuing a political vendetta. Schlesinger said he has to consider whether to do anything further.

Grinstead worked to keep the meeting organized and moving, but had to repeatedly gavel for order. Much of the drama came from former board member Charlie Bishop, who delivered several belligerent, arm-waving speeches; but other board members sometimes joined the fray.

Board member Jimmy Hartley moved to hire Long & Associates of Alpharetta as the fund’s new auditor. Lovett said the firm supplied a standard rate sheet, but not a specific price for that work.

That omission brought a vehement diatribe from board member Frank Tompkins, who demanded to see a detailed bid in writing before approval. Hartley’s motion failed in a 2-2 tie, with Tompkins and Schlesinger voting no, and Wood abstaining.

In the debate on hiring a new fund actuary -- again, BenAssist -- Schlesinger blamed Lovett for not getting sufficient bid information. But the proposal to hire BenAssist for $19,000 to do an actuarial evaluation of the fund, and pay $200 to $300 per hour for any other work, passed 3-2. Schlesinger and Tompkins, both city council members, voted no. Wood left immediately after casting the tie-breaking vote.

“I am going to wave a red flag here,” Schlesinger said, actually waving a red T-shirt over his head. “The red flag I am waving is that this pension board is spending much more money than it has at any time in the past.”

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the fire and police pension fund spent $432,215.19 on outside services, including investment management, consultants, lawyers and actuarial expenses, according to city Finance Department figures. That’s more than $150,000 above such spending during the previous fiscal year, Schlesinger said.

“God only knows what that figure is going to be this year. I anticipate that it will climb,” he said. Schlesinger said much of that spending may be unnecessary, and the money should be going to retirees instead.

The Telegraph cited that figure Wednesday in an article about an ordinance requiring any outside spending above $20,000 to get city council approval. Bishop accused The Telegraph of making up those figures. He also disputed the definition of “outside” expenses until Grinstead called him down.

“Please, Mr. Bishop, please,” she said.

The Telegraph requested a breakdown of spending on outside services for both the police and fire and the general employees’ pension fund when the issue first came up in council. It was provided by interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker via mayoral spokesman Chris Floore.

To contact Telegraph writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.