PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - More fingers are being pointed as Singing River Health System's pension crisis continues. Jackson County Supervisors are now under fire for allegedly knowing that the hospital system was terminating the underfunded pension plan and hiding the information from their constituents.
Communication Director Richard Lucas has confirmed that two Jackson County supervisors were in a meeting with Singing River Health System officials on November 20th when it was decided the pension plan would be terminated. Pensions were frozen on November 29th. CEO Kevin Holland then sent a letter to county supervisors a week later explaining the pension termination.
Some folks said it bothers them to hear that supervisors possibly knew that the health system had terminated the plan and kept quiet about it.
"It is unfortunate. What has happened is real and foremost the lives of our citizens that is being affected they should be first," one Jackson County resident said.
Back in 2009, the health system stopped contributing to the pension for employees and retirees and never communicated the change. Last month, the board of trustees voted to terminate the benefit plan.
"Of course, through a conversation with Mike Mangum, he had mention that he and one other supervisor was in on part of the meeting with the trustee board, but all the details of that had not been worked out," Supervisor Melton Harris said.
Supervisor Harris was not at the meeting, but said a week later CEO Kevin Holland sent out an email to all the supervisors explaining that the plan was going to be terminated.
"We may have read it that Sunday night or Monday morning explaining it. The email also pointed out that was a confidential, and that they were the one to explain the content of the text or email with their employees."
We asked why supervisors didn't say anything after reading the letter.
"That was not the responsibility of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to direct the hospital employees to inform them of the task that the hospital should be informing them of."
Harris also points that town hall meetings were held that same week by the hospital that explained the new benefit changes.
Despite how bad this situation looks, Harris is hoping that the retirees and employees won't lose trust in the supervisors.
"We are not on any team to conceal anything. We believe in complete transparency with all this information. I want the retirees to know we are very concerned about what possibly could happen to them. We want the employees to know that we want the very best for them."
WLOX also reached out to Troy Ross who was also the meeting last month, and said he has nothing to hide.
"Based on information this board had, the understanding was that the Board of Trustees for the hospital had voted to freeze the plan, meaning no deductions will be taken from employees' checks, but retirees would continue to receive their checks. It is our job as a board of supervisors to step back and make sure this whole problem is methodically investigate and a good solid plan is put in place to make sure SRHS is on solid footing for many years. We also have an obligation to learn who, if anyone, could have prevented this and make sure they face the consequences," said Ross.
Supervisor Mike Mangum was also at the meeting and echoes Ross's sentiment.
"They had several plans and what I thought they would have to tweak some things before a final decision was made," said Mangum. "I thought the plan was frozen and retirees were still going to get their checks and they would be holding public hearings, and when everything was finished they would terminate the plan. We really feel for the employees and retirees. We are focused on how to stop it [pension problems] from happening again."