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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Follow-ups on beards, Condon’s pension plan

Today I’ve got follow-ups on two recent columns – one about the mayor and city pensions, and one about magnificent facial hair.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about beards, hipster beardos and the notion of a “bearded lifestyle.” I poked some fun at the over-the-top seriousness of the modern beard trend, and in particular about the marketing hype that emerges from a company formed in Spokane, Beardbrand.

A few “urban beardsmen” objected. Some of them invited, even challenged, me to do more research into the “bearded lifestyle,” a proposition to which I say: No, thank you.

But somewhere along the way, some bearded readers and this bearded writer found something we could all get behind – something actually worth a challenge: Helping the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.

The Spokane Beard and Mustache Club is gathering gifts for a “Tree of Sharing” for the nursery, which provides shelter and support for families in crisis. The nursery is the club’s charity of choice this year; it raised more than $6,000 for the nursery with a beard show earlier this year. Members of the club are now buying gifts to help cross items off the nursery’s wish list and bringing them to the club’s next meeting.

What if people – bearded or otherwise – loaded up the club’s “tree” with gifts?

I say we try it. I picked up a couple of tags to contribute. It ain’t any huge deal, this tree – trees of sharing are everywhere this time of year, among the most visible of our holiday charity traditions, one small organization at a time. But it’s one of those not-so-huge deals that add up to a huge deal – the small expressions of generosity that help to make us a stronger community.

So, your challenge, should you agree to accept it, is to help the Spokane Beard and Mustache Club help the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. Among the items still needed for the tree are pots and pans, a vacuum, an air purifier, a radio with CD player, a Cozy Coupe car and a portable sensory table. They could also use anything related to arts and crafts, gift cards, stuffed animals – even cleaning supplies.

If you can help with any of those items, wrap them up and take them to the club’s next meeting, Dec. 18 at No-Li Brewery. Or contact the club via its Facebook page for other arrangements. Or go to the nursery’s website and check out its wish list: http://www.vanessa behan.org/giving- opportunities/wish-list/.

Or get them to me, here at the paper – my number and e-mail address are below – and I’ll make sure the club gets them.

The club’s president, Eric Worley, also said anyone is welcome to come to a club meeting.

“We don’t discriminate against anybody,” he said. “Everybody’s welcome – facial hair or not.”

Pension plan response

I wrote last week about Mayor David Condon’s first three years in office, a column that outlined generally positive accomplishments by this administration.

One of these accomplishments, which Condon raised during an interview and which he has brought up in other contexts, had to do with a renegotiated agreement involving the pension system for city employees. The deal raised contributions by both the city and employees, and scaled back benefits, in a package that helped stabilize the city’s pension funding over the long term. In particular, Condon said his team pressed for changes in benefits to go along with the increased contributions.

City Councilman Jon Snyder wrote to me to respond to the column. Snyder has been the City Council representative on the Spokane Employee Retirement System board for five years. He said he credits Condon with a number of achievements, but “This is not one of them.”

He continues: “This was a group effort instigated by the Spokane Employee Retirement System Board and negotiated by the mayor’s staff and the unions. The Mayor came into office with a public declaration that he wanted to dismantle the City pension program and move to a defined contribution program.

“After two and a half years, many staff hours, and thousands of dollars the Mayor spent running various actuarial scenarios he came to the same conclusion the SERS board did: contributions on both sides needed to increase in order to hit funding targets. I would submit that the unions were ready to make this change, along with the tweaks to the system, over two years ago – and if the Mayor had been ready as well we could have improved the system and we would have had the benefit of the system more fully participating in the two years worth of up markets.

“I appreciate many things the Mayor has done. However in this case the Mayor was headed into a bad policy direction: ending our pension program which along with financial and legal consequences would have had a long-term negative impact on our ability to retain quality employees and to support our City retirees.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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