When Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough appointed Thayer Evans to the city’s police pension board, figure skater Tonya Harding immediately came to mind.
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In 1994, Harding earned notoriety when ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hired a hit man to injure skater Nancy Kerrigan at the Olympic trials.
We’re not suggesting Evans plans to whack anyone in the knee with a pipe. We do, however, argue that Yarbrough’s appointment of Evans could do for the police pension board what the Harding-Kerrigan intrigue did for figure skating — make people tune in.
Before the Harding-Kerrigan scandal, there were few things that could make figure skating interesting, to most people anyway. When the story of the pipe hitting the knee hit the news, however, the sport gained a whole new audience and that bump in popularity lasted through the 1990s.
And perhaps that’s what the pension board needs — an audience.
The police pension issue isn’t sexy, but it’s serious. The board to which Evans was appointed has been negotiating with the city for years about how to reform the struggling pension fund. The fund has $29 million in unfunded liabilities and a 47-year payoff period, which state regulators consider to be too long.
In a nutshell, Galveston, like other cities, could be staring down millions of dollars in future pension payments it can’t afford if solutions remain elusive.
Evans, who works for a sports agency, will join six other trustees on the board, four of whom are in law enforcement. The other two members are appointed by the city council and by city management. Yarbrough’s appointment didn’t go over well with the Galveston Municipal Police Association, the union representing police officers.
Evans, by some accounts, is “abrasive” and “belittling” and certainly didn’t win any popularity contests during his time on the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, the governing board of the city’s tourism arm.
Even then, some observers were questioning why Yarbrough put so much stock in Evans, known for unabashed comments and what people on the receiving end have called wild accusations.
Evans was usually the lone no vote on the park board. One of his most famous and oft-repeated statements came about during a discussion about the Galveston Island Beach Patrol, which is managed by the park board. The patrol’s main responsibility is preventing drownings. Evans wanted the patrol to provide services without incurring more expenses.
Fair enough, but he said — out loud — “I’d love to save everyone, but it’s not realistic.”
Diplomacy isn’t Evans’ specialty.
In the case of the pension board, Yarbrough has said his motives are simple and straightforward — he wanted to “shake things up” and he wanted someone known for aggressive tactics to do the job.
“We can’t keep this system,” Yarbrough said. “I’m looking for someone who’s not afraid to voice their opinion. I think Thayer will be a good voice.”
For his part, Evans said he’s suited for the pension board and promised to look out for taxpayers.
“The current system is broken,” he told The Daily News earlier this month. “It must be drastically overhauled. We have to fix the system for the police officers, retirees and taxpayers.”
We can’t argue with that. All parties can agree that something has to change. And this is a topic to which all stakeholders should be paying attention.
The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal changed public perception of figure skating and actually became a boon for what was then a niche sport with a small following.
Police pension board meetings have been heated in the past, but, like figure skating, have always played to a small, niche audience.
Evans might be a questionable choice for the board, but it’s unlikely the meetings will ever be dull. Perhaps, people will actually tune in to an issue that Galveston can no longer afford to ignore.
• Laura Elder