Saino a Watchdog for Memphis

Joe Saino
Joe Saino

Retired businessman Joe Saino looked out at the members of the Midtown Republican Club Tuesday and spoke about his experiences tracking the workings of city government. At 80 years old, Saino does not sit back, retire and dismiss the future. He is engaged.

After selling his successful business, Saino used his skills in the business world examine our poorly functioning local government; its finances and rules. What he found out was “when you get people together and act together you can get something done.”

Saino, who defines himself as a Constitutionalist and a conservative, first took a look at the City Council pension resolutions in 2001 and saw trouble. What they wanted to do was to allow anyone in city worker with 12 years in the system to get full retirement. He saw it as “disastrous.” The argument was that it would help Memphis retain good people didn’t turn out that way.

Saino fought it and “the City Council rescinded it, but only for new people. We took them to court and won locally, but not at the appellate court.” Even so, Saino said “what we got out of it was term limits,” a very good thing.

It also spurred him to take a look at other facts and figures, such as incomes for some city officials. “I wrote to City Hall,” he said, “was promised I’d get the information, but nothing happened.” He was advised that he could file suit per se, meaning as an individual. “I have filed six suits in Chancery Court and won five of them. You can get something done when you’re determined and don’t just take their answers,” he said.

As an example of the waste he finds, Saino noted that city workers get 66 sick days a year. “It means you need more people. The private business average is 33.” In a city where people and their incomes are leaving, this is a cost we cannot afford.

Lately he has continued looking at pensions, in particular those of the county vs. those of city employees. “The county is in good shape,” he said. “The city has $1.3 billion in unfunded liabilities. It’s a train wreck happening. All the city pays is annual cost, not unfunded liabilities.”

Saino says Mayor Wharton has finally come around to attempting to address this problem. “Wharton is being forced by the state. We’ve got to do something about pensions and do something about the combined contribution plan for new and non vested employees.” However, he sees union opposition to this and it hangs on getting 7 votes from the City Council. And, “the problem with this is that this would involve social security costing the city 6.2% and the employee 6.2%.”

Saino suggests “a hybrid social security plan…the City of Memphis would promise a defined benefit plan that matches social security. The city and the employee would each contribute 6.2% of base salary initially in the pension fund. This money would be invested with the pension fund but would be tracked separately.

“The city would offer a 457 plan matching up to half of the employees’ annual contribution to the 457 plan up to a maximum of 3% city contribution. Over time, assuming the average rate of return that has been experienced over hte last 25 years, the return should reduce the city’s and the employees 6.2% contribution to a low level. This pension plan would put the private sector employee on a level playing field with the public sector employee.”

His website,, lays out more of his plans and ideas.

“I don’t know whether they (the City Council) can get 7 votes. The best thing we have going for us is the specter of Detroit and Justin Wilson (Republican Tennessee State Comptroller of the Treasury) looking over their shoulders.”

Saino also had some advice for the GOP. “Don’t be distracted by the war on women. People want to hear about jobs and health care. 2014 is a critical year, both here in Memphis and especially nationally. We have to win to save the republic. I hope we can cooperate on making an impact locally and nationally.”

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