Friday, July 30, 2010

Ethics and Pensions

With the scandals that rocked the city of Bell, it's been suggested that we need to look in our own back yard. Anonymous asked if someone wouldn't bring forth the evidence of wrongdoing in our city. I'm not personally privy to anything that would rise to that level where a prosecutor would be interested, but I'm very aware of some things going on that are of very questionable ethics.

The most recent case-in-point was the "gaming" of the system by Councilmember Cristina Carrizosa to significantly increase her retirement once she leaves the city council. While it appears that she did nothing illegal, the ethics of this situation is certainly in question.

But even more importantly to me, is that the problems in Bell have been linked to citizens' not being aware of what was going wrong with their city. Here in Pomona, we have several blogs and some decent reporting that has stanched many of the grevious problems. A few years ago a few members of the city council decided that they should also get paid (separately) for being the redevelopment agency. Citizens found out about it and rose up and stopped it. I'm currently on the city's Charter Review Commission and we are looking at the possibility of creating an ethics oversight commission within the city and strengthening the ethics for the council, commissions, city management, police, candidates for office, and others under the perview of the charter, all to enhance citizen oversight to avoid the problems that Bell ran into.

However, I have an even more basic question. SHOULD PART-TIME COUNCILMEMBERS BE GETTING A PENSION AT ALL? Those in the private sector who work part-time usually don't get any benefits. This is the way that banks, grocery stores, and WalMart have been keeping their costs down for years. By hiring people and limiting their work hours to under 30 per week, they don't pay retirement, medical, and other benefits. Why are we so generous to our city council members?

Public service is not supposed to enrich those who are serving. To suggest that council members are doing such an extraordinary job as part-time employees negates the work of all of the others who work part time at little or no personal benefit (do you hear me unpaid commissioners?). Councilwoman Carrizosa stated that she "earned" the additional pension money. So that means that she worked harder than councilmembers Lantz, Atcheley, Saunders, Rodriquez, Soto, and Mayor Rothman? I undestand that their pension will be based on a $9600/year salary (the mayor twice that) and not what they got from their full-time jobs.

Again, this is not about what is legal, but about what is ETHICAL and FAIR.

I look forward to the comments on this item.


Remember, August 2nd the council will decide whether or not to put replacing Pomona's Police Department on the ballot. I will be out of town and can't attend. I'm fairly sure that the council knows where I stand on this issues as I've spoken on it in the past. If you haven't spoken out, do so!!!


meg said...

Great editorial, John -- thanks for taking the time to post this. You raise a number of meaty questions.

I'm pretty sure that Council knows where I stand on the Po-Po-Po (Pomona po-po) problem, but I'll be there on Monday with my "Git it done" face on.

calwatch said...

I don't know if you can legally exclude council members from a pension, though. At most government jobs, unless the position is truly intermittent (i.e. student worker or non-classified election worker), even part time workers pay (or have paid) a portion of their salary into the appropriate retirement system, in this case, CalPERS. It may even fail some IRS test that all employees must be covered by a retirement system. Therefore, I would expect that competent legal and tax counsel be retained if this proposal should be considered seriously.

Although what Carrizosa did was shady, it is not necessarily unethical if she is just maximizing her benefit under the rules. For example, at my government job, I recently purchased retirement credit calculated on a previous salary, knowing full well that I have a couple of more step increases to go. Prospective retirees at my local government are routinely advised to sell back sick time and to retire before the day that the cost of living adjustment is calculated in order to spike their pension by 4 or 5%.

LinknPark said...

Im voting that it was definitely ethically reprehensible, especially the part where she voluntarily stepped down, and under indirect threat that if she were to get re-elected back to the council during the next election because she was not immediately reappointed by the council to finish out her current term, she would retaliate against the current city council and mayor. The whole thing was a pretty ballsy move to initiate under the watchful eye of the Pomona electorate. Not that many of the Pomona electorate are paying that much attention (as evidenced by numbers at the polls each election cycle).

Regardless of the status-quo in regard to governmental pensions, we should examine the efficacy of continued pension payouts for positions that are supposed to (in theory) be held by responsible citizens who are there to do their civic duty...not "game the system". We need individuals who are interested in doing good for their community...not those who are in it for some pathetic local power grab, and extended compensation for the rest of their lives. Compensating council members for time served in their respective positions, while they hold those positions, is a very different proposition than continuing to pay them in perpetuity because they once served. They are not employees...they are community volunteers.

Ed said...

I'm with LP. In my book, these are volunteer positions with a stipend to cover miscellaneous expenses and not actual employees.

On the Carrizosa issue, it certainly was ethically wrong to retire from for additional pension benefits and then ask to be reappointed. Essentially, she lied about retiring. Furthermore, any member of the Council who voted to reappoint her is complicit in her fraud. It may not rise to an illegal act, but I'm surprised to see anyone argue that fraud isn't unethical.