Not much has been happening lately in our town Tustin. The hallowed halls of the city were originally scheduled to be dark for the next few weeks. That is, until the city council, who cancelled a regular meeting for July and then rescheduled for tonight, July 24, 2013. The only items on the agenda are the awarding of a contract for a storm drainage project and a closed item session (which we would bet is the real pressing issue) to discuss negotiations for real property that looks to be on the MCAS. We’ll have to see if they can manage to get the video up after the meeting. They had a bit of trouble (again) for the last meeting and we are not sure if it ever did get posted.
It doesn’t take a video to determine the level of corruption and inept governing by this bunch however. One simply has to look around at the obvious cronyism and corruption that is considered “good government” by our conservative city council.
One item on the last agenda was the acceptance of the contract for the last of the city employee unions, Tustin Municipal Employees Association. As we have told you before, management of the association is actually contracted to the Orange County Employees Association, a public employee union that handles the contract affairs for about 17,000 city, county and special district employees in the county.
Among the provisions of the TMEA contract is one that should send shivers up the spines of any rank-and-file worker. As part of the deal, the TMEA has agreed to pay the full employee cost of pensions. That in itself is long overdue and we agree that it is about time all employees, including management and executives, pay their fair share of pension costs as determined by their respective pension plans (in this case, CalPers).
What is scary is that city negotiators have managed to eke out another provision that will eventually go into effect. This is a requirement by employees to pay a portion of the employer’s cost of pensions. The initial three percent does not sound like much but it opens the door pension critics have long awaited. If three percent today, then how much next year? Fortunately for the city’s employees, they will get a breather next year as their contract is for two years.
What makes this situation worse is the blatant disregard for employees the city council had when they not only gave Chief Scott Jordan a raise last year, ostensibly to keep him here, but also another five percent raise as a going away present on the eve of his departure from the city employment ranks. Then, they turned around and cried pending insolvency if the employees didn’t rolll over on their pension demands. The contract, by the way, was narrowly approved indicating that nearly half the employees were not happy with the provisions.
Nick Berardino, General Manager of OCEA, recently published a guest article in the Orange County Register:
On July 6 the Orange County Register published a story highlighting excessive pension benefits for public employees, this time focused on executives and managers in the “$100K pension club.”
Ultimately, that story, helps to explain why we continue to be bombarded with stories about this issue, even after Governor Brown has signed into law sweeping pension reforms and after public employees across the state have agreed to significant additional reforms.
What continues to be missed is a consequence of the fact that some politicians understand the public employee pension issue resonates with the public. So, in order to keep the issue in the forefront, those politicians have an interest in creating doomsday scenarios and making the cost of pensions to taxpayers as high as possible.
And I believer that is what is happening at the Orange County Employees Retirement System, or OCERS, which administers pension benefits for the County, the Fire Authority and many cities and special districts [not Tustin, who is administered by CalPers-ed.] in Orange County.
Over the past year the OCERS trustees – some of whom actively bash pensions in public and belong to aggressively anti-public employee organizations – have taken one action after another to artificially drive up the cost of pension benefits.
This isn’t about “facing reality” or “not kicking the can down the road” or “inter-generational equity.” It’s about furthering a radical political agenda. And the sickest part of the scheme?
They are funding it with your taxpayer dollars and it’s you who are paying for it. You should also know some legitimate facts that are repeatedly left out of the news stories and editorials.
First, county employees represented by the Orange County Employees Association pay 100 percent of their pension costs and they pay the entire cost to the county of the 2004 improvement to a 2.7 percent at 55 year old formula.
Second, county employees do not receive Social Security benefits. Third, the average pension for OCEA member retirees is $33,000 per year. That’s a long way from the “$100,000Club” referenced in the Register’s story.
Nick, a good friend of ours, goes on to point out the fact that it is employees, not the politicians, who have been at the forefront of pension reform. Some of those reforms at the county level have included being the first employee organization to require 100 percent contributions for pensions as well as developing (despite what the politicians may say) the first hybrid plan that includes a lesser defined benefit combined with a 401(k) style component to allow for lower cost and better management of employee benefits.
What politicians are now doing, to fortify their “sky is falling” fiction, is to artificially manipulate pension numbers to make it appear as if their is a crisis when their isn’t. For example, OCERS just recently lowered the Assumption Rate, the expected rate of return on investment for the fund, by a quarter percent from 7.5 to 7.25. This, even though the market is recoverning nicely and the fund has been posting record returns for the past several years with no indication it will falter. This not only raises the employee’s pension costs by another 6.5 percent in the next two years, it also costs the taxpayer in the form of employer paid costs mandated by law. So, who is the real loser?
Tustin, as a member of CalPers, has also benefited from record gains made in their pension system. In a recent press release, CalPers stated a return on investment for the past year of 12.5 percent on an Assumption Rate of 7.5 percent. Tustin City Council and their corrupt city manager, Jeff Parker, knew this as they were negotiating the new contract. Lamenting their supposed fiscal woes at the negotiation table, the employees apparently bought it hook, line and sinker.
Like many public employees, city of Tustin workers have mostly gone without raises over the past few years due, mostly, to the economy. I say most of them, because the Tustin City Council and City Manager Jeff Parker have managed to reward executives and senior managers, all unrepresented, with lucrative raises by manipulating the system to their benefit. In the so-called open government of Tustin, managers have been given new titles and old positions eliminated, supposedly with the eye toward saving the city money. In reality, we suspect many of these so-called new titles are simply ways to reward long term senior employees while hiding the truth from a gullible rank-and-file. The only question at this point is whether the Tustin City Council is complicit or being sold a bill of goods by a conniving city management team.
Applications for Tustin City Planning Commissioner are due Tuesday, September 25, 2012. The opening is to fill the unexpired term left by the resignation of Chuck Puckett who left the commission to run for city council. The term ends in March, 2012 and may be renewed at the pleasure of the council. Compesation is $150 per regular meeting of the commission and they typically meet twice a month or less.
So far, according to the City Clerk’s office, there are two pending applications. She declined to give us names until the applications close and the names have been checked for eligibility. We should have that information later this week.
Planning Commissioner is a high profile position whose authority extends to hearing issues of planning and some zoning. They are the first stop for any business asking to build or remodel. According to the Tustin website:
The Planning Commission’s primary responsibilities include:
Preparing and making recommendations to the City Council on the City’s Comprehensive Plan regarding development;
- Considering and making recommendations to the City Council on zoning map and zoning ordinance changes;
- Reviewing and making recommendations to the City Council on subdivisions, on appeals on variances and use permits; and
- Considering other policies and programs affecting development and land use in Tustin for final City Council action.
The Planning Commission is also a springboard for anyone wishing to eventually run for City Council as they work closely with the city staff and the city council on items that directly affect the city plan. As mentioned before, Chuck Puckett is a former planning commissioner as are many of our fomer councilmembers. Face it, it looks good on the resume′.
Time is running out. If you are considering an application to the Tustin Planning Commission, you can find it here. And, although they have a “fact sheet” for the Planning Commission here, it is sadly lacking in the details of what the commission does. You can find better information on that here.
(Updated 08/20/12 9:00 pm) The Tustin City Council race is off to a good start. Five candidates have filed for three seats. Councilmember Jerry Amante is termed out and Councilmember Deborah Gavello has chosen not to run for a second term. Mayor John Nielsen is running for a second term, probably so he can fulfill his latest campaign promise. The California Secretary of State, Deborah Bowen, has made the random draw of the alphabet that determines where candidates names will be on the ballot. The random alphabet draw was passed by the legislature in 1975 due to the bias caused by alphabetical and incumbent-first ballots.
In ballot order, the candidates running for Tustin City Council are:
- David Waldram
- Tracy Worley Hagen
- Allan Bernstein
- Chuck Puckett
- John Nielsen
As we said, John Nielsen is the only incumbent running and has a built-in lead by his incumbency that should make up for his last-place placement on the ballot. He has also, occasionally, stood up to Amante and voted his conscience. While those are rare times, we hope that if he is re-elected, Amante’s influence will wane (we can always hope). He is well endorsed by a broad spectrum of the community. John lists as his priorities, public safety, taxes, and traffic. He doesn’t appear to think of transparency in government as a priority. But that is understandable, given his track record.
Chuck Puckettis an alumni of the Tustin City Council and has previously served as mayor. During the elections of 1994, Puckett was mired
in a scandal involving city credit cards and lingerie shows. As far as we can see, there was little truth to any of it but, it made for a good story around the campfire. It is probable there was enough credibility in the story at the time to cause him to lose the election. Chuck appears to be an affable guy who some believe will speak his own mind when necessary. In any case, he has a leg up as a former councilmember and mayor. He has remained active in the community and has held positions on the Tustin Community Foundation Board and recently as the Chairman of the Tustin Planning Commission. Unlike Nielsen, Chuck lists, among other things, transparency in government as a priority saying, “Our city government and financial decisions must be transparent.” That’s a plus for us.
Allan Bernstein, well what can you say about Allan? Anyone? Anyone at all? He has no political experience. He has no community involvement that we have seen other than when he appeared as a judge for the Annual Chili Cookoff alongside… can you guess? Jerry Amante. In fact, Allan is a good friend of Jerry’s apparently, and lives in his neighborhood. But, until Hizzoner began showing him around political circles, few had heard of him. His campaign manager has had the good sense to host fundraisers for Allan at both the Wilcox House and that bastion of republicanism in Old Town, Quinn’s Old Town Grill. Bernstein bills himself as a “physician” as he is a podiatrist. My chiropractor also calls herself a physician.
It is Bernstein’s initial attempts to deceive the public as to his community service that has us most concerned. At the chili cookoff, he was reported to be wearing a pin with the Tustin City Seal and the word, “Candidate” on it. If the average citizen saw this, they might think Bernstein already sits on the council or works in some capacity for the city. Add to this Bernstein’s Facebook profile picture (also shown above) that shows him on the dais in the Tustin City Council Chambers, sitting at a council seat with the Tustin City Seal above his head. Again, he deceives anyone looking at his page (it is open to the public, by the way) into thinking that he is a sitting councilmember already. If this is the type of tactics Amante has endorsed for Bernstein, he needs to take another look at campaign laws. Bernstein has a web address reserved but, alas, no website as of yet. The big question: Will Jerry push his beloved dog aside and let Allan ride with him in the Tiller Days parade?
Like John Nielsen, candidate David Waldram is an Eagle Scout and very proud of his work with the Boy Scouts. He previously ran for city council in 2010 and was narrowly defeated by Beckie Gomez. David recently held his kickoff fundraiser at his home with a BBQ and bouncehouse for the kids. He is a sometimes teacher at Tustin High School and a small business owner. Waldram is also a lifelong resident of Tustin having attended local schools and Chapman University. Although he has a website, it does not appear to be fully functional yet. The best bet for information is his Facebook page. Waldram and Tracy Hagen are having a fundraiser on August 30th at the Loveland residence. More information is available on his Facebook page.
The final candidate is veteran councilmember, Tracy Worley Hagen whom we recently wrote about. Tracy won a seat on the council in a contentious race in 1994. She has been Mayor of Tustin 4 times. We would like to say she is coming back into politics but it seems she has never really left. She was at the forefront of an effort to bring civility back to the dais when a hit piece on David Waldram was discussed at a city council meeting. Along with her 12 previous years on the council, Tracy has held seats on the boards of OCFA, Transportation Corridor Agencies, and the OC Sanitation District. Her community service includes, past-president of the Foothill Boys Volleyball Team Boosters and she sits as current president for the Tustin Ranch Homeowners Association III. Tracy is also an active member of the Assistance League of Tustin.
Tracy was instrumental in securing the old Tustin Marine Corp Air Station, when it closed, in a no cost transfer of the base to the city. After a slow start in development (through no one’s fault except the economy), the area promises to breath new life into our town. Tracy has both a website (of the blog sort which we like) and a Facebook page that has plenty of information on her background. Hopefully, she will get her platform up somewhere soon. We do know, in casual conversations with her, she puts transparency of government and civility to citizens and each other on the dais as high priorities along with fiscal prudence and a government that serves the people.
As we have said, this is shaping up to be one heck of a race. All odds are even at the starting gate. As they round the first turn, we will be there to let you know how things are going.