Yesterday, the ever-declining-in-viable-news Orange County Register reported that shadow politics is alive and well here in the Real OC. If you’ve ever wondered how Tustin City Mayor Chuck Puckett arrives at his decision to
deny appoint a fellow councilman a seat on a meaningful political committee or board (think OCTA), he has help.
Every year in November, representatives of the various city councils meet in conference to decide who will be added to what sitting boards. These boards and committees run everything from water and sewage, to transportation (think OCTA again), to even library boards. In fact, membership on almost any oversight board that is not directly elected by the good citizens of Orange County, is likely to be filled here, (now, try not to laugh) in the murky depths of the shadow government.
And, they’re in trouble.
Apparently, this super-secret cabal met November 13th at the Hilton to see who would sit where. And, it seems the Orange County Board of Supervisors is not happy about certain alleged Brown Act violations and they have called the cities out to rectify the situation. Specifically, the BoS is unhappy with the failure to give proper notification of the meeting, as required by law. The answer, of course, is to rescind all appointments and set a new, properly noticed meeting.
The “City Selection Committee” is actually the responsibility of the Clerk of the Orange County Board. So, one would think the whole thing would be watched closely to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. Unfortunately, as this political body is prone to do, they sluff off the tough jobs to others, providing little or no oversight, assuming it will run itself. And, when things fall apart or as in this case laws are violated, they do their best to blame others.
In this case, the other is the “League of California Cities” which had been coordinating the the meeting for years until Orange County left the LCC for the “more conservative” ACC-OC. You see, whenever the local government doesn’t like the way things are going, they just pick up their ball and go to another sandlot. They apparently don’t think the public cares enough about day-to-day politics to notice. After all, they’ve been getting away with it this long, haven’t they? And, in the case of starting the ACC-OC, they weren’t going to have the rest of California tell Orange County how to run their show.
The apologists at the Register tried to tone down the violations by saying that not everyone in the room was aware of the apparent transgressions. Then Tustin Mayor, Al Murray, reportedly asked if the meeting had been noticed and he received an affirmative answer. Technically speaking they were right. The meeting had been noticed – to the city council and other political bodies. It just hadn’t been notice to the general public, as required by the Brown Act. Methinks Al, being a retired cop and all, should have investigated further.
At stake here is hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipends and benefits. Oh, you didn’t think that just because you all voted stipends for the city council out of existence they still didn’t get perks, did you? Don’t be silly. Of course there is still money to be made – and lots of it. All paid by you and me, the taxpayers of this county.
- Al Murray, OCTA Board of Directors – $5,900 (2013)
- John Nielsen, OC Sanitation District – $4,921 (2013)
- Chuck Puckett, Transporation Cooridor Agency – $4,829 (2013)
I’ve written about this in the past when the (of) late Jerry Amante (who also made a heck of a lot of money in stipends) was mayor.
Of course, there are plenty of non-compensated board positions to be had as well. Otherwise, where would the conservative bastion stick their liberal counterparts and enemies of the (Republican) state? Case in point: Beckie Gomez, who has a somewhat perennial seat on the library board and a few other non-prestigious and unpaid committees. Republicans like John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett are not about to go against the tide and nominate liberal members of the council to paying (and influential) positions. Never mind that Gomez refused to take benefits when offered by the city when Nielsen and his cronies continued to gobble them up.
Of course, this leads us to question our own backroom politics. Prior to attending the November meeting Murray, who was mayor then, had to have some guidance on choosing the right man….er, person… for each board assignment. He certainly didn’t do it in a vacuum. So, where on the list of meetings for the past year, is the one where committee assignments were discussed in public? Going back through the archives, there is no record of a “pre-assignment” meeting. You don’t think our own city council would have violated the Brown act (again), do you? Maybe we’ll put a call in to Chuck or Al and ask them.
As a result of the outing by the OCR, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Susan Novak, told the Register she would be taking over the duties as the committee’s recording secretary. She also said a new meeting would be set up after the holidays to re-appoint members to the various boards. Care to bet who will not be nominated to a paid board position? A hint: she’s a she.
(We erroneously implied that TMEA employees were in negotiations this year. As it turns out, this is just a reopener on scheduling for the yard employees. Sorry for the confusion-ed.) The news is finally out and it isn’t as bad as some thought. Orange County Employees Association, the largest public employee union in the county, has announced the mediator’s proposal and is recommending the employees accept. The union has been in negotiations for nearly two years over wages and benefits.
Last year, the County got serious, making threats against the employees and running a successful campaign to paint rank-and-file workers as living generously on the public dole. Saying that a 2.7 at 55 benefit was unsustainable, county management also attacked the sacred peace officer pillar by forcing deputies into paying their own way on pensions. The hyperbole rose in the latter half of last year.
OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino, finally countered with a website that cracked open the real issues and problems in Orange County – the Supervisors themselves. The website, www.therealocsupervisors.com, shows a video outlining the corruption and pay-for-play policies that have become de rigeuer in county politics. The video also ran on local TV stations in front of thousands of Orange County taxpayers.
Both the website and ad have had an apparent effect on negotiations. Late last year, the county said they would tender their “Last, Best and Final offer”, meaning exactly what it says, to the union. As the deputies and management unions had already either settled or had terms imposed, the county believed they had the upper hand. That, of course, was before Berardino’s campaign. When the county did make their final offer, it sparked some fireworks and a criminal investigation. Union members soundly rejected the county offer. For several weeks there was no communication until the impasse triggered state-mandated mediation.
A few weeks ago, after both sides met with the mediator, it was clear, according to sources, that an amicable agreement would not be reached. Using his authority as a mediator, a recommended resolution was sent to both sides. The Board of Supervisors discussed the proposed agreement and voted in closed session to accept.
Today, Berardino sent an email missive to union employees.
With that in our hearts, last week your OCEA Bargaining Team and the County met with a neutral third-party mediator pursuant to state law in an effort to reach an agreement to prevent the County from imposing its Last, Best and Final Offer. After a day of hearing from both OCEA and the County, the mediator used his authority to issue a “mediator’s proposal,” which includes a 1.25% base salary increase (effective first pay period after adoption) and a one-time 1.25 % lump sum cash payment (effective first pay period in April 2014).
Terms of the agreement also change aspects of the health benefits most employees receive and will result in slightly higher costs for many rank-and-file employees. Employees are now being asked to vote on the proposal this coming week. OCEA has recommended approval.
Most employees in the county have not seen a raise in nearly seven years. The original proposal from the Board was another two years of austerity with no real end in sight. The news of even a small raise has been welcomed by the rank and file. OCEA management is expecting approval with implementation the first week in April.
We have pointed out before that OCEA contracts with the Tustin Municipal Employees Association for negotiations and representation. Perhaps seeing this, Tustin employees will see past the rhetoric of the city council and City Manager Jeff Parker’s office as they negotiate again this year. It is time for Parker to loosen the purse strings and reward the hard work of more than just a few management cronies by offering a reasonable wage increase and stop further erosion of benefits for the rank-and-file.
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.
“You’re here to help us, not embarass us nationally.” That’s the words from Orange County Supervisor, John Moorlach, as he lashed out at the Orange County Grand Jury for their latest missive dinging the Board of Supervisors for massive mis-management of CalOptima. Two scathing reports caused the Fair Political Practices Commission to initiate an ethics investigation into the handling of the organization by the Board.
All I can say is, it’s about time.
I can also say it is shameful the way the Board of Supervisors reacted. Although any reader of Our Town Tustin knows I have little regard for the Orange County Grand Jury, it never surprises me how the, so-called, Republican Leadership continues to deny corruption and, when denial fails them, lashes out at those who speak the truth.
PBS SoCal televised the ranting supervisors in the video above. Each supervisor took a swipe or two at the Grand Jury. But, it was Todd Spitzer, future District Attorney and, presumably the Grand Jury’s boss, who actually had the gall to infer that Orange County has no corruption. News flash, Todd, Orange County is about as corrupt as can be and no amount of denial by you or your corrupt cronies on the Board can allay the belief of the voters here in the Real OC.
Supervisor Janer Ngyuen, saying the report “demoralized” her and her family as well as “the 500 employees who work at CalOptima”, was laughable in her defense of a situation that she clearly manipulated to garner favor wtih her constituency when she was appointed as the Board’s representative to the organization. I have news for her, the 500 employees of CalOptima were probably laughing their collective asses off when they saw this video.
Grand Jury Foreman, Ray Garcia, says he stands by the reports. “The only thing I will say about the corruption thing is, you ought to read the corruption thing. It’s a chronology of four decades of malfeasance, misfeasance and downright crime.” Unlike us, Garcia says he was surprised on the backlash from the ethics commission suggestion. Of course, we’re not.
This video shows one thing: the Orange County Board of Supervisors have shamed themselves, more than any report or investigation possibly could. Instead of whining about this, as Shawn Nelson and poor, little hurt Janet Nguyen did, they should be taking an honest look at themselves and how they have acted during their tenure. From failures to identify and rout out sexually criminal behavior to how they have treated the employees in general of this county, they have led among Republican leaders in this county to hide the truth from the public. And now that they have been called on it, all they can do is scream and yell at the messenger.
The investigation will take a year or more. In truth, I don’t expect much to come of it. Ann Ravel, the chief of the FPPC is a milkweed at best. She has never outed any politician, Republican or Democrat for a substantial infraction and I don’t expect her to do much more than pay lip service to this. It is refreshing to see this out in the open, however. And it is fun to watch the worms squirm.