The old adage that “words have meaning” comes to mind for the first article. As an immigrant, English is not my mother tongue, but since I came to this country at the age of four, you won’t detect a Dutch accent when I speak. My Dutch is minimal and my English is so-so. I took four years of French in junior and senior high school and I know a few words in Spanish—just enough to be useless. One thing fun about languages, is that one may have a word that better describes something than another language does, but you don’t usually find us grabbing a word from one language and inserting it into our daily lingo. There are Dutch words that we use in English, but they evolved a long time ago, like the word “cookie” (“koekje”). Volkswagen tried introducing a German word into the English vocabulary in 1990 with “fahrvergnügen.” It means “driving enjoyment.” It didn’t stick.
When our office prepared for Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Item 31 from the Health Care Agency (HCA) requested the approval of a vendor to provide “Promotora Program Services.” It seemed like a fahrvergnügen moment. Why call it something that would not be easily recognizable by those who are not conversant in Spanish? So I asked. Mark Refowitz of HCA calmly stated that it meant “Community Health Worker” and that it would not be a problem to change the name. I thought that seemed simple and easy enough. Words have meaning. I thought that should have been the end of the discussion. The Voice of OC decided to memorialize what happened next in the Board’s discussion in the first article below.
The Patch news websites have prepared a four-part series on public safety employees and mentioned me in section three. The second piece below shows that my MOORLACH UPDATES can become newsworthy (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Petition Denied — April 14, 2011).
County Supervisors Balk at Use of Spanish Word in Health Promotion
In government and politics, language can be a tricky thing.
Especially when it’s a foreign language in Orange County.
This week, county Supervisor John Moorlach held up more than $1.5 million in funding for a mental health services contract because the nonprofit that administers the service uses a Spanish word, promotora, instead of "health care worker."
"Does it have to be called promotora?" asked Moorlach.
That piqued the interest of Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who wondered aloud why the program uses a Spanish name if it serves a countywide population. Nelson then also questioned why Latino is used in the name of the nonprofit.
Nelson called the name "ridiculous" and added that "unless this agency wants to rename itself, I have no interest in supporting this kind of approach."
Latino Health Access is a nonprofit offering health access programming throughout Orange County’s central core, specializing in reaching populations that health care workers have had problems reaching.
The Promotora program is regarded as a model in health care circles. It recruits trusted and respected members within isolated communities to serve as community health workers or, in Spanish, promotoras.
While Chairman Bill Campbell said he wasn’t focused on language, the word did trigger the interest of Supervisor Pat Bates. She wondered aloud whether her constituents in the canyon areas would be amenable to a program that had Spanish titles.
"I’m not sure people will be willing to come forward," Bates said.
Bates moved to delay in the contract, saying "I’d like to understand it better."
That multicultural twist appeared to put supervisors in an odd mood.
When the next Health Care Agency item came up — a $1-million contract for outreach to the Vietnamese Community — the entire board went silent. There wasn’t even a second to Campbell’s motion to move the item forward.
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.
Government, Police & Fire
The Cost of Public Safety
Police and Firefighter Pensions Threaten Government Solvency
The dilemma: There are no dedicated funds, but agencies are contractually obligated to pay.
Stefani PetersonKristen Salazar
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a four-part series examining the compensation of public safety employees in Orange County. The county Sheriff’s Department and Orange County Fire Authority are hired by many cities to provide police and fire services. Their contracts are consistently some of the costliest items in local budgets, which are being voted on this month by city officials.
As debate swirls over wages and overtime for police and firefighters, a much bigger nightmare looms: pensions.
In the not-too-distant future, public employee pension costs threaten the solvency of government agencies in California and throughout the nation.
And there’s no easy solution. Orange County and other agencies are contractually and legally bound to honor the pension agreements signed long ago with public safety employees. The California Supreme Court this spring shot down an attempt led by O.C. Supervisor John Moorlach to get rid of some generous retirement benefits. The failure has left the county on the hook for what could amount to $5 million in legal bills.
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT PENSIONS
Four years ago, the county–led by Moorlach and his former chief of staff, Mario Mainero—tried to pull back the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s “3 percent at 50” pension plan for sheriff’s deputies.
This is a common formula offered in 37 counties throughout the state by the California Public Employee Retirement System, according to the Peace Officers Research Association of California.
That’s a total of 251 agencies.
Under the plan, at age 50, a sheriff’s deputy can retire and receive 3 percent of his yearly wages for each year he served, according to the Peace Officers Research Association. The 3 percent figure is usually calculated using the highest-paid year’s base pay, or using an average of the three highest-paid years’ base pay, depending on the contract.
So, according to the Peace Officers Research Association of California’s site, a deputy who retires at 50 after 20 years of service would receive 60 percent of his salary from the Public Employee Retirement System every year until he died.
Under some plans, a spouse or other dependent survivor can continue to receive half the payout after the retiree’s death, according to CalPERS literature.
Multiply that by the tens of thousands of California employees with 3-percent-at-50 contracts, and it’s easy to see the cost ballooning out of control.
After Orange County lost its court battle to overturn the formula, Moorlach took to his blog, predicting pension costs would undermine other vital services.
“I’m just back from a tour of the Dayle McIntosh Center for the disabled,” Moorlach wrote. “It is programs like these that will suffer in order for the taxpayers to pay for a 50 percent increase in pension benefits for government employees who paid nothing for them and for which no funds were set aside during their careers…
“Wayne Quint [then-president of the Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s Association] owes the taxpayers of Orange County a big thank you for this incredible awarding of a life-time guaranteed income,” he continued.
Many taxpayer groups are also unhappy with the pensions that public safety workers receive.
“We think they do deserve a good rate of pay, but when they retire at 50 at full pay, that’s not right,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
“That they can get paid $100,000 every year forever is insane,” said O.C. Supervisor Shawn Nelson.
The top tier of deputies in the OCSD receive 3 percent of their highest-paid year in the calculation of their retirement, whereas a lower-tiered employee gets 3 percent of the average of his or her three highest-paid years, which works out to a lower figure.
The Orange County Fire Authority renegotiated some of its contracts late last year and this year to increase the employee pay-in for its retirement system, but pensions still pose a looming burden.
OCFA Spokesman Kris Concepcion said he and his colleagues also have a 3-percent-at-50 pension plan. Contrary to popular assumption, overtime is not included in the salary calculation, he said.
In other words, a hypothetical firefighter’s 3 percent would be calculated using his or her $80,000 base salary, not the $120,000 total salary that includes overtime.
Concepcion countered characterizations that most employees retire with 90 percent of their salaries at 50. Though it’s mathematically possible for rank-and-file firefighters to retire at 50 with most of their salary in pension payouts, it seldom happens that way.
Employees don’t tend to start at 20 and work at the same place for 30 years anymore, he said.
Concepcion said the several unions who organize OCFA employees have agreed to concessions over the last seven months—addressed in Part 4 of this series—that will save the authority tens of millions in pension costs. In part, firefighters will be stepping up retirement contributions to 9 percent.
County Supervisor Nelson said all employees should pay in half the cost of their pensions and there should be a cap on how big a pension could be, although he doesn’t know the “right number.”
Nelson said at OCFA, the cost of a typical pension is 60 percent of an employee’s base salary.
So, if someone makes $100,000, that’s a $60,000-per-year pension, independent of how much overtime that employee took during his or her career.
— San Clemente Patch Editor Adam Townsend contributed to this article
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
On the June 5th ballot, there were two school bond measures. When I was Treasurer, I would grade school bonds to improve the stewardship of the issuers. If you met my stewardship criteria, you received an “A” grade. It was usually a good idea for the District to get an “A” grade, as this “Editorial Update” in the Sunday Commentary section of the OC Register pointed out. Two observations, LBUSD came in early and tried to structure its bond measure in order to attain an “A” grade, while HBCSD did not and felt that the Board of Trustees would be an adequate oversight body.
Last Tuesday’s results in two bond elections showed that voters may have based their decisions partly on the soundness of the proposals.
Laguna Beach Unified School District’s $25 million bond, passing with 80 percent of the vote, received an “A” grade from O.C. Treasurer-Tax Collector John Moorlach.
Huntington Beach City School District’s $25 million bond, failing with 62 percent (67 percent was needed to win), received a “B” grade, specifically getting a “D” for not having an adequate oversight committee.
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