MOORLACH UPDATE — Split Supervisors — July 11, 2014

The first piece below in the Voice of OC strongly supports why my proposed Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance is so important. After “more than two years of private negotiations,” the public finally gets to see what the Board majority is willing to agree to with the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS). I refused to share any details with the reporter about what was discussed in closed session amongst myself and my colleagues, as I am required to do. Unfortunately, Supervisor Spitzer had no problem revealing deal points that were discussed in closed session. Consequently, I now feel free to share my own observations from these prolonged negotiating sessions. For a good briefing on the deliberations, I would recommend that you reread MOORLACH UPDATE — Another Impasse — April 21, 2014, where I wrote the following:

“Negotiations are done in closed session, which means that we are not to divulge the details. But, allow me the risk of providing a couple of clarifications to the story, as I was not interviewed for this piece. First, I asked the Chair to call a special closed session meeting, which occurred a week ago Friday, in order to clarify one of the components of the counter that was agreed to the previous Tuesday. Everything was clearly spelled out in writing and agreed to by the conclusion of the Friday afternoon session. I thought that the Board had made some significant concessions. Second, the following week Supervisor Spitzer decided that he did not agree with one of the components that he had previously agreed to and requested yet another special closed session. This request was declined by the Chair, as the proposal was thoroughly discussed in the special closed session and other Supervisors had notes reflecting and concurring with the results. The negotiations now move to the impasse phase, which has resulted in agreed to terms and closure in the majority of recent mediations.”

Allow me to elaborate. It is my conclusion that Supervisor Spitzer circumvented the negotiation process and worked independently with AOCDS. I thought the deal points that he proposed were a sincere effort to come to a resolution. I have since come to the conclusion that he was a messenger for AOCDS and was attempting to convince his colleagues into believing that we were countering with an offer that was very magnanimous. I learned rather quickly that Supervisor Spitzer was just usurping the process and being a mouthpiece for AOCDS when he requested another closed session. He had apparently not delivered the specific deal points in the precise manner as he was directed by AOCDS and wanted another closed session to fix his error and satisfy the union. And now I regret having made the vote, because I believe that I was misled by my colleague. This is unfortunate, because the Board was working and coming close to a resolution. We were then surprised at the June 24th Board meeting in our closed session with another attempt to accept a modified version of Supervisor Spitzer’s proposal, which passed but was opposed by myself and Chair Nelson.

I am not necessarily “slamming” this proposal, I’m just staying consistent with the process and the desire for equitability with all of the bargaining units. Those who believe this is slamming may be reacting from their awkward position of cramming down a non-unanimous deal. All the same, here are my concerns with the AOCDS proposal:

1. It adds two new steps to the salary schedule, a thirteenth and a fourteenth. This creates two problems. The first is that it benefits all of those who are at the top of their pay scale (step 12), which represents some 77 percent of the workforce in this union. The second is that the pay increases to these impacted employees would be effective immediately, which is a pay raise, but not implemented until the following year. Initially, it made a mockery of the step system by moving up employees without a job review or proof that their work level even justified an adjustment up the pay scale. The second is that all of the newer members will not receive this pay increase. This is another blatant effort by the union to favor longer term employees and to take advantage of the negotiations at the cost of the newer employees (a common, but very inequitable, negotiating technique).

2. The retiree medical strategy for AOCDS is different than that of the other bargaining units. The County’s assumption of the employees’ portion, the Annual Required Contribution (ARC), assumes that this annual commitment of 3.6 percent will remain flat. That is not the case, as it will most likely continue to increase over time, based on actuarial studies. By the County assuming 2 percent of the cost (more than half), another pay raise, there is a blurring effect that, in future negotiations, could have the County picking up all of the costs. This may subject the taxpayers to an ever-increasing cost that this Board may probably initiate in perpetuity for subsequent Boards. This is not unlike the “3% @ 50” formula, where future Boards are straddled with ongoing and ever increasing costs. The positive side of this unique pay raise is that it is not compensation earnable for pension plan funding purposes.

3. Now the costs of the “3% @ 50” pension enhancement have come home to roost and it must be addressed. Consequently, all employees should at least pick up the employee portion that the employer had previously, and generously, subsidized. In 2001, AOCDS determined that a pension increase, retroactive to the date of hire, was more important than salaries. Therefore, dealing with this growing fiscal tumor will require an impact on wages. Every other bargaining unit has stepped up to the plate. This proposal provides an almost full offset for this maneuver, a point that may not settle well with the other bargaining units in future deliberations.

4. This is not an equitable proposal. One of the main reasons that I even ran for County Supervisor in the first place was because I could see the future impacts of “3% @ 50.” It was easy to see that every County general employee (non-safety) would have to subsidize the salaries and benefits of the deputy sheriffs. Someone has to sacrifice to pay the Sheriff Department’s employees, and it would be the employees of all the other County departments.

5. I’ll save comments about the lack of full disclosure and the current high fund balance level in the AOCDS Medical Trust for another time, as well as discussing the fact that pay raises exasperate the pension system’s unfunded liabilities.

6. The contract cities will have to budget for this proposal. I hope that they have an opportunity to weigh in and provide their counsel before the Board of Supervisors votes on this matter.

The bad news is that I’m not yet convinced that this is an equitable and fair deal. The good news is two-fold. This proposal is close to the Board’s intended goals. Fortunately, I will not have to live with the repercussions of this proposal as I am termed out. I just feel sorry for the rest of the County employees, including my former employees at the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Department, that I could not do more to stop the potential hemorrhaging that they will suffer in the years ahead if this contract is approved.

The two other pieces, in the Orange County Breeze and the Corona Del Mar Today, explain why the County’s flag is at half-mast. I want to give my sympathies to the family of Ben Carlson, the Newport Beach Lifeguard who lost his life while rescuing a distressed swimmer. The County is not able to have the United States and California flags lowered, but we can lower the County’s Orange flags, which will be done until Sunday.

BONUS: As a Supervisor, I make appointments to various Boards and Commissions when openings occur. The Assessment Appeals Board has two possible openings. To learn what a Board and Hearing Officer does, see Cammy.Danciu).

DOUBLE BONUS: We will enjoy an early morning day hike on Saturday, July 26th. The hike will start at Crystal Cove State Park, Moro Canyon Day-Use Area, and conclude at the Crystal Cove Historic District. If you haven’t explored tide pools in a long time, here is an opportunity. We start at 7:30 a.m. Contact Cammy.Danciu if you are interested.

OC Supervisors Split on Sheriff Deputy Pay Package

The Orange County Board of Supervisors. (Nick Gerda / Voice of OC)

By NORBERTO SANTANA JR. Voice of OC

After more than two years of private negotiations between Orange County’s deputy sheriff’s union and county supervisors, a tense split has emerged among supervisors–with allegations of pension spiking–just as they prepare to publicly vote Tuesday on a two-year wage and benefit package.

At issue is whether deputy sheriffs should be offered a salary hike and other concessions to compensate for requiring them to pay more into their pensions. No other employee group that had their contract up this recent negotiations cycle – called the Super Bowl of labor talks – has been granted such an offset.

Given the county’s rising unfunded pension liability – now past the $5 billion mark – supervisors had stated the goal of these negotiations was to have all workers pay their full employee share of the pension. That aim was imposed on managers and most recently, county attorneys – even county supervisors themselves.

Yet there’s a different approach toward public safety.

Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach are both slamming the deal that was ratified by rank and file deputies just before the July 4 holiday, saying it’s as close to a pension spike as they’ve seen because it increases deputy salaries (fueling larger pensions) and shifts responsibility for rising retiree medical costs to the county.

“Picking up the retiree medical is about as close as you can get to a 3 system,” said Moorlach referring to the retirement package that allows deputies to retire at age 50 and accrue 3 percent of pay for each year worked. For many deputies who started work at an early age, the benefit allows them to retire with as much as 90 percent of their pay.

“I don’t’ think this is equitable in the scheme of all the other contracts we’ve approved,” Moorlach said.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Todd Spitzer – a strong supporter of sheriffs’ deputies and a likely future candidate for district attorney – is firing right back at Nelson and Moorlach saying they supported deal points privately but are now blasting the offer in public.

Spitzer said supervisors in March agreed unanimously in closed session with the concept that increased pension responsibilities would be matched with salary hikes, as has been done in other jurisdictions.

“I’m flabbergasted they are not admitting they were supportive of an offset,” Spitzer said.

He argues it’s critical to offer deputy sheriffs a lucrative deal given the preeminent role public safety plays in local government and the possibility that deputies will switch to agencies that pay better.

While Nelson said he recognizes the special role of public safety, “I don’t love them anymore than the rest of my family.”

Nelson said he disagrees with offsetting the requirement of full pension pickups with salary hikes because that wasn’t offered to any other unionized worker.

“It becomes pension spiking to do it this way,” Nelson said. “That was the whole point to not do it this way.”

Sitting silently in the wings are the two deciding votes – Supervisors Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates.

Neither returned a call seeking comment.

Nguyen is locked in a heated State Senate election this November and is reportedly seeking support from the deputy’s union. Bates – who faces a write-in candidate in November for a less competitive Senate seat – has in the past received important campaign support from the deputies union.

Moorlach said the board majority supporting the deal doesn’t appreciate how it will impact future county budgets adding, “I don’t think they understand the fiscal repercussions of what has been approved.”

Under the proposed labor pact, deputies would be granted an across-the-board raise of three percent next year. Senior deputies would be rewarded with supervisors creating two new categories that would allow those already topped out at salary to get a 5.5 percent raise in 2015.

In addition, the county would reduce deputies’ contribution to their retiree medical by one percent and increase payments to the deputies’ medical trust – which pays for current health care coverage administered by the union.

In exchange, the union agreed to have entry-level deputies paid less and have current deputies immediately contribute an additional two percent to their required employee pension payments.

By 2015, deputies would be responsible for paying 100 percent of their employee share for their pension benefit. That would be a significant spike from their current payment of about 5 percent.

Thus, in exchange for an 8.5 percent salary hike, deputies’ take-home pay could drop by an estimated 14-20 percent once higher pension contributions kick in.

That is something that few in law enforcement are doing, said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

“We have spent the last two years trying to negotiate a contract with the very real threat of our members losing thousands of dollars a year out of their paychecks hanging over our heads,” Dominguez said. “While other Orange County law enforcement agencies have agreed to positive contracts that include significant pay increases, our Board of Supervisors demanded from the very beginning that every deputy sheriff and district attorney investigator once again pay 100 percent of their employee retirement contribution. Our members have accepted that fact.

"Unfortunately, picking up 100 percent retirement contribution means our members will be forced to pay between 14 and 20 percent of their salary toward their pension by next July – substantially more than any other police officer in Orange County.”

Spitzer said holding deputies to an unusually high standard on the pension issue could backfire on the County of Orange because many of the best deputies could leave for other places. He and the deputy’s union both point to a $180,000 cost to replace deputies as a real fiscal threat that can impact the general fund in a real way.

Yet Nelson said the current deal doesn’t match fiscal realities and will blow a hole in the county budget.

“I don’t blame the sheriff’s union in any of this,” he said. “I understand their perspective. I’m not mad at them. It’s their job to ask for an offset. I just have financial realities that suggest that’s not available right now. And if it is, I should be consistent with everyone. They’re already treated better than everyone else when it comes to retirement.”

You can reach Norberto Santana Jr. at nsantana and follow him on Twitter: @NorbertoSantana.

Flags lowered in honor of Newport lifeguard

Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson has directed County of Orange flags at each County facility be lowered to half-staff from Thursday, July 10, through Sunday, July 13, to honor the memory of Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson, who died on July 6 while attempting to rescue a distressed swimmer in high surf.

The request for the flags to be lowered was made by Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach, whose district includes Newport Beach.

CORONA DEL MAR TODAY

Lifeguard Memorials Planned for Sunday

Two memorial services will be held Sunday in Newport Beach to honor Ben Carlson, a veteran lifeguard who died Sunday while successfully rescuing a man in heavy surf.

The City of Newport Beach has released information about the memorials, including parking information.

The first memorial will be a paddle out that will begin at 9 a.m. on the east side of the Newport Beach Pier, according to the city’s website. Members of the public who wish to participate should arrive by 8 a.m. because of limited parking, the city website states. Carpooling or bicycling to the event is encouraged. A temporary drop- off zone will be available on 20th Street between Balboa Boulevard and Court Street, the website states.

Participants must provide their own surf or paddle boards, and conditions permitting, the event will be close enough to the end of the pier that non-surfers can gather there to participate, the website states.

The area around the pier will be closed to all recreational vessels from 8 a.m. until the paddle out ends, the website states.

At 6:30 p.m., the Celebration of Life will begin on the beach at Orange Street, and again, early arrival is advised. Parking will be limited, carpooling and bicycling is advised and a designated bicycle parking area will be provided on the beach.

Parking will be available at a designated lot on the Hoag Hospital campus, off West Coast Highway between Superior Avenue and Newport Boulevard, between 4 and 9 p.m. Shuttle service will be provided between the lot and the ceremony location. When that lot fills, overflow parking will be available in the parking structure to the right of the entrance.

City officials advise those attending to remember that the Orange County Fair will be open and could add to traffic delays.

Individuals with special needs, such as handicap access, should contact the Newport Beach Fire Department at 949-644-3106 in advance of the event to arrange for appropriate parking accommodations, according to a news release.

Wahoo’s Fish Tacos will provide refreshments at the paddle out, a news release said, and light refreshments will be provided at the later memorial as well. Casual or aloha attire is requested for members of the public.

A Ben Carlson Scholarship has begun, city officials said, at the request of his family. The Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards Association (NBOLA) is accepting donations, which can be made online or by mail; send donations to the Newport Beach Fire Department, Attn: NBOLA, Ben Carlson Scholarship, P.O. Box 1768, Newport Beach, CA 92658-8915. Checks can be made out to NBOLA and include “Ben Carlson Scholarship Fund” in the memo line. Donations are tax-deductible.

Throughout the city, flags have been lowered to half-staff at municipal buildings as well as at private businesses and homes. Many restaurants and shops have messages of remembrance to Carlson on their marquees, and on Thursday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson directed county flags to be lowered in Carlson’s honor.

“The request for the flags to be lowered was made by Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach, whose district includes Newport Beach,” a county website states.

At the annual Newport Beach Junior Guards hotdog dinner event on Thursday, organizers created a memorial with photos and handwritten notes. The event began with a moment of silence for Carlson, who had been a guards instructor.

Carlson, 32, is the first lifeguard to die in the line of duty in the 100-year history of the program, officials said. He was pulled from the water near 27th Street after an extensive search. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. The man he was trying to save has fully recovered.

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