MOORLACH UPDATE — Chutzpah — November 15, 2015

The Free Dictionary, available online, provides the definition of this word:

chutz·pah

(also hutz·pah) (KHo͝ot′spə, ho͝ot′-) n. Utter nerve; effrontery: "has the chutzpah to claim a lock on God and morality" (New YorkTimes).

Some have this interpretation for chutzpah: a person who kills his parents and pleads for the court’s mercy on the ground of being an orphan.

The author of the OC Register editorial submission below was a strident proponent and advocate for "3% @ 50" for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. I was there at the time, I can name names, and Tom Dominguez has been involved in this fiscal nightmare from inception.

To have him lament about individuals who complain about unsustainable defined benefit pension plans is tragic comedy at its finest.

I’ve already explained about my pension plan involvement several times in past UPDATES.

Here’s a recap of where I stand on public employee pensions:

1. Pension benefits must be sustainable and funded.
2. Pension benefits should not be given retroactively.
3. Pension benefit negotiations should be done in full view of the public, with public oversight and approval.
4. Properly structured, pension benefits are meant to be a part of a meaningful employment package, not to be a perk that’s inflated and abused through closed door negotiations.

Interestingly, the head of the OC Deputy Sheriff’s union is directly opposed to me on each of these core beliefs and has acted to create a pension system that is opposite of these fundamental rules.

Instead of addressing the huge unfunded liability that has become the pension system, union leaders have resorted to delivering personal attacks using half-truths and omitting essential information.

But, what this leader of this public safety union doesn’t tell you are the following:

* Police departments and county sheriff’s departments have been downsizing because of the pension costs.

* New recruits are bitter about the pension, because it makes them the first target of any future layoffs (in public employee union life, the last one hired is the first to be laid off).

* Most pure public safety careerists did not go into this field because of the pension, but for a love of the industry.

* Most honest public safety officials, current and past, will tell you that moving from "2% @ 50" to "3% @ 50," retroactive to the date of hire, was a major fiscal mistake.

* The cost of the unfunded actuarial accrued liability for AOCDS is probably around $1.7 billion. That puts the author in the Citron category in the scope of fiscal calamity to the County of Orange.

* The successful negotiation of the "3% @ 50" benefit with the then Orange County Board of Supervisors was so stealth, reporters were unaware of the coup for months.

Chutzpah. How dare this beneficiary of "3% @ 50" even dare to criticize someone in a similar system? Especially when he, too, is a future recipient of lavish retirement benefits?

I get being a union leader, but really? I don’t see anyone in the private sector defending lavish public employee pension plans. I see them suffering from the lack of other adequate governmental services and the threats of tax increases (pothole tax, et al).

Find me someone with at least a little credibility that says it’s perfectly fine to increase a defined benefit pension formula half way through the game without finding an immediate funding source for the newly created liability.

"The pot calling the kettle black" is getting very wearisome. Instead of the diversionary tactics, why not buck up to the bargaining table and right a wrong?

Officials don’t put money where mouths are on pensions

By TOM DOMINGUEZ / Contributing writer

Some of the loudest critics of the county of Orange’s pension system stand to benefit the most.

Fourth District Supervisor Shawn Nelson stumped his way to a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 2010 by railing against the county’s pension system and its unfunded liabilities.

Then he immediately signed up for the most generous pension plan the county offered.

That move triggered reciprocity with the city of Fullerton, where Nelson served as a councilman, which could potentially boost his pension even more – by as much as 13 times. Instead of being based on an annual salary of $10,919, his 7 1/2 years on the Fullerton council would be calculated at his county supervisor salary – $147,168 plus $13,680 in other pay.

Critics howled hypocrisy. Nelson sent a letter to OCERS on Aug. 26, 2010, explaining he didn’t want a county pension.

Opting out of OCERS two months after being sworn in as county supervisor galvanized Nelson as a champion for pension reform and the taxpayer. Free of the public pension stigma, Nelson preached about the evils of government corruption on his reelection campaign website.

“We can’t afford an out-of-control pension system, and we can’t afford the back-room deals with special interests,” Nelson wrote.

Critics screamed hypocrisy again in February 2014 following revelations that Nelson was zipping around the county in a taxpayer-funded Prius while also collecting a pensionable $9,180 annual county car allowance.

Nelson reasoned he is sacrificing income by serving on the Board of Supervisors, so such perks should be taken in perspective. Also, he noted, he declined a county pension.

“My bonus (as a lawyer) was almost double what my current salary is,” Nelson told the Register. “It’s all part of the big picture. I’m hardly getting away with something here.”

Or so we were led to believe. The few months Nelson spent as a member of OCERS, combined with Measure B, a voter-approved “pension reform” initiative authored by Nelson, conveniently created a loophole to allow Nelson to renege on his 2010 request to be removed from OCERS and force county taxpayers to back pay for his pension – with interest – to the tune of $247,625.

Supervisor Pat Bates remained true to her promise not to accept a pension. Nelson’s current colleagues on the board were forced into the lower pension plan. But Nelson hung on the “2.7%@55” plan for his first term.

Then-county Treasurer John Moorlach vigorously opposed the 2.7%@55 enhancement for county employees. It was an anti-pension platform that handed him victory in his 2006 county supervisor race. Despite his vocal opposition, Moorlach also took the enhanced pension benefit. He could have declined a pension when he was re-elected in 2010, but he signed up for the benefit again.

Moorlach began drawing a taxpayer-funded county pension worth $83,820 a year earlier this year – and, combined with his salary in the state Senate, earned the dubious distinction of one of Sacramento’s profitable double-dippers.

Nelson boasts on his campaign website that his time is spent “demanding accountability and standing up for taxpayers.”

He will “scrutinize every county department and function for cost savings, transparency and effectiveness. That is my promise to you.”

We think Nelson’s scrutiny should start with a long, hard look in the mirror.

Tom Dominguez is president, Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

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This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.

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