Sonoma and Marin county officials voted to hike their own retirement pay
For Immediate Release
April 29, 2016
California Policy Center
Contact: Will Swaim
Retroactive pension bump likely violated multiple state transparency and accounting laws
Sacramento — County supervisors members and other senior county officials in Marin and Sonoma may have violated state law when voting for massive retroactive pension increases for themselves and other government employees, according to John Moore’s analysis published by the California Policy Center.
The retirement pay hikes were available to all county employees, and retroactive to the employee’s date of hire.
In both counties, officials paid outside attorneys to assert state laws were not mandatory.
The apparent violations were initially discovered by the county’s respective civil grand juries following citizen complaints. The Marin grand jury report documented 38 violations of the government code.
Section 7507 of the California Government Code is supposed to ensure that the public knows how tax dollars are spent and that spending increases do not violate constitutional debt limits. Under 7507, before increasing pension benefits, officials are required to:
- Secure the services of an enrolled actuary to determine the future annual cost of an increase in order to ensure they are aware of the cost and that the spending does not require voter approval; and
- Provide the public with the information at a noticed board meeting so taxpayers know how their money is being spent and can respond to the proposed increase.
In both counties, staff could identify no documents indicating that supervisors relied on actuarial calculations of future annual costs, and were therefore unable to meet the public-disclosure requirements.
Ken Churchill, who filed the grand jury complaint in Sonoma County, said, “Since 2000, our pension costs have grown about 500%, while our unfunded pension liabilities and pension bond debt have grown about 900%. Now we have no money to maintain our roads and basic infrastructure.”
Marin County resident David Brown filed a lawsuit in Marin. Brown said, “I believe that our county government should comply with the law and am simply asking that a judge determine if laws were violated – and if so, what the appropriate remedy should be.”
Retroactive pension increases erupted in other California counties with their own pension systems, including: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mendocino, Merced, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus and Ventura.
Grand juries in those counties along with taxpayer groups can investigate how the increases were enacted in their county to ensure they complied with the law.
Contacts for additional information:
Marin County Citizens for Sustainable Pensions