The impact of transparency

More great examples this week of the importance of transparency in government, all made possible as a result of California’s Public Records Act.

The Press-Enterprise continued their outstanding investigative reporting by following up on our finding that a Riverside utilities dispatcher tripled his salary to nearly $400,000 due to overtime.

In Riverside officials knew since 2015 about soaring overtime that exceeded some utility workers’ regular paythe paper dug deeper into the underlying issues, revealing that the practice caused at least some stuff to raise alarm bells years in advance of our report, which unfortunately went unheeded. A slice:

The utility’s large overtime tab in the electric operations division grew steadily beginning around 2012, but it became noticeable in 2015.

In June that year, the emails show that one dispatcher sent colleagues an email with the subject line, “Overtime and REST TIME in DANGER,” in which he proposed they all make suggestions on how to trim overtime costs before management did it for them.

One employee responded: “We have a contract. They have to honor it. … Don’t think stuff up for them.”

In March 2016, Electric Field Manager Ron Cox wrote to Utilities Principal Analyst Shelly Almgren to explain why the electric division had exceeded its overtime budget three months before the end of the fiscal year.

Read the full article here.

In other news, our CalPERS 2016 release received quite comprehensive coverage, as shown below:

Thanks to the tireless Jack Dean and his Pension Tsunami website for compiling the above!

All of this reporting then led to a fantastic Santa Cruz Sentinel editorial, California taxpayers pay high cost for public employee pensionswhich observed that:

… something is out of whack in our state, where government pensions, benefits and salaries are far beyond what most working people in the private sector could ever hope for.

A keen observation. While defenders of public pay extol their high pay as a virtue that others should seek to replicate, it is neither fair nor sustainable when that high pay comes at the expense of those earning much less.

If you value the work of Transparent California, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!

CalPERS paid out over $20 billion in benefits last year as ‘100K club’ grows to nearly 23,000, new data shows

Today, TransparentCalifornia.com — the state’s largest public pay and pension database — released 2016 pension data from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The data reveal that CalPERS made 646,843 individual payments totaling over $20 billion last year, with 22,826 retirees earning pensions of over $100,000 — a 63 percent increase since 2012.

The top 3 CalPERS pensions went to:

  1. Former Solano County administrator Michael Johnson: $390,485.
  2. Former Los Angeles County Sanitation District GM Stephen Maguin: $345,417.
  3. Former UCLA professor Joaquin Fuster: $345,180.

The average pension for a full-career CalPERS retiree was $66,400.

The below chart reflects the 25 employers with the most retirees collecting at least $100,000 in pension from CalPERS last year were:

Employer

$100K Pensions

Santa Clara County

861

Oakland

523

Riverside County

469

Long Beach

360

Santa Ana

270

Anaheim

269

Santa Clara

240

Torrance

222

Riverside

216

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District

216

Santa Monica

191

Glendale

189

Sacramento

167

Berkeley

162

Metropolitan Water District Of Southern California

159

Stockton

157

Sunnyvale

156

Fremont

155

Burbank

154

Pasadena

149

Hayward

147

Richmond

141

Newport Beach

141

San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District

133

Alameda County Fire Department

126

With the recent addition of CalPERS data, TransparentCalifornia.com now has over 1.1 million pension records from 33 California public pension plans.

Statewide, at least 52,963 retirees collected pensions of at least $100,000 last year, according to the data.

The continual rise in pension costs demonstrates the importance of making this information public, according to Transparent California research director Robert Fellner.

“Californians will spend over $30 billion on pension costs in the coming year, a price tag which entitles them to full transparency regarding how that money is being spent.”

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

LADWP: The information we told you was correct is “extremely misleading and incomplete.”

In response to our earlier press release on the publication of the LADWP’s pension data, the LADWP issued the following statement (condensed to the relevant claims, you can find their full release here):

A press release issued by the Nevada Policy Research Center (aka Transparent CA) today includes extremely misleading and incomplete information about an LADWP retiree that is used to attract interest in the story and is falsely represented as indicative of the LADWP retirement system.  The information about an Engineering Associate omits key information…

[Transparent California] cites the [$363,000 annual] retirement payment of an Engineering Associate who was 87 years old when she retired, having made contributions to the Plan for over 47 years.  Her pension amount was calculated by annuitizing the balance in her account over her life expectancy.

The first thing to note is that the LADWP does not dispute a single factual claim in our release. They acknowledge that a retired engineering associate receives a $363,000 annual pension, as we stated. They are correct that it should have come with some note indicating its unusual nature, particularly as it appears hers is the only case out of the over 7,000 retirees that this applies to.

Yet, the LADWP did not include any such note in the data provided to us. Furthermore, we asked for clarification prior to publication, as shown below:

From: Robert Fellner [mailto:records@transparentcalifornia.com]
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2017 12:48 PM
To: Mendez, Veronica C.
Subject: Re: Nevenka Ubavich CPRA R17-16

Hi Veronica,

For Nevenka Ubavich, there is a $363,000 annual pension amount report[ed], which is much too high to be the regular, annual amount — as it would be 300% of final salary!

Is it okay if I add a note indicating that it likely includes a one-time payout of some sort?

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Robert Fellner
Research Director, Transparent California
7130 Placid St. Las Vegas, NV 89119
Phone: 702.222.0642 F: 702.227.0927
E-Mail: Records@TransparentCalifornia.com

From: Mendez, Veronica C.
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2017 2:50 PM
To: ‘Robert Fellner’
Subject: RE: Nevenka Ubavich CPRA R17-16

Please don’t. It is not a one-time payout. The information is correct.

The entirety of the LADWP’s response to a request for clarifying or contextual information about this pension payout was that we should not add a note as “the information is correct.”

It is thus particularly ironic that the LADWP today declares the reporting of this “correct” information as “extremely misleading and incomplete,” given that the LADWP was given the opportunity to provide the necessary contextual information, but refused to do so.

Absent this isolated case, the LADWP did not dispute a single claim in our release. If we ignore the case of Ubavich’s $363,000 pension, the next highest pension was nearly $357,000. The average pension and benefits package for a full-career retiree remains at nearly $85,000 and the cost to ratepayers was still a staggering 50 percent of payroll last year.

Given these facts, it is understandable that the LADWP would prefer to deflect attention elsewhere.

To view the entire dataset, please click here.

DWP trio cleared over $1 million in pension pay, new data shows

Today, TransparentCalifornia.com released 2016 pension payout data from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) — the nation’s largest municipal utility district.

Today’s release is the first time that this information has ever been made available to the public, which was provided to Transparent California in response to multiple records requests spanning nearly 3 years.

With an aggregate cost equal to 50 percent of employee pay, the DWP retirement plan is one of the most expensive nationwide — with this year’s annual cost estimated at $465 million, according to the plan’s most recent actuarial valuation.

In other words, for every $100 in payroll, the DWP must spend an additional $50 on retirement costs.

Transparent California research director Robert Fellner highlighted the compounding effect this has in conjunction with salary increases:

“An exceptionally generous — and expensive — retirement plan means that the DWP’s famously above-market salaries end up costing ratepayers twice.”

Factoring in retirement costs boosted average employee compensation at the DWP to roughly $170,000 last year.

Engineering associate’s $363,000 pension tops list

Former DWP electrical engineering associate Nevenka Ubavich’s $363,061 annual pension was the largest of any DWP retiree and the 3rd largest of the over 500,000 public pension payouts surveyed statewide. After Ubavich, the next four largest DWP pensions went to:

  1. Former general manager Ronald Deaton: $356,806.
  2. Former assistant general manager Frank Salas: $336,432.
  3. Former assistant general manager Thomas Hokinson: $239,885.
  4. Former assistant general manager Gerald Gewe: $231,348

The average pension for a full-career DWP retiree was $72,643.

In addition to receiving fully-paid medical benefits while working, most DWP workers also receive healthcare benefits in retirement. When those costs are included, the average pension and benefits package for a full-career DWP retiree was $84,811.

Former DWP audio-visual technician Thatcus Richard — who was recently sentenced to five years in state prison after pleading no contest to nine felony counts of embezzlement — received $67,688 in pension and health benefits last year, according to the data.

DWP salaries, benefits well above market average

“While it is not uncommon for California public workers to receive dramatically richer retirement benefits than the taxpayers who must fund them, DWP workers are unique because every component of their compensation is so far above their private sector peers.”

In a previous analysis, Fellner found that the average DWP worker received wages 67 percent greater than their comparable, Los Angeles-area peers.

This gap increased to 155 percent after accounting for the DWP’s atypically generous health and retirement benefits. Of course, DWP employees also receive significantly greater levels of job security and favorable overtime pay provisions that would increase this disparity further.

The study estimated that the DWP could save nearly $400 million annually by reducing pay to market levels.

A city-commissioned study also found that the DWP’s payroll costs — on both a per-customer basis and as a percentage of total assets — were among the highest of the comparable utility companies surveyed.

Lowering the DWP’s payroll to the median level of the utility companies surveyed in that study would reduce costs by roughly $320 million a year.

The recent contract that provides DWP employees with a significant pay raise over the next five years highlights the importance of transparency, according to Fellner.

“Far too often taxpayers are provided misleading or incomplete information regarding the compensation costs that they are required to pay for. By providing complete and accurate pay data, Transparent California empowers the public with the information necessary to make informed decisions.”

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit TransparentCalifornia.com — the state’s largest and most accurate public pay and pension database.

To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

TransCal in the News

A pair of articles demonstrates how TransparentCalifornia.com data helps to empower the public.

An East Bay Times op-ed entitled EBMUD, Central San rate hikes? Give us a break argues that continual rate hikes are the result of soaring pay packages:

In April, the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District approved its latest rate increase for treating wastewater flows, now charging $530 annually per single-family home.  That’s a 182 percent increase since 2000, when the rate was $188.  And, 2018’s planned rate boost to $567 will take the 2000-2019 increase to more than 200 percent.

Meanwhile, the district’s board approved a 4.4 percent salary increase for its employees in this last year of a current five-year contract that has guaranteed an increase every year.

Placing related figures posted at http://transparentcalifornia.com on a spreadsheet shows Central San’s 278 full-time and highly compensated part-time individuals as having already averaged $116,280 in 2016 pay, and $100,437 in benefits, including extraordinary pension contributions, funded by district ratepayers.

The benefits also provide 13 paid holidays and up to six weeks of vacation.

An excellent VoiceofOC.org report, “Amid Funding Shortfall, Santa Ana Raises Median Police Compensation Above $213,000″ exposes how elected officials sell out their constituents — who had median private earnings of only $27,000 — while enriching the public unions who get them elected.

A slice:

As for the market rate comparison, Kurtz, the interim city manager, said city staff’s analysis found Santa Ana was below the officer pay rate for comparable cities by a couple of percentage points.

Kurtz said she wasn’t able to immediately provide a copy of the analysis, but that it looked at cities of a similar size and level of service, and within the same geographic pool Santa Ana would be competing with.

Voice of OC reviewed police compensation data for Santa Ana and the other two largest cities in Orange County, Anaheim and Irvine. The review found that before Wednesday’s pay raise, Santa Ana was already compensating its officers more than its two largest neighbors.

Santa Ana’s starting salary for officers was $4,400 higher than Irvine’s and $6,100 higher than Anaheim’s. And last year, median total compensation for Santa Ana officers was higher than Irvine and Anaheim, both with and without overtime included.

The police union is by far Santa Ana’s most significant election campaign contributor, with over $400,000 spent on last year’s City Council and mayoral races, including support and attack ads. It is widely expected to be a major spender in next year’s city election as well.

Obviously the average Santa Ana resident is incapable of competing with the political influence of the police union, which is why the City Council continues to enrich them at the expense of residents.

 

Riverside gets it right!

Last month, Transparent California revealed that a Riverside utilities dispatcher had earned almost $400,000 in pay and benefits.

What happened next was a testimony to the importance of transparency in government.

The Press Enterprise covers our release, bringing the information to the attention of residents and city officials.

Then, just one month later, the Press Enterprise reports that Riverside changes policy after utility’s $257,719 overtime revelationThe City deserves credit for taking the appropriate action, as detailed below:

Riverside city and public utility officials are examining their procedures after a utility dispatcher collected $257,719 in overtime last year.

Audit: The city is reviewing some utility workers’ time cards to see who approved overtime hours.

Review: All city department heads are taking a survey on their use of overtime, and all will get monthly reports tracking future payouts.

Hiring: The utility will fill several vacant positions that officials said were partly to blame for the big overtime bill.

Rules: Officials will draft a policy to prevent excessive overtime.

Far too often governments take a reflexively defensive stance to justify the status quo, even when it is clearly to the detriment of the taxpayers they are obligated to serve. So it is extremely encouraging to see the City of Riverside do the right thing here.

We are happy to have played a small part in helping to effect positive change, something that only came about thanks to California’s public records law, the efforts of the Press Enterprise and, most importantly, the willingness of city officials to do the right thing.

As the Press Enterprise Editorial Board noted in a summary of the above events, now it is time for other government agencies to follow Riverside’s lead!

Soaring overtime pay boosted Orange County fire captain’s $116,846 salary to over $500,000 last year, despite recently implemented cap

A $245,350 overtime payout — the 13th largest of the more than 1.3 million public workers surveyed statewide — boosted Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) captain Gregory Bradshaw’s total compensation to $508,495 last year, an amount more than four times greater than his $116,846 salary.

While Bradshaw was OCFA’s top earner, his fellow fire captains weren’t too far behind, with the average fire captain having received $301,791 in pay and benefits last year — according to an analysis of freshly released 2016 salary data published on TransparentCalifornia.com.

In 2014, an OCFA board member expressed frustration over “an accounting gimmick used to generate significant overtime costs,” according to an Orange County Register report.

While the Board’s concerns led to the implementation of an overtime cap effective April 1, 2015, overtime pay continued to rise nonetheless — with last year’s $47 million expenditure representing a more than 18 percent increase from the previous year.

The continued growth in overtime pay was also evident on an individual employee basis: The 44 OCFA employees who received overtime pay in excess of $100,000 last year represent a nearly threefold increase from the previous year, when there were only 15 employees who earned that much.

Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner noted an alarming trend where a handful of employees who had received overtime in excess of their regular salary in the preceding years actually increased their overtime pay in 2016, after the cap was in place.

“Several employees who were already more than doubling their salary from overtime pay actually saw an increase after the cap took effect — which suggests that cap might need to be tightened a bit.”

To explore the full OCFA dataset as well as historical data dating back to 2011, please click here.

Orange County cities

Transparent California — the state’s largest and most accurate public pay database — recently added 2016 pay data for 411 California cities and 49 counties.

In Orange County, every city but Placentia — which has not replied to a public records request for this information — is now on the Transparent California website.

“It is disheartening that Placentia has not yet responded to our records request, but we very much appreciate the professionalism of all the other Orange County governments who facilitated our request in a prompt manner.”

Overtime pay up 19% at Anaheim

The City of Anaheim was home to the 5 largest overtime payouts of any Orange County city surveyed:

  1. Fire Engineer III Brian Pollema’s $204,458 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $403,528.
  2. Fire Fighter III Daniel Lambert’s $186,228 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $357,184.
  3. Fire Engineer III David Shimogawa’s $163,325 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $338,937.
  4. Fire Captain Mark Dunn’s $157,673 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $372,496.
  5. Senior Electrical Utility Inspector Kenneth Heffernan’s $155,356 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $300,917.

A survey of 148 cities with at least $1 million in overtime pay revealed an average year over year overtime pay increase of 5 percent last year.

Anaheim’s 19 percent increase in overtime pay was the most of any Orange County city and the 13th largest statewide.

The next four cities with the largest overtime pay increases in Orange County were:

  1. Buena Park: 18.5 percent, 14th largest statewide.
  2. Irvine: 17 percent, 17th largest statewide.
  3. Costa Mesa: 17 percent, 21st largest statewide.
  4. Fullerton: 14 percent, 30th largest statewide.

Orange County pay data

In 2015, the only Orange County worker to make over $400,000 in pay and benefits was Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who received total compensation of $400,214.

The 2016 county payroll data reveals 11 workers making over $400,000 — with two county psychiatrists topping $500,000 apiece.

Total compensation at the county experienced a much milder increase, however, rising only 3 percent to just under $2 billion last year.

To view the complete datasets in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit www.TransparentCalifornia.com.

To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.