Fresno Council of Governments sued for violating state’s public records law

Update: On September 29, 2017 the Fresno Council of Governments complied with our request and agreed to pay our attorney’s fees. Their data can be found here.


Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court against the Fresno Council of Governments for refusing to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

The lawsuit stems from NPRI’s work on its TransparentCalifornia.com website — which publishes the pay and pension data of nearly 2.5 million California public employees from over 2,000 unique government agencies.

The Council denied Transparent California’s request for records documenting the names and wages of its employees on the grounds that such information is confidential.

The Council’s rationale for withholding the requested public records contradicts longstanding California law, dating back to a 1955 official Attorney General Opinion that held that “the name of every public officer and employee, as well as the amount of his salary, is a matter of public record,” and a 2007 state Supreme Court case which codified that same finding.

Thus, the Council has unlawfully denied a request to access public records, according to Transparent California research director Robert Fellner.

“The California Public Records Act is emphatic in its purpose to make public all records concerning governmental affairs. The Fresno Council of Governments’ refusal to provide an accounting of their employees’ names and taxpayer-funded salaries is a clear violation of the law.”

The Council is designated by the state as a transportation planning agency and is comprised of 15 Fresno-area cities and the County of Fresno. The California State Controller’s Office reports that there are 11 “Council of Governments” agencies statewide. Transparent California has received the requested information from every one but Fresno:

Transparent California’s repeated attempts to inform the Council of their obligations under the law and elicit a lawful response went unheeded, leaving litigation as the only avenue available to access the public information sought.

The lawsuit asks the Court to compel the Fresno Council of Governments to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting their employees’ name and salary information so that it may be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com.

TransparentCalifornia.com is used by millions of Californians each year and has received praise for its ability to successfully improve transparency in government by elected officials, government employees, the media, and concerned citizens alike.

For more information, 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.

 

Public records lawsuit filed against the City of Taft

Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Kern County Superior Court against the City of Taft for refusing to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

The lawsuit stems from NPRI’s work on its TransparentCalifornia.com website — which publishes the pay and pension data of nearly 2.5 million California public employees from over 2,000 unique government agencies.

Taft is the only city in Kern County and one of only a handful of cities statewide that have consistently refused to provide the basic name and salary information requested. The City’s refusal to do so is a clear violation of state law, according to Transparent California research director Robert Fellner.

“The California Public Records Act is emphatic in its purpose to make public all records concerning governmental affairs. Taft’s refusal to provide an accounting of city employees and their taxpayer-funded salaries is a clear violation of the law.”

The City first justified its denial on the grounds that the information did not exist in the specific format requested, but when Transparent California relayed that the information need not be in any specific format, the City denied the request on the grounds that it was ‘nonspecific and unfocused.’

“Rather than focus on identifying records responsive to the purpose of our request — as state law mandates — the City appears intent on contriving any justification possible to keep its affairs shrouded in secrecy.”

The lawsuit asks the Court to compel Taft to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting city employees’ name and salary information so that it may be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com.

TransparentCalifornia.com is used by millions of Californians each year and has received praise for its ability to successfully improve transparency in government by elected officials, government employees, the media, and concerned citizens alike.

For more information, 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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Riverside utilities dispatcher triples salary to nearly $400,000 with state’s 10th largest overtime payout

Riverside utilities electric power system dispatcher Donald Dahle was the city’s top earner last year, thanks to a $257,719 overtime (OT) payout — the 10th largest of the 1 million public workers surveyed statewide — that boosted his total earnings to $373,235.

An analysis of the newly released 2016 pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com reveals a sharp increase in Riverside’s OT expenditures, both on an individual and agency-wide basis.

In 2016, the city spent $20 million on overtime pay alone, a 33% increase from just three years prior. During that same period, the number of Riverside employees who earned at least $50,000 in OT nearly tripled, rising from 25 to 65.

Of those, 10 Riverside employees earned six-figure OT payouts last year —up significantly from 2014, when a single $100,650 OT payout marked the first time an employee crossed that threshold.

To view Riverside’s complete 2016 payroll report, please click here.

Inland Empire workers cashing in on unused leave, severance pay

In addition to regular salary and overtime pay, most California city workers are eligible for a host of supplemental pays that are frequently reported simply as “other pay.” This is where cash payments from selling back unused vacation and sick leave — a practice rarely found in the private sector — is reported.

Of the more than 200,000 city workers surveyed statewide, Inland Empire workers comprised 5 of the top 15 largest “other pay” spots.

  1. A staggering $330,000 unused leave payout for former Rialto police chief William Farrar was the 3rd largest of its kind among the California city workers surveyed last year.
  2. Former Palm Desert city manager John Wohlmuth’s $299,686 cash out was the 4th largest statewide — two-thirds of which came from severance pay, with the rest coming from unused leave.
  3. Former Fontana police chief Rodney Jones received $249,720 in unused leave and severance pay, which ranked 8th largest statewide.
  4. Former San Bernardino city manager Allen Park’s $227,177 severance payout was the 12th largest “other pay” amount statewide.
  5. Former Apple Valley assistant town manager received a $212,513 payout, the 15th largest statewide.

Transparent California research director Robert Fellner blames California’s collective bargaining laws for the growing gap between the benefits available to government workers and those available to taxpayers.

“As long as California gives coercive, monopolistic powers to government unions, taxpayers will continue to be forced to pay for lavish benefits that dwarf what they themselves can expect to receive.”

Legalized pension spiking, exorbitant benefits drive San Bernardino County’s soaring pension costs

TransparentCalifornia.com also released new 2016 payroll data for San Bernardino County in conjunction with the previously-unseen 2016 pension payout report from the County retirement system (SBCERA).

The data revealed a significant increase in the cost of benefits as a percentage of total wages, which grew from 35.5% in 2011 to more than 44% last year.

Fellner believes the explanation for such a dramatic rise can be found by analyzing what those costs are paying for.

For the third year in a row, SBCERA’s $89,058 average full-career pension was the highest of any comparable fund statewide.

Fellner points to the unusually rich nature of SBCERA benefits, which exceed even those offered by other California public pension plans:

Pension as % of final salary after 32 years at age 65

Fund

Pension

San Francisco

75%

Alameda County

78%

Contra Costa County

84%

Sacramento

84%

Riverside (CalPERS)

96%

San Bernardino

100%

While most retirement experts recommend a retirement income around 70% of final earnings, all of California’s public retirement systems offer much larger benefits, even after only a 32 year career.

County workers enjoy another benefit on top of an exceptionally generous benefit formula: the ability to include unused leave cash outs as part of their pensionable earnings, a practice Fellner calls “legalized pension spiking.”

Despite mild reforms for those hired after January 1, 2013, the cost of these benefits will drain resources from San Bernardino County for decades to come, according to Fellner.

“These exorbitant benefits are the reason why San Bernardino’s pensions cost consumed more than 16 percent of the County’s own-revenue last year — a rate that was more than triple the national average, according to a recent Stanford study.

“The extreme richness of San Bernardino’s pension program is particularly indefensible given the relatively modest income of most county residents.”

The 3 largest San Bernardino pension payouts last year went to:

  1. Former county counsel Ruth Stringer: $334,296.
  2. Former county undersheriff Richard Beemer: $307,547
  3. Former director of county safety Rodney Hoops: $292,217.

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.

LA firefighter trio earns nearly $1 million in OT pay (again)

Three Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees earned a combined $1.36 million last year — $974,779 of which came from overtime pay alone, according to just-released 2016 salary data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Unsurprisingly, the LAFD trio earned the three largest overtime payouts of the more than 600,000 workers surveyed statewide:

  1. Fire captain Charles Ferrari received $334,655 in OT, with total earnings of $469,198.
  2. Fire captain James Vlach received $332,583 in OT, with total earnings of $469,158.
  3. Firefighter Donn Thompson received $307,542 in OT, with total earnings of $424,913.

This the trio’s 2nd year in a row as the state’s top overtime earners, having also topped the list of the more than 2.4 million government workers surveyed in 2015.

Remarkably, Donn Thompson has been appearing in these lists for decades — beginning with a 1996 Los Angeles Times report in which he was highlighted as an example of LAFD’s “paycheck generosity.”

Then, Thompson’s $219,649 combined overtime payout from 1993-1995 was the most of any Los Angeles firefighter, according to the Times. But excessive overtime pay at the LAFD went much further than any single employee, with the Times reporting that the department spent far more on overtime than any of its peers nationwide — nearly tripling the rate found at the New York City fire department, for example.

When asked about the LAFD’s overtime pay system, a Houston fire official reportedly said: “I don’t know of any other department that has it quite that lucrative.”

More alarming than the large dollar amounts was the discovery of what this money was being spent on. The Times reported that most overtime pay:

…is not being used for fires or other emergencies. Instead, most of it goes for replacing those who are out because of vacations, holidays, injuries, training, illnesses or personal leaves. Millions more go to firefighters on special assignments, such as in-house training and evaluation programs.

Thompson pulls in $1.23M over 3 years

Unfortunately, the Times exposé appears to have had little effect.

Thirteen years later, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that overtime pay at the LAFD “soared 60 percent over the last decade,” some of which was still being spent on things like after-hours remedial training for recruits.

And when the Daily News analyzed the department’s top OT earners, they discovered Donn Thompson sitting atop the list once more — this time having earned a combined $570,276 in overtime pay alone from 2006-2008.

Today, that number has risen to $880,810, which boosted Thompson’s total haul over the past three years to $1,229,504. Since 2014, Thompson has received annual overtime payouts that were either the 2nd or 3rd largest statewide — allowing him to earn more than four times his regular salary each year, according to TransparentCalifornia.com.

Thompson’s ability to collect outsized overtime payouts going back more than two decades raises a host of questions regarding safety, efficiency and legitimacy, according to Transparent California research director Robert Fellner.

“The fact that the same employee can receive such astronomical levels of overtime for so long reveals that the system is fundamentally broken.”

Six-figure OT payouts up 760% over past 5 years

In the original Times report, a retired LAFD firefighter described overtime pay as “a little extra bonus for the guys,” that allows them to get “a new boat on the river and a new truck every year.”

Back then, the department’s largest OT payout was just under $103,000 — which is less than half of the more than $330,000 earned by Vlach and Ferrari last year, after adjusting for inflation.

And as the dollar amount of these payouts exploded, so too has their number, particularly over the past five years.

Since 2012, the number of LAFD workers who received overtime payouts of at least $100,000 increased by 760 percent, hitting an all-time high of 439 last year:

LA512

By comparison, only one fire employee in the entire state of Nevada received a six-figure OT payout last year: Carson City fire captain Matthew Donnelly, who earned $110,217 in overtime pay, according to TransparentNevada.com.

A systemic issue that’s here to stay

In 1995, the LAFD spent a “budget-wrenching” $58.6 million on overtime pay, which — at 22 percent of total expenses — was far greater than any of its peers nationwide, according to the Times.

In 2008, that number hit $139 million, which prompted a recently retired fire captain to call for an overhaul of the department’s staffing system, according to the Daily News.

Now at $197 million — which represents a more than twofold increase since 1995, after adjusting for inflation — overtime pay constitutes 31 percent of LAFD’s expenses, according to the City’s adopted budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

And as it did two decades ago, this rate far surpasses the level paid by other major fire departments nationwide, as shown in the chart below:

Overtime pay as percentage of fire department’s budget, FY16FDbudget

A contract provision that requires vacation leave to count as hours worked towards overtime pay illustrates the root cause of the department’s soaring overtime costs, according to Fellner.

“The issue is not a lack of solutions. Those have been forthcoming from a coalition of experts, including those from LAFD’s own ranks, for decades. The issue is lack of a political will for the precise reason an official outlined nearly two decades ago: fear of political retaliation.

Unfortunately, public unions have weaponized the trust bestowed upon the firefighting profession as a means to enrich themselves, at the expense of public safety and taxpayers alike.”

To explore the full dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please 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 of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.