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.

 

How the City of Fresno dodged the pension tsunami: providing comfortable, but not exorbitant benefits

Today, Transparent California released 2015 pension payout data from the City of Fresno Retirement Systems (CFRS) — the first time this information has ever been made available to the public.

The CFRS is the only major California public pension plan with a funded ratio over 100 percent and, consequently, enjoys a $289 million surplus rather than contributing to the state’s approximately $300 billion in combined unfunded liabilities.

As a result, the City of Fresno has avoided the pension crisis currently sweeping the state — which is forcing many governments to hike taxes and reduce government services as they spend a growing percentage of their budget on pension debt.

The reason for the unique success of the CFRS is simple: they promised only what they could afford to pay for, according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“While most public pension plans offer exorbitant benefits without accounting for their cost, the CFRS consistently maintained benefits at an affordable level.”

The CFRS consists of two separate plans: the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System serves safety employees and the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System covers non-safety employees.

The data reveals the average pension for a full-career retiree of the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System was $70,627, while the average full-career retiree of the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System received $39,644.

Fresno County

At only 76 percent funded and with nearly $1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, the Fresno County Employees’ Retirement Association (FCERA) is more representative of the precarious situation most California governments are facing.

Fellner believes the dramatic difference between the fiscal health of the CFRS and FCERA can be understood by comparing the average pensions for each plan: The average $61,513 pension received by full-career, non-safety FCERA retirees was over 50 percent more than the $39,644 that Fresno City retirees received, according to just-released 2015 FCERA data posted on TransparentCalifornia.com.

“Naturally, there is a direct correlation between a pension plan’s richness and the cost to taxpayers.

“Fresno County will spend a staggering 52 percent of pay on retirement benefits, which is over triple the 16 percent rate that Fresno City pays, and over 17 times more than the 3 percent that the median private employer spends on employees’ retirement accounts.

“Unlike the inflated pensions found in Fresno County and most California governments, pensions at the City of Fresno are comparatively modest, illustrating that soaring pension costs are directly related to the generosity of the benefits promised.”

Fellner noted that both plans provided average full-career pensions that exceeded the $36,975 earned by the average private worker in Fresno County, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

“Clearly retirement income greater than the average private worker’s salary is far from inadequate. By simply providing pensions that are comfortable instead of exorbitant, the City of Fresno enjoys one of the lowest — if not the lowest — retirement cost of any major California city.

“The City of Fresno serves as a direct refutation to the post-hoc, unfounded claim that bloated pensions are necessary to maintain a quality workforce.”

The surplus or unfunded liability as a percentage of covered payroll for Fresno-area public pension plans is displayed graphically below:

20160309_frensopercent

To see a chart detailing the total surplus or unfunded liability in dollar terms for Fresno-area public pension plans, click here.

Top payouts

The top 3 payouts at the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System went to:

  1. Former fire captain Al Rush: $193,716
  2. Former fire battalion chief Bruce McDaniel: $176,791
  3. Former fire captain George Durham: $176,297

The top 3 payouts at the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System went to:

  1. Former parks supervisor II Pete Rocco: $154,950
  2. Former redevelopment administrator Eva Murphey: $149,940
  3. Former director of development Nick Yovino: $130,692

Full-career retirees are defined as those who retired with at least 30 years of service.

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 of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Nearly half of San Joaquin Valley city workers collected over $100,000 in total compensation

Today, Transparent California released previously-unseen 2014 public employee compensation data — complete with names, pay, and benefits — for 395 cities and 44 counties statewide on TransparentCalifornia.com, the state’s largest public sector compensation database.

A survey of 55 San Joaquin Valley cities, accounting for 93 percent of the San Joaquin Valley population, reveals that the average full-time city worker received $104,475 in total compensation last year, with 46 percent collecting at least $100,000.

The five highest compensated city workers in the San Joaquin Valley were:

  1. Bakersfield city manager Alan Tandy: $359,879
  2. Tracy fire chief Alford Nero: $355,865
  3. Bakersfield police chief Greg Williamson: $323,487
  4. Fresno city manager Bruce Rudd: $322,085
  5. Stockton city manager Kurt Wilson: $308,640

The top six San Joaquin Valley cities with the highest average compensation package for full-time employees were:

  1. Tracy $135,134
  2. Paso Robles: $129,081
  3. San Luis Obispo: $128,463
  4. Manteca: $128,150
  5. Atwater: $125,773
  6. Lodi: $124,602

To view a table listing the average wages of all San Joaquin Valley cities, click here.

The average compensation for full-time employees of the largest departments at the cities of Fresno, Modesto and Stockton was:

Average full-time compensation by department

Taxpayers have been kept in the dark about the full cost of public employees, according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“Government workers receive tens of thousands of dollars worth of benefits that have no comparison in the private sector. This bloat enriches special interests at the expense of both cities and taxpayers.

“Simply publicizing base salaries is inadequate given that city workers enjoy leave policies and benefit packages that dwarf what most taxpayers receive. Reporting full compensation reveals a shocking inequity between city employees and the taxpayers who must bear the cost.”

Overtime and other pay boosts earnings

For all San Joaquin Valley cities surveyed, overtime and other pay combined amounted to 17 percent of salary, slightly lower than the statewide average of 19 percent.

Combined overtime and other pay at Bakersfield equaled 23 percent of salary, the highest of any San Joaquin Valley city with a population of at least 30,000.

Statewide

Average full-time municipal employee compensation for other regions in California was:

Compensation is defined as total wages plus the employer cost of retirement and health benefits. Full-time employees are defined as those receiving a salary equal or greater to the “annual salary minimum” reported.

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

For more information or 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.