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.

Six former LA safety officers collected pension payouts of over $1,000,000 apiece last year

Newly released public pension data from TransparentCalifornia.com shows a $1,462,770 pension payout going to former Los Angeles deputy police chief Earl Paysinger last year — with $1,338,232 coming from a one-time DROP payout and the remaining $124,538 representing Paysinger’s ongoing, annual pension amount.

The deferred retirement option plan (DROP) allows an employee to draw a salary and pension simultaneously for up to 5 years, with each year’s pension being deposited into an interest-bearing account. Upon actual retirement, the accumulated balance can be withdrawn either as a lump-sum payment or rolled over into an annuity.

The DROP program helped six members of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions (LAFPP) system collect payouts of over $1,000,000 last year. After Paysinger, the next five highest payouts went to:

  1. Former assistant fire chief Emile Mack: $1,457,638.
  2. Former deputy fire chief Mario Rueda: $1,226,360.
  3. Former assistant fire chief Mark Stormes: $1,083,887.
  4. Former police commander Michael Williams: $1,079,058.
  5. Former deputy police chief Kirk Albanese: $1,006,872.

Los Angeles County

Despite lacking the DROP program, pension payouts at the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Assocation (LACERA) were still quite large, with former Harbor-UCLA Medical Center chief physician Charles Mehringer’s $403,375 annual pension topping the list.

The next 3 highest LACERA pension payouts went to:

  1. Retired sheriff Leroy Baca: $334,978.
  2. Retired UCLA medical center chief physician Robert Morin: $326,278.
  3. Retired sheriff Larry Waldie: $325,554.

The third pension system serving Los Angeles is the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS), which serves non-safety Los Angeles city employees. Transparent California research director Robert Fellner noted that despite paying out comparatively smaller benefits than either LACERA or LAFPP, LACERS was in significantly worse financial shape than its peers.

“With an unfunded liability of more than 250 percent of covered payroll, LACERS will likely have to raise costs again, further burdening a city that already spends 20 percent of operating revenue on pensions.”

In dollar terms, the unfunded liability for LAFPP, LACERA and LACERS was $1.15 million, $9.5 million and $5 million, respectively.

The top three Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) payouts went to:

  1. Retired personnel department general manager Margaret Whelan: $237,451.
  2. Retired harbor department general manager Bruce Seaton: $236,530.
  3. Retired harbor department port pilot Michael Owens: $234,159.

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.

Top LA County Pension Passes $400,000 Mark

The top pension payout at the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association (LACERA) has eclipsed $400,000 for the first time ever, according to just released public pension data.

Today, Transparent California released 2016 pension payout data for the city and county of Los Angeles, as well as the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS).

Former Harbor-UCLA Medical Center chief physician Charles Mehringer’s $403,375 pension was the first time the $400,000 threshold was broken at LACERA. The next 3 highest LACERA pension payouts went to:

  • Retired sheriff Leroy Baca: $334,978.
  • Retired UCLA medical center chief physician Robert Morin: $326,278.
  • Retired sheriff Larry Waldie: $325,554.

The top three Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) payouts went to:

  1. Retired personnel department general manager Margaret Whelan: $237,451.
  2. Retired harbor department general manager Bruce Seaton: $236,530.
  3. Retired harbor department port pilot Michael Owens: $234,159.

San Diego

Former fire battalion chief Benjamin Castro’s $885,848 payout topped the SDCERS list — $816,760 of which came from the controversial deferred retirement option plan (DROP). DROP allows an employee to draw a salary and pension simultaneously for up to 5 years, with each year’s pension being deposited into an interest-bearing account. Upon actual retirement, the accumulated balance can be withdrawn either as a lump-sum payment or rolled over into an annuity.

The next three highest SDCERS payouts went to:

  • Retired assistant police chief Mark Jones: $797,408.
  • Retired police captain Dawn Summers: $747,843.
  • Retired fire battalion chief Daniel Saner: $727,696.

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

DWP supervisor, once again, boosts salary to nearly $400,000 with a $216,000 OT payout

Today, Transparent California released 2015 public employee compensation data — complete with names, pay, and benefits — for over 100,000 special districts workers statewide.

The data reveals that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) Electric Distribution Mechanic Supervisor Joseph Strafford’s $216,741 overtime payout — which boosted his total earnings to $394,549 — was the highest of any special district worker surveyed. This is the 2nd year in a row Stafford has held this distinction, with a $225,000 OT payout topping the 2014 special district list last year.

The next three highest OT payouts amongst special district workers all went to DWP employees:

  1. Steam plant operator Jorge Castillo’s $201,175 OT payout helped boost his $76,000 salary to $293,530.
  2. Steam plant operator Rudy Rivera’s $183,077 OT payout helped boost his $75,000 salary to $276,374.
  3. Steam plant operator Steven Pike’s $176,432 OT payout helped boost his $72,000 salary to $269,796.

In total, the DWP spent $174 million in overtime in 2015 — a nearly 15 percent increase from the previous year.

Transparent California research director Robert Fellner noted that the DWP has a history of overtime abuse, such as a contract provision that pays employees for work performed by outside contractors.

“The DWP serves as a powerful reminder of the folly in blindly assuming that every penny in OT spending is justified.

“Last year’s $174 million in OT spending was nearly double the 2006 amount, which was when the ‘DWP overtime scam’ was first reported. With provisions that demand DWP workers get paid for the work other people do, at ratepayer expense, it’s no wonder so many are frustrated with the power of political unions in California.”

Fellner also noted that, even excluding OT pay, the average DWP employee already makes more than twice what their private-sector counterpart does.

The DWP did not provide benefits data on an individual employee level and, as such, are unrepresented amongst the top special districts with the highest average employee compensation packages.

LA Metro chief collects over half a million

LA Metro chief Richard Thorpe’s $514,980 compensation package was the highest of any special district worker in Los Angeles County.

The next four highest-compensated Los Angeles County special district workers were:

  1. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger: $501,932
  2. Southern California Association of Governments executive director Hasan Ikhrata: $501,932
  3. Los Angeles County Sanitation District GM Grace Hyde: $431,447
  4. DWP electrical service manager Michael Mundo earned $424,866 just in wages, which excludes benefits.

The three Los Angeles County special districts with the highest average compensation packages for full-time, year-round employees were:

  1. Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD): $176,212
  2. West Basin Municipal Water District: $158,781
  3. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California: $157,817

Compensation is defined as total wages plus the employer cost of retirement and health benefits. Full-time, year-round employees are defined as those receiving a salary equal or greater to 90 percent of the “annual salary minimum” reported.

To explore the data further, 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.

Retired Bell Police Chief’s $288,000 pension tops CalPERS list of Los Angeles-area city retirees

Today, TransparentCalifornia.com released previously-unseen 2015 pension payout data from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The over 625,000 records — obtained via a public records request — reveal that former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams $288,378 payout was the largest received by any CalPERS retiree from a Los Angeles city last year.

Former Los Angeles workers were also represented in the top 3 regular pensions paid to all CalPERS members statewide, excluding those who received a one-time settlement payout.

Top 3 CalPERS payouts statewide

  1. Michael Johnson, former Solano County administrator: $388,408
  2. Stephen Maguin, former Los Angeles County Sanitation District GM: $340,811
  3. Joaquin Fuster, former UCLA professor: $338,412

Retirement costs at LA-cities highest statewide

El Monte’s retirement costs for safety officers are now at 62 percent of pay, the highest rate statewide, with a 38 percent contribution rate for non-safety workers, the 4th highest statewide.

The highest contribution rate for non-safety workers was also found in Los Angeles County, with Santa Fe Springs now sending 47 cents per dollar of pay to CalPERS.

Inglewood experienced the largest year over year increase in retirement costs, with their safety and non-safety rate increasing 20 and 24 percent, respectively.

As taxpayer costs continue to climb it is more important than ever that the public has complete, accurate information as to how their money is being spent, according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“Defined benefit plans like CalPERS are inherently opaque, which limits the public’s ability to accurately assess its generosity and cost. Transparent California provides complete information so that taxpayers can have a better sense of how their money is being spent.”

Los Angeles cities with the highest pensions

The Los Angeles cities with at least 20 full-career retirees that had the highest average full-career pensions for safety retirees were:

  1. El Segundo: $131,973, which was the second highest statewide
  2. El Monte: $129,215, which was the third highest statewide
  3. Pasadena: $126,877, which was the sixth highest statewide

The Los Angeles cities with at least 20 full-career retirees that had the highest average full-career pensions for non-safety retirees were:

  1. Santa Fe Springs: $99,993, which was the third highest statewide
  2. Hawthorne: $92,376, which was the eighth highest statewide
  3. Downey: $88,708, which was eleventh highest statewide

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

A full-career is defined as at least 30 years of service.

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.

Los Angeles firefighter boosts $87,000 salary to over $400,000 via ‘dangerous’ levels of OT, other pay 

Soaring overtime pay allowed Los Angeles firefighter Donn Thompson to pocket $404,308 last year — more than quadruple his base salary, according to just-released data.

Today, Transparent California released previously-unseen 2015 public employee compensation data — complete with names, pay, and benefits — for 379 cities and 42 counties statewide on TransparentCalifornia.com, the state’s largest public sector compensation database.

The data reveals sky-high overtime (OT) payouts at the City of Los Angeles, which were up over 18 percent from the previous year. In fact, the top 20 largest OT payouts of the more than 245,000 employees surveyed statewide all went to Los Angeles workers.

The top 3 OT payouts statewide went to:

  1. Los Angeles fire captain James Vlach, whose $311,316 OT payout was 158% more than his $120,829 salary.
  2. Los Angeles firefighter III Donn Thompson, whose $286,733 OT payout was 229% more than his $87,158 salary.
  3. Los Angeles fire captain Charles Ferrari, whose $273,496 OT payout was 126% more than his $120,829 salary.

Such a large concentration of overtime pay within a select few employees is dangerous, particularly for fire fighters, according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“These overtime payments indicate an average work-week in excess of 100 hours a week, for years on end. This is a recipe for disaster given the life-or-death situations fire fighters routinely encounter.”

Fellner pointed to the historical data on Transparent California that revealed all three of this year’s top OT earners had received outsized OT payments for at least the past three years, as shown in the chart below:

Overtime pay as % of base salary for 3 Los Angeles firefighters, 2013-2015

County-wide

A survey of 60 Los Angeles County cities, excluding the city of Los Angeles, revealed that the average full-time city worker received $131,600 in total compensation last year.

The five Los Angeles County cities with the highest average compensation package for full-time, year round employees were:

  1. Redondo Beach: $155,852
  2. Manhattan Beach: $155,850
  3. Santa Monica: $152,050
  4. Beverly Hills: $150,648
  5. Downey: $150,129

The three highest-compensated city employees in Los Angeles County were:

  1. Los Angeles Harbor chief port pilot II Bent Christiansen: $510,805, retirement benefits not included.
  2. Los Angeles Harbor port pilot II John Betz: $494,216, retirement benefits not included.
  3. Los Angeles Harbor chief port pilot II Michael Rubino: $488,562, retirement benefits not included.

The importance of reporting total compensation

In the public sector, salary often represents only a fraction of an employee’s total compensation package, according to Fellner.

“While taxpayers may assume salary represents nearly all of an employee’s compensation package, some public employees collect compensation packages worth more than triple their base salary.”

As an example, Fellner pointed to three employees at the cities of Torrance, Long Beach and Santa Monica, all of whom collected compensation packages worth more than triple their salaries, as shown in the chart below:

Breakdown of compensation received by 3 Los Angeles-area city workers, 2015

The cities of Redondo Beach, Torrance and Downey ranked highest out of the 60 Los Angeles County cities surveyed, with total compensation coming in at 92, 87 and 83.5 percent more than total salary paid. The average Los Angeles city’s total compensation was 53.5 percent more than total salary.

Compensation is defined as total wages plus the employer cost of retirement and health benefits. Full-time, year-round employees are defined as those receiving a salary equal or greater to 90 percent of the “annual salary minimum” reported.

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

Four Los Angeles retirees collected $1 million-plus pension payouts last year

Four Los Angeles police and fire retirees collected over $1 million apiece in pension payouts last year, according to just-released 2015 pension data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Retired assistant fire chief Timothy Manning’s $1,181,309 pension and benefits package was the highest of any retiree surveyed — with $996,161 coming from the controversial deferred retirement option plan (DROP).

DROP allows an employee to draw a salary and pension simultaneously for up to 5 years, with each year’s pension being deposited into an interest-bearing account. Upon actual retirement, the accumulated balance can be withdrawn either as a lump-sum payment or rolled over into an annuity.

The next three highest-compensated Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension (LAFPP) retirees were:

  1. Retired police commander Stephen Jacobs, who collected $1,115,747
  2. Retired deputy police chief Mark Perez, who collected $1,105,441
  3. Retired deputy police chief Terry Hara, who collected $1,043,667

The average full-career city worker is a pension millionaire

Regular city employees belong to a separate retirement plan —the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (LACERS) — which does not offer DROP and did not provide the cost of health benefits on an individual basis. The average full-career pension for all LACERS retirees was $63,025, which jumped to $75,624 when looking at only those who retired in the past year.

These individuals are now “pension millionaires,” according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“Fidelity Investments currently charges over $1.75 million for an annuity large enough to provide the same level of retirement income at LACERS’ average retirement age of 60.”

The top three LACERS’ pension payouts went to:

  1. Retired personnel department general manager Margaret Whelan, who collected $235,333
  2. Retired harbor department general manager Bruce Seaton, who collected $234,420
  3. Retired harbor department port pilot Michael Owens, who collected $232,413

Fellner noted that the number of Los Angeles retirees who received pension and benefits packages of at least $100,000 increased nearly 22 percent since 2013.

“As the number of $100,000-plus pension payouts soared, so has the cost to taxpayers, which just hit a record-high 46 percent of payroll for safety officers and 26 percent for regular city workers.

“Including the DWP pension plan, Los Angeles spent over $1.5 billion on pension and retiree health costs alone in 2014, which represented nearly 12 percent of total expenditures.

“Studies have shown that growing retirement costs result in reduced city services, higher taxes or both.”

Leroy Baca’s $342,000 payout 3rd highest amongst County retirees

Transparent California also released 2015 pension data from the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association, which does not offer DROP, but still had dozens of annual payouts of more than $250,000.

The top three pension and benefits packages received by Los Angeles county retirees went to:

  1. Retired Harbor General chief physician Charles Mehringer, who collected $419,666
  2. Retired Harbor General chief physician Robert Morin, who collected $344,080
  3. Retired sheriff Leroy Baca, who collected $342,849

The number of County retirees who collected at least $100,000 increased 19 percent since 2013.

Average 2015 full-career pension and benefits package for Los Angeles-area retirees

LApensions

Transparent California is still working on obtaining pension payout data from the DWP, where costs have risen to astronomical heights, Fellner said.

“The 53 percent of payroll required to fund the DWP’s pension plan is, by far, the most expensive non-safety pension plan I’ve ever seen.”

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

A full-career is defined as at least 25 years of service for police and fire retirees, and 30 years for regular retirees.

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.