Richard B. Dixon, forced out as Los Angeles County’s chief administrator in part because of his approval of pension increases for himself and other top officials, has been quietly hired as a $200-an-hour adviser to the county retirement board.
Charles Conrad, administrator of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Assn., said in an interview Tuesday that he hired Dixon as an adviser on the sale of bonds to pay off the county’s nearly $2-billion liability to the pension system. Under terms of the contract, Dixon will be paid $200 an hour but not more than $25,000 total. The contract does not require approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Word of the appointment provoked heated reaction throughout the county, with Supervisor Gloria Molina urging taxpayers to file a lawsuit to block the move.
Acknowledging the sensitivity of the appointment, Conrad said he was obligated to obtain the best financial advice available.
“This is a very specialized area. . . . He has the expertise,” he said. “We will go where we have to to get the best possible advice on administering our fund and that really has to be independent of other considerations.”
But others vehemently disagreed.
“Given the pension we’re giving him he ought to do the service for free,” said Joel Fox, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. “Mr. Dixon is the one who helped create that debt because he spiked the pensions. . . . It seems to me we’re in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world and the Mad Hatter is in charge.”
Molina said: “It’s an unconscionable act on behalf of Conrad and the retirement board to make this move. Dixon is the expert on pension spiking and retirement issues largely because of the knowledge gained in benefiting himself.”
Noting that the retirement system operates for the most part independently of the Board of Supervisors, Molina added: “I can’t do anything about it, the board can’t do anything about it, but someone should.”
Dixon, a 34-year veteran of county service once described by the grand jury as “one of the most powerful public administrators in America,” stepped down as the county’s chief administrative officer earlier this year after a critical grand jury report, which found that he exercised unchecked control over public funds, spending millions of dollars without notifying the Board of Supervisors.
He was taken to task over executive bonuses, extraordinary perks such as bulletproof cars with chauffeurs and a decision to increase employee pension benefits by up to 19% at a cost of more than $265 million without a vote by the Board of Supervisors or a study of the financial impact.
Under the pension rules--condemned by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury as “the height of fiscal irresponsibility"--the value of fringe benefits such as medical insurance is included as income for calculating benefits. Dixon, for example, received an annual pension of at least $127,236--about a $25,000 increase in benefits--because of changes he implemented.
According to minutes of a recent meeting of the retirement board, Conrad hired Dixon by using his authority to award contracts up to $25,000 without coming before the retirement board. The minutes say Conrad hired Dixon “because of his extensive experience in the area of public finance.’
Reached Tuesday at his Burbank home, which also serves as his office, Dixon said he was approached by several retirement board members about the consultant work mainly because he happened to be county treasurer when the county issued pension obligation bonds in 1986.
“People’s reactions are people’s reactions and they will vary,” he said. “Personally, I worked for the county for many years and I have a strong feeling of wanting to do what I can to serve the county’s best interests.”