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Bid to Boost Pensions for Council Fails

Times Staff Writer

Outgoing Los Angeles City Council members Hal Bernson and Ruth Galanter unsuccessfully attempted to boost their pensions during a closed-session meeting Friday, arguing that term limits prohibit elected officials from fully vesting in the city’s retirement program.

During a discussion about ongoing union negotiations to raise the pension rate for longtime city employees, Bernson proposed that elected officials who have worked for the city for 12 years or more get the same rate as city employees who retire after 30 years, according to several people present during the meeting.

Galanter backed his motion, saying that it is not fair for elected officials to be blocked from reaping the benefits that other city employees do.

“I don’t have a rich husband and I don’t have a family trust fund,” she said in an interview later. “I don’t have any other source of income. I still work just as hard as everybody else.”

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After extensive discussion, the motion failed.

Since voters decided in the early 1990s to limit city officials to two four-year terms, elected officials have been able to choose between two pension programs, said Lorraine Osuna, executive officer of the city employee retirement system.

In one, which works like a 401(k), employee contributions are matched by the city and then invested. In the other, employees are guaranteed an annual pension when they retire of 2.16% of their salary, times the number of years they were employed.

The city is now negotiating with the city employees’ union to boost that rate to 2.36% for employees who have worked longer than 30 years -- a rate increase that Bernson said should apply to elected officials who have worked less than half that time.

For Bernson, who will have been in office 24 years when he leaves June 30, qualifying for the higher rate could have boosted his annual pension by as much as $6,695, allowing him to collect $78,999 a year. For Galanter, it could have meant an increase of as much as $5,579 a year, for an annual pension of $65,832.

Councilman Nate Holden, who will be leaving office after 16 years, said he thought the proposal was a fair way to reward officials who have dedicated many years to public service.

“They’re not talking about a lot of money,” he said.

However, Councilman Jack Weiss called Bernson’s motion inappropriate, especially because it was not on the agenda for the council’s closed-session meeting.

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Bernson did not return calls for comment. But Galanter defended the proposal.

“I’m really tired of hearing my colleagues who are at the beginning of their careers getting all self-righteous about how elected officials should do this for love alone, and every other city employee should be fully compensated,” she said. “It does seem unfair.”


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