Candidate is all about the numbers

While many of the candidates for the Huntington Beach City Council speak of reforming pension, Erik Peterson says he's studied the issue inside and out and knows how to fix it.

"I've been studying it for four years," said the planning commissioner, one of 12 candidates running for council. "I know what the comprehensive annual financial report is, and I know how to read it. I've worked on the Finance Board, especially on pension reform."

Peterson, who runs an electrical contracting business, said the city's financial future stands on whether pensions are reformed.

Having served in the Marine Corps, Peterson said he knows safety employees work hard and he values their efforts, but he said something must be done to manage overtime pay.

While he said he wants them to have the opportunity to get paid overtime, that money could go toward extra police officers. However, without reforming pension and creating a sustainable system for everyone, it's difficult to hire more officers now.

"Even if you took that overtime and hired three officers, we're stuck with that same liability that we get through the pension, so we need to change the pension structure," Peterson said, adding that the city also needs to look at starting salaries and adjust them if need be.

One thing Peterson would like to bring back if he's elected to the council is the Finance Board, where he first became involved with city matters. Councilman Devin Dwyer, the only incumbent in the race, appointed Peterson to the board. Peterson was then appointed to the Planning Commission by Councilman Matthew Harper, who is among those endorsing Peterson.

Peterson said the Finance Board was a useful tool and provided a chance to check all contracts the city entered.

"You have independent citizens being able to go in and review contracts with the city," he said. "If a City Council member wanted you to look into something, they'd say, 'Look at it and see if it's a good idea.'"

The Finance Board was eliminated earlier this year after all boards and committees throughout the city were evaluated for their effectiveness. At one point, the Finance Board was merged with the Investment Advisory Board, but that ended up not working out, said Councilwoman Connie Boardman.

While there's no guarantee that council members will take the board's recommendation, Peterson said, at least someone is looking at contracts in detail, which increases transparency.

Peterson supports Measure Z, which seeks to overturn the collection of a penny-and-a-half property tax that goes toward a portion of safety employees' pensions.

But he doesn't support it for the argument made by its authors and supporters.

When Mayor Don Hansen announced he wanted to overturn the tax, he said eliminating it will force employee groups to pay their fair share of retirement.

But Peterson said that's just not true.

"I don't agree with the argument that it forces the unions to pay their full share, which is exactly how it was propagated," he said. "But it's a false argument."

Peterson said he supports Measure Z because he's always been against the tax, and now that there's a chance to overturn it, he can't change his view.

He supports the sale of "safe and sane" fireworks, but said the city needs the trial period to make the right decision before fully making it legal. The council legalized the sale of state-approved fireworks in January for a two-year pilot program.

He was also not in favor of outsourcing the city attorney's office, saying the city should have looked at how to run other departments efficiently before trying to dismantle Jennifer McGrath's office.

He believes, though, that department heads should be included in the process because they know firsthand how to better use their resources.

Peterson has been endorsed by the Orange County GOP, the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce former Mayor Cathy Green and challengers Dwyer and former Mayor Dave Sullivan. Three seats are open on the council.

Dwyer said he knows it's unusual to endorse someone who is running against him but that Peterson is "very fiscally responsible and could go in and help us make the tough choices as far as pension reform and employee compensation."

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