Commentary: McCarthy mischaracterized my record

Re. "Commentary: Reform police pay, pensions," June 21:

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Councilman Steve Mensinger for falsely claiming that the public had no idea what was in the contracts negotiated with the employee-bargaining units.

I pointed out that all of the contracts were available on the Internet. Council candidate Colin McCarthy responded by attacking me and publishing my retirement income in the paper. It seems clear that Planning Commission Chairman McCarthy is hoping to quickly change the topic from the poor performance and lack of integrity of the current council majority (a group he hopes to join), to beat the drum on out-of-control unions and, especially, my "outrageous" pension.

Because they are making me the poster child for pension excess, and because they feel no need to be truthful, I want to point out some facts.

His response is full of falsehoods and inaccuracies, but that is the hallmark of the current council and its bullies.

The first big lie is the implication that the city of Costa Mesa is paying me my retirement income and that of all the other retirees. This is not true. While I was on the Police Department, the city paid into the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, retirement fund. When the economic downturn hit, the city gave those of us working for the city who were older than 50 an incentive to retire. This helped the city rapidly downsize the work force, and importantly, moved a large number of people off the city payroll and onto the CalPERS' payroll.

I started working for the city in 1978 as a police cadet. I was made a sworn officer in 1980. I worked a variety of assignments, including patrol, gang enforcement, special enforcement (career criminal team) and street narcotics, and I spent four years working major narcotics on the county's regional narcotics task force. Along the way, I earned a graduate degree and was promoted to sergeant and then lieutenant. The job was stressful, dangerous and relentlessly negative. I worked shift work, holidays, weekends, mandatory overtime and lost my days off to go to court. But I knew that was what I had signed up for.

When I retired in September 2009, I was in the police management bargaining unit. I have never held a leadership role in any of the employee bargaining units, and I was never active on labor issues. During virtually my entire career, my pay and benefits were determined by a formula that compared Costa Mesa with several other benchmark cities and then gave us the median compensation. We were never the highest or lowest paid.

McCarthy and his allies would have you believe that "union thugs held the city hostage and drove up pay and benefits." Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that free market forces drove up pay and benefits. In a rising economy and periods of unprecedented levels of violent crime, it became very difficult to find qualified police officers. And because in a free market, a police officer can leave one department and move to another with better pay and benefits, it became a very competitive market to attract, hire and retain quality police officers.

Costa Mesa lost a large number of trained officers to agencies with better pay and benefits. Prior to the downturn, the council was actively seeking incentives to hire new officers and retain experienced officers.

And so it's weird that McCarthy seems so enraged about my pension. What was I to do? Stay out of police work because the pay and benefits were too outrageous? Ask for a separate contract so I could earn less? I never once had any control over my pay or benefits, especially the pension plan. I took what was offered. But in McCarthy's eyes, I am the evildoer. And by virtue of having a city pension, my voice should be null and void.

I spent 30 years working with city government. The current council majority with Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and their wannabe, McCarthy, has proven to be the most inept and untrustworthy of any council I have ever seen. In their unjustified hubris, they refuse to listen and take input from real experts.

It seems obvious that they attack me so vociferously to take the spotlight off their poor performance and to intimidate others who could speak with accuracy about how badly they had damaged the city.

CLAY EPPERSON is a retired Costa Mesa police officer.

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