Gatto hopes for pension reform

State lawmakers will hold a public hearing in Glendale next month on a pension reform measure proposed by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) that would protect cities from having to contribute to bloated pension obligations for former employees.

Gatto said he and state Sen. Lou Correa are working to arrange a hearing on Assembly Bill 192, a proposal that would force cities that lure top managers with salary increases of 15% or more to bear the related pension costs.

Gatto drafted the measure after learning that nearly all of the $400,000-a-year pension for former Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams will be borne by Glendale, Simi Valley and Ventura, where Adams worked before he became Bell police chief last year at a salary of $471,000. Adams earned $215,000 in Glendale.

Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird estimated that Adams' inflated Bell salary will cost Glendale taxpayers an additional $40,000 a year for the duration of Adams' pension benefit should it pass muster with state and county officials who are investigating the legality of the agreements.

Gatto has not confirmed a time and place for the event, and noted it might be rescheduled if lawmakers are called to Sacramento on urgent business, but said he expects city officials to testify on the proposed pension reform.

"I'd also like to see members of the public come and testify and state very clearly they would rather have their Glendale tax dollars go to filling potholes in Glendale than to paying salaries in Bell," Gatto said. "We want the public retirement people to hear that loud and clear."

Starbird said he plans to testify.

"I feel that there is a problem with the procedures [the Public Employee Retirement System] uses in allocating costs that need review," Starbird said in an e-mail. "Just what the fix is, I don't know, but the Bell situation points out that there is a flaw."

Ventura City Manager Rick Cole applauded Gatto's effort, and said the three cities where Adams worked prior to Bell should not be forced to pay additional costs triggered by his high salary increase.

However, Cole and Starbird said the League of California Cities and others have expressed concern that the 15% trigger in Gatto's bill is too low, and might discourage promotions among talented administrators.

"I'm interested in understanding more about these concerns, which would come out in the hearing Assemblymember Gatto is proposing," Starbird said.

Gatto's measure is one of several public pension and salary reform proposals to come out of the Bell scandal.

On Tuesday, a handful of related bills passed and were sent to the governor's desk. Gatto co-authored one of those measures, a bill that would cap municipal employee salaries at 125% of the governor's $212,000 salary.

Gatto said he did not push for a vote on his own pension bill because it has not yet been the subject of a hearing.

"My bill was a relative late-comer to the game," Gatto said. "We didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the bill's passage by having anyone accuse of us of not holding a hearing."

Meanwhile, Starbird said he hopes that probes of Bell by the state attorney general and Los Angeles County District Attorney will save the cities from having to pay the additional benefits to Adams.

"We are waiting to see what the various investigating agencies turn up and what action PERS takes," Starbird said.

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