Lawmakers talk pension reform following the Bell scandal

Former Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams is unlikely to get a pension windfall from his 2009 move to a $471,000-a-year job in the city of Bell, according to a California Public Employees' Retirement System official who testified at a public hearing on Thursday.

CalPERS chief actuary Alan Milligan said Adams may not qualify for the payout because his contract with Bell did not meet the agency's public disclosure requirements.

"It is not clear those (disclosure) requirements were met," said Milligan.

Milligan's testimony came during a joint state Assembly and Senate hearing at Glendale City Hall on a bill by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake). The measure would force cities that lure high-level staffers with salary increases of 15% or more to also pay for the corresponding increase in the employee's retirement benefits.

Gatto introduced the bill after learning Glendale and other cities where Adams had worked would pay for 97% percent of the police chief's estimated $400,000 annual retirement benefit, roughly double the tab had he not earned the high salary in Bell.

Gatto was joined at the hearing by Assemblyman Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) and state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), who indicated support for the reform.

But representatives from several government coalitions and employee unions expressed reservations about Assembly Bill 192.

Eraina Ortega said her organization, the California State Assn. of Counties, opposes the bill because it might stop larger cities and counties from routine recruitments in which they attract workers from smaller agencies that pay less.

"While these decisions are completely above board, they would be captured by AB 192," she said.

Representatives for League of California Cities, CalPERS and the Service Employees International Union were also less than enthusiastic about the bill.

Burbank City Manager Mike Flad praised Gatto for raising the issue, but also shared concerns that the bill might reduce the mobility of public servants and punish cities seeking top talent.

"The legislation is headed in the right direction, it is the details that will determine whether we support it or not," Flad said.

But Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird said reform is needed after the abuse by Adams and others in Bell.

"Why shouldn't they — when they nearly double his pay — be responsible for that cost?" he asked.

He said the Legislature should act while the issue is in the public eye.

"The next Bell will occur, and someone will say, 'Why didn't you fix it that day?'" he said.

After the hearing. Gatto said he would take into account the concerns expressed Thursday and expects to make "minor" changes to the bill.

"Clearly, there are changes that are necessary in the public pension system, and there are those who are resistant to those changes," he wrote in an e-mail. "But we as a Legislature owe it to the public to make decisions that improve the long-term health of our state, and I believe my bill does just that."

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