SLO County’s soaring six-figure pension club

June 1, 2017

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

As unfunded pension liabilities wreak havoc with some local government budgets, the number of San Luis Obispo County retirees receiving six-figure pensions is soaring. More than 100 retirees from just the city and county of San Luis Obispo are receiving pensions of greater than $100,000 a year.

This year, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) member agencies are grappling with a decision made in late 2016 by the pension fund’s board to lower its investment forecast. The move caused unfunded liabilities to spike, and in the case of the city of SLO, resulted in projections of multi-million shortfalls in upcoming budgets.

All seven cities in SLO County, Cal Poly and the California Men’s Colony are members of CalPERS.

While the county of SLO has its own retirement system, it is certainly not immune to rising pension costs. One county government retiree is now receiving a yearly pension that exceeds $200,000, according to Transparent California, a database of public employee salaries and pensions.

While a $200,000 pension may seem unimaginable for many retirees, it is not uncommon among retired public workers in the state of California. For instance, former Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca received a $334,978 pension in 2016.

Baca recently made headlines after he was convicted in federal court of overseeing a scheme to obstruct a civil rights investigation relating to abuses at county jail facilities. A judge sentenced Baca to a three-year prison sentence, and he is due to begin serving time in July.

Still, Baca is expected to keep the majority, if not all, of his pension. Under California pension rules, public employees convicted of felonies related to their jobs only forfeit retirement benefits that they earned after the crimes occurred. Baca amassed decades of service before he ran afoul of federal investigators.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who has also faced criticism over his handling of a county jail, is also a member of the six-figure pension club. Though Parkinson is currently on the SLO County payroll, he retired from the San Luis Obispo police force in 2014 and became eligible to receive a pension.

In 2015, Parkinson received a $124,350 pension from CalPERS, and he earned $285,075 in salary and benefits from the county. In all, Parkinson received $409,425 in work and retirement pay.

Though Parkinson’s retirement pay easily eclipses $100,000 a year, it is not even half the amount of the largest government pension in SLO County. Warren Baker, the former president of Cal Poly, received a $259,104 pension in 2015.

Baker’s annual pension increased by more than $13,000 between 2012 and 2015. At that rate of increase, Baker could be receiving a $300,000 pension by 2023.

Baker is one of 36 Cal Poly retirees who received six-figure pensions in 2015. Four of those retirees earned pensions larger than $150,000.

In San Luis Obispo County’s boutique pension system, there were 71 retirees who received six-figure pensions in 2015. A total of 17 county pensioners earned more than $150,000 a year in retirement pay in 2015.

Frank Freitas

The county of SLO’s leading pensioner is former treasurer-tax collector Frank Freitas. In 2015, Freitas received a pension of $200,525, as well as $1,668 in other retirement benefits, for a total of $202,193.

Four other county pensioners received more than $175,000 in retirement pay in 2015. Former county administrative officer James Grant grossed $182,567, followed by former assistant district attorney Daniel Hilford ($178,962), former district attorney Gerald Shea ($178,459) and former sheriff Pat Hedges ($177,956).

Ken Hampian

The city of SLO had 31 retirees with six-figure pensions in 2015, three of whom received more than $150,000 in retirement pay. San Luis Obispo’s top pensioner is former city manager Ken Hampian, who received a $168,286 pension in 2015.

A combined total of 19 retirees from the other six cities in SLO County received pensions larger than $100,000 in 2015. Paso Robles had seven members in the six-figure pension club, Morro Bay had four, Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande had three each and Atascadero had two.

Morro Bay, Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles each had one pensioner who eclipsed $139,000 in 2015. John De Rohan, the former police chief of Morro Bay, received $139,817; Michael Hubert, the former Arroyo Grande fire chief received $139,120; and Dennis Cassidy, the former Paso Robles police chief received $139,089.

Jim Copsey

Only one local city, Grover Beach, did not have six-figure pensioner in 2015. However, former Grover Beach police chief Jim Copsey received a $99,307 pension. Additionally, Copsey was double-dipping, meaning he was receiving a Grover beach salary and pension simultaneously.

Copsey served as interim police chief following his retirement. Shortly after his stint as interim chief, Copsey served as Grover Beach’s interim city manager, double-dipping for a second time.

Among SLO County’s community services districts, only the Cambria CSD had six-figure pensioners in 2015. Led by former General manager Vernon Hamilton, who received a $119,924 pension, the Cambria CSD had three members of the six-figure pension club in 2015.

Several school districts in SLO County have six-figure pensioners. The top pensioner among local school districts is former San Luis Coastal superintendent Ed Valentine, who received a $183,322 pension in 2015. Valentine and most other top pensioners from local school districts are members of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).

Several state agency retirees who live in SLO County are also receiving yearly pensions in excess of $200,000. Donald Ellis, a dentist who retired from the California Men’s Colony in 2010, received a $205,293 pension in 2015. Roger Wunderlich, a former Atascadero State Hospital psychiatrist who retired in 2011, earned a $204,915 pension in 2015.

The Men’s Colony had 39 six-figure pensioners in 2015, while ASH had 16. Five of the 16 ASH retirees in the six-figure pension club receive yearly retirement payments of more than $150,000.

Meanwhile, throughout California many cities and counties are facing financial difficulties because of high unfunded pension liabilities which continue to soar as more retirees join the six-figure pension club.

Top pensioners by agency (2015):

Cal Poly: Warren Baker – $259,104

California Men’s Colony: Donald Ellis – $205,293

Atascadero State Hospital: Roger Wunderlich – $204,915

SLO County: Frank Freitas – $202,193

San Luis Coastal School District: Ed Valentine – $183,322

San Luis Obispo: Ken Hampian – $168,286

Morro Bay: John De Rohan – $139,817

Arroyo Grande: Michael Hubert – $139,120

Paso Robles: Dennis Cassidy – $139,089

Lucia Mar: Sidney Richison – $137,610

Atascadero Unified School District: James Stecher – $136,390

Pismo Beach: Jeffrey Norton – $130,973

Atascadero: John Couch – $120,241

Cambria CSD: Vernon Hamilton – $119,924

Coast Unified School District: Denis Declercq – $116,559

Templeton Unified: Richard Duke – $106,873

Grover Beach: *Jim Copsey – $99,307

*Copsey also received pay for serving as Grover Beach’s interim police chief.







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48 Comments

  1. CCWine says:

    But I though gov’t leaders as so noble because they choose to serve others selflessly instead of making money in the private sector? Thats one amazing pension

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. mustangglp says:

    Blatant theft from the tax payers! One has to wonder what the medium wage would be without public employees and PG&E employees factored In?
    Taxs tax Tax to pay for this!

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  3. Paso_citizen says:

    Although this is an excellent article – all it really states is the obvious; stuff that has been known for a very long time.

    It also supports 2 of my long standing beliefs :
    1. The retirees that are screwing us taxpayers (and those that soon will) know for an
    absolute fact that nothing will ever be done. Us poor taxpayers may bitch and moan,
    but nothing will change.
    2. In general, us poor taxpayers don’t really give a damn. If we did, we would have fixed
    this issue a long time ago.

    So what will happen? City, county, and state governments will continue to take our tax money to pay for these ridiculous pensions; instead of using our tax dollars to improve the life of ordinary citizens or fix our infrastructure issues. And when the money they get from us is not enough (and it will never be enough); they will come up with ‘novel’ ways to get more – and more – and more.

    I (maybe fortunately) am in my early 70’s and will only suffer this legal form of ‘armed’ robbery for a few more years. The younger generation; those in their 20’s and 30’s, and the many children not yet born will bear the real brunt of this. And those in power don’t give damn – basically because they are all looking forward to the day when they can also feed at this table. Does anyone think that anyone in power is going to do anything that would reduce their pensions?

    But it will have to stop, someday. Governments that do this can not continue in existence
    The only question is if this stops at the ballot box or by an rebellious overthrow; from within or from without this nation. My money (what I have left after paying more than my fair share)
    is on the later. Too many examples exist over the past thousands of years to bet otherwise.

    May God, in all his mercy, help us all.

    (14) 16 Total Votes - 15 up - 1 down
    • Jorge Estrada says:

      Sadly the law requires us to fund their pensions so we move the budget to accommodate that. The public roads do not have the same mandate.

      (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
    • Ricky2 says:

      Bear in mind that the cities got themselves into this mess by spiking pensions in the early 2000s, when everyone (without a brain) assumed the economic boom would continue forever (which economic booms never do) so the spiked pensions would be affordable.

      As for CalPers, a few facts that aren’t mentioned here: The average state pension through CalPers is in the low 30s. That means half of its pensioners are living in or near poverty level despite having worked a lifetime for the state. The problem is these high pensioners of the article are the freaks, in every sense of the word. Why don’t we pick a number and just cap public pensions at that level? Pensions are intended to support a decent lifestyle, not an opulent one.

      Another point: About 2/3 of what CalPers pays out to state pensioners comes from investment income, not from taxpayers. Of the remaining third, some is provided by recipients and some by taxpayers. So, let’s understand what’s what.

      Then we get to the cities and special agencies who’ve elected to have their pensions administered by CalPers. This is an entirely different beast, and is where the problem lies. The problem was created by greedy staff and city council members who went along with staff’s greed out of ignorance of the future outcome. In SLO city, for example, Hampian urged the council to spike pensions, then once that happened he retired at a young age in opulence which will indeed be taxpayer funded.

      (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
  4. ODX says:

    Am I the only one that believes it is time to cap all California government employee salaries. It needs to be across the board. Even if all you did was cap California government executives salaries at Federal rate pay scales you would see significant savings. NO housing allowances or other other side deals. While most complain about Federal salaries they are far less than what is paid to executives in California by a wide margin. And for the BS about the best will go else where. Really !!! If they don’t care more about what they can contribute as public servants then let them go suck off some other taxpayers in another state. Stop the rape of California……

    (10) 12 Total Votes - 11 up - 1 down
  5. just4fun says:

    For kicks, I looked up our frequent commenters against big government and found Kevin Rice at more than 200k and Cody Ferguson at over 150k. Can you say “Wolves in sheep’s clothing”?

    (10) 14 Total Votes - 12 up - 2 down
  6. pensatore says:

    All white males. No surprise; the good ole boy is alive and well in San Luis Obispo County

    Check out this website for government employee salaries.

    http://publicpay.ca.gov/

    (0) 16 Total Votes - 8 up - 8 down
    • pensatore says:

      BTW: Look at San Luis Obispo county planning officials who retired making six digits. Check out on the above website.

      (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down
    • CentralcoastRN says:

      Women in general are in the “helping” professions. Nurses, social workers. The government pays these jobs abysmally, therefore the pension is not great. SLO county is currently paying their nurses that have been nurses for many years “new grad” pay. Meanwhile, sheriffs get a raise every single year and this is why you see males in law enforcement making top salaries. Well, that and white collar male jobs.

      (1) 7 Total Votes - 4 up - 3 down
  7. Scarlet says:

    Is this disturbing? It is. But what I find MORE disturbing: Where are the women????

    (-1) 19 Total Votes - 9 up - 10 down
    • pensatore says:

      Amen!!!!! San Luis Obispo is still a good ole boy county even with the men wearing silk suits.

      (-1) 11 Total Votes - 5 up - 6 down
  8. Liberty1948 says:

    Well written, Josh. Bankruptcy for these cities in San Luis Obispo County seems inevitable.

    (18) 20 Total Votes - 19 up - 1 down

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