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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1965buick

Who are we to say that they don’t deserve this money? Especially if unfunded, they should be raking in triple! 100-150k/yr is so little to live on for the priceless work these gods provide for us!


Kaiser Bill

The solution is simple.


The pension system does not need to be scrapped. The problem is not retired government secretaries with $40K/yearly pensions. The pension system needs to cap how much people can earn annually. Say $75K. After the cap, those at the top are free to invest their money in 401Ks like everyone else. It is unsustainable and unconscionable to pay retired School Administrators, Firemen, and Cops $150K for 30 or 40 years when they retire at 55.


isoslo

Bill, not to be argumentative, but we must scrape the state, county and city pension system and force these employees to join social security. There is no reason why any government employee should have a large pension benefit. People will still want these government jobs even if they only get paid like mere mortals.


Rich in MB

There is indeed a reason….political Unit Payouts!!!!


Kaiser Bill

Many of these government workers would make more in the private sector. So the state pension system is set up to attract people with skills who could find better pay elsewhere. Do you really want to scrape the bottom of the barrel when hiring a State Geologist or or Seismologist who reviews building safety for earthquakes? A prison or college health clinic doctor who commits medical malpractice and puts the state at the risk of lawsuits?


And sorry, this idea of scrapping pensions for average worker bees is more dog eat dog Libertarian free market solutions from people like Paul Ryan that have no support among rank and file Americans. Part of the reason Trump won is because he avoided attacking unions and people who have earned a good pension. Because most of these people have in fact EARNED their pension and don’t take home anywhere close to $150K/month. The average CalPERS recipient takes home $1400/month.


So the solution is clear. Keep pensions for public workers, but cap it at a certain level.


only-when-i-do-this

public safety and education.


these are the sacred cows in SLO.


any other endeavor in SLO is of no consequence.


Rambunctious

Had enough yet California?


copperhead

Apparently not because they keep voting for Big Government.


Pete

Disgusting….


demiseofslo

I make like $20 an hour. I work about 70 hours a week.


I pay my rent. I have a decent car that is paid for.


I get no benefits, no pension, etc. I live comfortably though on roughly $45k a year.


So my question is this-


WTF do these people need all this money for? What does a 60+ year old man need $10k a month for? Seriously I wanna know!


Kaiser Bill

“WTF do these people need all this money for? What does a 60+ year old man need $10k a month for? Seriously I wanna know!”


Vacations to Europe and the South Pacific, European/Japaense luxury cars, tickets to the SF Opera, season tickets to the Niners/Giants, virtue signalling donations to local charities and non-profits, donations to political campaigns to rig the CalPERS/STRS to benefit those at the top.


RonHolt

Most likely of all — that $3M McMansion on 5 acres.


Mark

If I’m not mistaken, these pensions index UP each year for the rest of their lives.


SLOBIRD

You are absolutely correct, it is based on the CPI which, as the economy is indicating, it certainly is to rise during the next few years.


Some of these people, like San Luis Obispo employees (Hampien) had the power to change the City’s retirement plans from 2% at 60 years (times the years of service) to 2.7% at 55 years and then he retired. The SLO Police Dept (Parkinson) 0was changed to 3% at 50 years and received SUPER SALARIES before they retired.


How many people in this County retire at the age of 50/55 and then get 2.7% – 3% for each year of service, Then, if that was not enough, turn around and go to work for the County Sheriff’s Dept. Parkinson has a bucket of SLO retired police officers that now working for the County Sheriff’s Dept earning a second pension and covering his back!


MrYan

Hey Josh, have you done the math to see what a private sector professional would have made in retirement benefits over the course of their career?


You claim that most in the private sector would not see such benefits, but you treat the private sector as a homogeneous landscape. Hedge fund Mgr’s retire with more than a Mc Donald’s Mgr’s.


Compared to your average worker the benefits are quite large. But what kind of nest egg does the average private sector dentist retire with? How does that compare with your Men’s Colony dentist? I need to know how much outrage I should have.


What are the driver’s that put our system out of skew? Could it be that Cities and Counties relied on the “free market” to deal with funding their portion of the retirement obligation? They could have budgeted for the retirement contribution instead of relying on the market to perform well enough to do it for them. That would have helped to avoid the issue that you’ve outlined. The pensioner’s didn’t get to make those decision’s.


Perhaps we could also change the rules so Public sector retirees can only draw their pension at 62 like the rest of us. The system was not designed for double pension’s and a long retirement….


Thus far all your article asked me to do is get mad at people drawing pensions and little else.


copperhead

Mr Yan:


You aren’t paying for the Private Sector Dentist’s pension – he has saved all of the money himself. Maybe $5 from every root canal he performed. The dentist is not being paid to not work.


The employer portions that make up these pensions are paid by the taxpayer. Shortfalls in meeting the obligations will also be paid by the taxpayer. Your annual increases in taxes are footing the lifestyle of 1,000s of people who sat around for 30 years and are collecting more than they ever made.


The solution is do away with the public pensions and make these government workers save their own money like everyone else does.


MrYan

It was a simple critique. If the author wants me to be upset over the cost of pensions, then show me some compelling data comparing the cost of similar retirees in both public and private sector. I am open to being persuaded. This article did not attempt to persuade or inform.


I understand full well how the system operates–and its’ shortfalls. The article did not attempt to address these issues, but merely sewed contempt for neighbors drawing from the public system.


I think the analogy you used in retort of my post is a bit off the mark as well..


You don’t think I help to pay for the retirement of a Dentist who contributes to their own 401K?


Did he give me a break on my root canal that I wasn’t aware of? His retirement contribution is baked into the cake. That is how the free market operates.


Private sector retirement package often require the employer to match some portion of what the employee saves towards retirement. They match it with money out of operating expense of the company. You know–budget for it in their planning.


Public sector employees do the same Copperhead. They contribute to their own retirement with every paycheck. And they EARN their paycheck–even if it is taxpayer derived.


But their employer is allowed to forego setting the matching money aside( during the fiscal year as it occurred) and is instead allowed to let the “market” make the contribution for them. Hence unfunded liabilities. So in this respect I agree with you that it should reflect how it is done in the private sector. Only in the government can a a contribution to be made that isn’t really made.


If you want to get a handle on public pensions change the system-and make city and state governments live –and hire–within their means. Contribute to retirement plans directly from the budget–hence funded liabilities. We may have more potholes as a consequence–but bills that are incurred are bills that are paid.


You could also require that pensions can’t be drawn until retirement age like the private sector. If quit your state job at 45 and earn a pension great. Enjoy it at 65 and no sooner.


These two things would go a long way to fixing the current system and would have been worthwhile to address in this piece.


Thank you though for the un-withering defense of the american taxpayer, and Josh the author I was critiquing.


Rich in MB

Mr Yan….

What local Government Job do you have…ha ha ha


MrYan

You got me. I am the chief poop scooper for the City of Morro Bay. You should know, I camp out in front of your property on a regular basis. I am curious though when you’re going to actually get a pet.


………see that is humor……your attempt..not so much


I guess, unlike you, I can take a position on something that is separate from my own self interests.


With your logic or lack thereof; I’d have to be gay to support civil rights for gays. A pro football player in order to comment on the sport. Etc.


kayaknut

We now know for sure why, when they talk about having to cut services and not having enough money for maintenance and to keep our infrastructure up that they are not kidding since they say it is because of not having enough money, we now know where our money is going. We also know why they need to raise our taxes and fees……….. And yet they never talk about cutting positions, salaries, benefits and pensions.


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