In the first of a two-part series based off the last Tuesdays Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Board of Directors meeting, we learned a lot of information about how screwed up the pensions database is and it’s now being asked to be corrected. While it may or may not be corrected, what is clear is the numbers are wrong and firefighters are not the enemy.
The first part of this series will focus on the pension database based off Vince Wells, President, Local 1230 Contra Costa Professional Firefighters, exchange with the Board of Supervisors. The second part of the series, which will be put out tomorrow will focus on the Board of Directors exchange with Kris Hunt, executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association.
What is so important for the public to know is that the numbers Kris Hunt has provided over the last few months to the public were based off fudged numbers. It was finally brought to the BOS attention and they wanted to fix this immediately—this is all on video.
One thing is clear; Ms. Hunt and the Contra Costa Times owe a big apology to East County and to all the firefighters who have been vilified in this process.
Here is what transpired during public comments in an exchange with Vince Wells and the Board of Supervisors with my comments following:
Public Comments Vince Wells, President of firefighters union 1230
Vince Wells: I just wanted to bring up that I was given a document the other day and have had several references to this document in regarding to firefighter pensions and pension contributions. I’ve been told this information is on the website (county website). I haven’t been able to research it yet but I wanted to take the opportunity today to bring it up and clarify some critical piece of information of this document that is real important that the public not to be misled and misinformed.
This particular document states the entity you work for, your name, your title, and it has your base pay, what you make from overtime, and what you make from other costs. Then it has the county contribution for medical, dental, vision, and then the other one. The one that is more concerning is it says employer contribution to pension and then employees contribution to pension and for us, its listing our contribution to as zero.
As you all know, we pay more than anybody in the county as well as the state into our pensions as well. In my case, its one-fourth of my paycheck and It says zero.
When the first person had mentioned this on one of the websites, I challenged that and went and did some research to show what it’s supposed to mean is what the county is supposed to pay for us and it shows zero but it’s clearly labeled as employer contribution to the pension and lists us as zero.
I don’t know who here would police that particular website as far from the county or if that is through the newspaper where all the county employees are.
Supervisor Mary Piepho: Thank you Vince for bringing that up and you are right that it doesn’t educate the public as much as it could if it showed both contributions. There may be a privacy component to being able to disclose with the employees contribution is to their own retirement. I don’t know but the government portion you said very clearly is the disclosure to the public what government is paying to their employees for wages and benefits…. It does deserve some clarification in light of the public’s concern.
Paraphrasing Supervisor Mitchoff: She thanked Mr. Wells for bringing this issue up while was looking for clarification on which website this information as published on. She was trying to figure out if it was the county website or another one. She was seeking more information.
Vince Wells: This was presented to me by the taxpayers board (CoCoTax.org) members yesterday and I’ve had other members get on public websites and social media saying that I don’t pay anything into my pension as union president. So the information is out there and I want to make sure it’s corrected or simply needs a note to explain what that column means. And I am not 100% sure it’s the county’s.
Supervisor Mitchoff: I don’t think it’s the county website because I had some questions on the category of what the compensation was and I communicated with our auditor controller’s office and they told me that, oh and Kris (Hunt) is here and she can answer this, but they told me that the numbers were pushed together, or calculated and analyzed by another entity and the auditor controller wasn’t even in agreement with some of the numbers.
Vince Wells: maybe Kris can answer where these numbers came from?
Supervisor Piepho: And your second point Vince?
Vince Wells: The other point I was going to make was in reference to the overtime just to inform the public that the thing I have is the “top 50 wage earners”. I just wanted to make sure that overtime, that everyone understood that within the fire district, there is two things. One that overtime isn’t compensable to retirement. It’s not compensable. The other part is that what we have is called minimum staffing overtime.
We have two categories of overtime. We have program overtime which backfills for personnel who go to class, training or other things like that which we have pretty much eliminated through our budget cuts. We are probably down 95% of the overtime budget, pretty much eliminated it and trying to do everything on duty to cut cost. But then the staffing, the minimum staffing overtime is after closing or de-staffing the crew from Concord on the 5th.
We are down to 28-stations and that’s 84-firefighters on duty per day. We are currently staffed at 230 firefighters which leaves us with about 75-per day because of the 3-shifts. So you are going to have 9 overtimes regardless just based on our staffing level and then the workers compensation, vacation, sick leave so that adds up but we keep 84-firefighters, we don’t close stations because people don’t show up to work.
There is a lot of people who like to work more overtime than others but some of us who don’t like to work overtime appreciate that, but the other point to that is it’s mandatory.
So for my example, my shifts were July 3 and July 4 and I get held. I wanted to go home on July 5 and I couldn’t because there was no one who was interested in volunteering to work. So I just wanted to make sure that those points were out there.
That one, it’s not compensable in retirement. And two, the only overtime we are getting now minimum staffing overtime which is to keep all 28-egine companies in service.
Supervisor Piepho: And Vince, when you are working overtime, where are you?
Vince wells: You are at work
Supervisor Mitchoff: It’s the Public Employee’s Database that is on the Contra Costa Times but I know the Times doesn’t put it, it’s the Public Employees Salary Database and I brought up Mr. Wells and it does show EE as zero. So whoever feeds the information into this database which I understand is a separate entity, we just publish it or make it available on their website, they need to get that correction.
Supervisor Piepho: Mr. Twa, did you have any additional input since Supervisor Mitchoff became the super sleuth to find out which website it is and we don’t have any control over it, maybe we can send them a letter.
David Twa: Madam Chair, obviously I think that clarified it. It’s not on the County website, but we provide the data that gets downloaded onto the system so we can check and see if there is any issues there but it’s not our data (corrected himself to say it’s not our website)
Supervisor Piepho: Would the county have a problem disclosing what the employees contribution is to their retirement?
David Twa: I don’t believe so but the issue is we are required to submit the data in a particular format which we do so that it can be consistent across all the jurisdictions and that may be part of the problem.
End of public comments
What disgusts me about what transpired Tuesday is that all the lies and exaggerations about pensions that were being used by Kris Hunt, Dave Roberts and many others during the Measure S campaign and now being used against CONFIRE are given a free pass by the Contra Costa Times and other local media. These folks have been exposed as liars and no one has made an attempt to correct them.
While I understand the Times do not want to expose the fraud of their own database being incorrect, one would think they would work to correct the problem or post a note on their website.
But what boggles my mind is that those who are supposed to be paying attention to this stuff, chose to remain silent. These are important facts for the public that went uncorrected while many on the Times Editorial Board slammed pensions, they were using exaggerated numbers. They tied overtime to pension figures in order to vilify firefighters.
The numbers were fudged and according to Supervisor Mitchoff, the numbers were pushed together—making them larger than reality—while the county auditor controller wasn’t even in agreement with some of the numbers.
Now that the Public Employee Salaries Database been now been proven to be fudged numbers and a fraud, neither Ms. Hunt, Mr. Roberts, and others who repeat the lies should be given a free pass any longer. They attacked on a lie and now they are the liars.
If you recall, Ms. Hunt wrote a letter to the editor in the Brentwood Press on May 10 which discussed pensions. She can now be dismissed as a fibber.
If you recall, Dave Roberts wrong an article on May 31 about $100,000 pensions—it should be noted none of these $100,000 pensions are from firefighters in East County. He also wrote on retirement costs where he was also wrong. Using his proclaimed award winning journalism skills, I guess that makes him a “double fibber”.
What people need to realize here is when the information is made available, once the county hands off the data, the county really does not have control of how the data is produced. Supervisor Piepho and Supervisor Mitchoff is correct in their statements above and the Board should write a letter to the Contra Costa Times to request they fix this so that they are on record they do not agree with this database.
I’ve spoken to many folks (many firefighters, folks in other departments and even Board of Supervisors themselves) who are listed on the database and let me tell you something, it’s not just their pensions that are wrong, its most of the data listed that is wrong. They all come back stating something similar which is, “I wish I made that.”
For East County, exposing these lies about the list came to late, but at least for CONFIRE’s sake, there is time to correct the message.
You don’t have to take my word for it, it’s all on video on the County website. The good thing is the lies over the last few months have now been exposed and has finally caught up with the fibbers.
The CCTPA has become the Rudy Giuliani of 2012.
Use a noun, a verb + “public pensions” in a sentence. Rudy showed them how to do it with “9/11” as the buzz phrase. That’s the complete strategy. Don’t give detailed facts. Don’t let anyone scratch below the surface to see if your argument is even logical. Just stick to emotion based headlines.
Granted, the database that the Times has complied for propaganda purposes is total costs. But let’s say we are discussing what a private sector individual makes at his or her job.
Does one quote their salary/hourly wage?
Or does one include in that quote their employer’s payroll overhead, any overtime they worked and were paid for, their health benefits, 401k matches or pensions if they have them? That’s your total cost in the private sector.
But when you’re waging a vilification campaign against public sector employees that double standard is the M.O.
Maybe Arne Simonsen, as a spokesperson for the CCTPA, could chime in. He could launch into some off topic story about how he did it in the Navy. Then I guess I could try to bring it back on topic by talking about his total cost while in the military with base pay, those 3 hots and a cot that he didn’t pay for out of pocket. Plus all that cost of training, transport and lodging for all those years. That would be fun, though a little bizarre with distracting from the core topic and preventing you from getting the true picture.
But it’s kind of the way they do things over there.
Another question, since I’m relatively new to CoCo County(since 2004). Other than a 1994 effort, has the fire district EVER gone to the rate payers for more money since Prop 13 and AB8 locked these revenue rates for the fire districts? Strictly speaking about ConFire and ECCFPD now, since Orinda-Moraga and San Ramon I know have.
Reason I ask is I many times see the opposition claiming that the fire districts continually(a word they actually use) comes to the taxpayers for more and more money. What other campaigns or ballot measures have come forth since 1978 to make this statement true?
Kris? Arne? A little help here.
For the bonus question, can someone explain to me the CCTPA logic that fire district costs are supposed to be immune from the same upward cost pressures that all products or services in the private sector are exposed to? I mean if you buy into that logic, a gallon of milk is supposed to cost no more today than it did in 1978 and NEVER cost you more out of pocket.
That’s the logic they are applying to fire districts here, if you think about it. They are demanding that government delivered service(s) remain constant in cost seemingly forever.
Can anyone explain how that’s realistic?
How wrong is the data base?? Well 2 YEARS after my husband retired he was still listed as working making over $120,000 a year!! Let me tell you, he has never made that kind of money, working or retired.
Thanks once again for shedding some much needed light on a controversial topic which is only made worse by sources that used to be reputable…sources like the Contra Costa Times. The cause lies coupled between lazy journalism and an uncaring attitude about the readership. Instead they appear to want to “make the news” instead of simply reporting on it. They lost their edge a long time ago and it’s a damn shame. Probably goes without saying, but the public has become aware of the jealousy that exists between some of the columnists, specific editors against public employees. It is very clear to everyone I know, that the Times has a “fire axe” to grind. It appears to be costing them subscriptions and advertisers. I even hear this from their employees! No wonder they are circling the drain.
I spent some time this morning reading your post & watching the video of the fire board meeting that you posted. It was difficult not to be embarrassed for Kris Hunt and Wendy Lack of the Tax payer’s association. Their presentations, comments and message was very disheveled and lacked serious credibility. They made themselves and their organization look punitive and pathetic. It was obvious that everyone in the room, including the audience had the two of them figured out. The county supervisors took turns at Kris Hunt, and Glover especially, exposed her lack of due diligence over and over. It was actually painful to watch. Piepho accurately dismantled Hunt’s attempt at defending the Tax payer association’s position by exposing the hypocrisy and conflicting statements that she (Hunt) has made between the two fire measures. Anderson, Giola and Mitchoff joined in too. But it was Kris Hunt who inflicted the most damage on the Taxpayer’s group that she represents. Anyone reading this or interested in the topic should watch the video for themselves -I will leave it at that.
I doubt if the Times will correct their public employee database. Apparently they are not big on correcting bad information that they themselves distribute. I also read the comments from many public employees who confirm that the information displayed is incorrect and misleading. After reading what I have and talking to people that work for a listed county, it is disappointing the CCTimes would perpetuate bay area salaries that are confusing and very possibly erroneous. How does the Times possibly imagine the rest of the public will process the costs associated with employment if the employees whose names appear next to the posted figures cannot? You would think that a newspaper would do everything in their power to get out the correct information to the public, voters, and taxpayers. Shamefully this is not the case and directly at the root of some of the “information disconnect.”
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-man said it best; “With great power comes great responsibility.” Too bad both the CCTimes and the CCTtaxpayers Association hasn’t figured that out.
I also had friends tell me they made much less than what was reported but they didn’t explain it like this. The graphic really helps me better understand. It’s amazing the people who lie are never held accountable. I wonder if anyone has the balls to sue the Times or others for false information since they are so quick to promote their database.
Truthfully, I could care less how much someone makes as long as when I dial 911 they can give me service.
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