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The Region

Ventura County Retires Pension Perk

October 22, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors agreed Tuesday to eliminate a controversial retirement perk for six elected department managers, unswayed by protests that doing so could create inequities in pay among county administrators.

The 3-2 vote will not affect the pensions of the current officeholders -- Dist. Atty. Greg Totten, Sheriff Bob Brooks and four other elected managers -- because their benefits are already vested. But it would apply to their successors in office.

Under the policy, elected managers were permitted to add seven weeks of pay to their final year's salary. That boosted so-called "final compensation," the basis for calculating pension checks.

Eliminating the benefit will bring an estimated $1 million in savings over 10 years, according to Supervisor Steve Bennett.

Besides the sheriff and district attorney, the provision applied to the county auditor/controller; treasurer/tax collector; assessor; and clerk/recorder. Supervisors did not get the perk.

Approved in 2001, the benefit was intended to give elected managers parity with appointed department heads, who are allowed to add several weeks of unused vacation pay to their final year's salary.

Brooks said that without the supplement, appointed managers would have no financial incentive to run because doing so could mean a cut in pension benefits. That would deprive the county of the people most qualified to succeed incumbents, the sheriff argued.

Assessor Dan Goodwin accused Bennett and Supervisor Kathy Long, who are up for reelection in March, of using the issue to win votes while ignoring the county's larger budget problems. He also challenged the cost-savings estimate, saying it was flawed.

"The voters are insulted and I am insulted," Goodwin said. "We are dealing with pennies while dollars are blowing away."

Bennett, however, said he asked for a vote on the perk because the county was in the midst of a broader review of all employee benefits. This is the third time he has brought the retirement benefit to the board's attention, Bennett said.

John Flynn and Judy Mikels, who dissented, said they wanted more time to study the issue. They accused Bennett of trying to rush a decision and chided him for failing to inform the elected managers that the item was going to be on the agenda.

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