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Orange County

Trustee in Benefit Dispute Leads

Armando Ruiz of the Coast Community College District has been scorned for his pension.

November 04, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

A community college trustee who reaped a pension bonanza by retiring from the board two days before Tuesday's election was returned to his seat by voters, preliminary results showed Wednesday.

Armando Ruiz, a 21-year member of the Coast Community College District board, easily outdistanced two challengers Tuesday's ballot with about 41% of the total. Challengers Bonnie Castrey and Diane A. Lenning trailed substantially in the tally of regular votes; final figures will not be available until absentee and provisional ballots are counted.

The ballot labeled Ruiz "incumbent" because he notified the college Friday -- too late for any changes -- that he would retire Sunday. Critics have accused Ruiz of portraying himself as an incumbent while, at the same time, quitting before the election in order to take advantage of a quirk in state law that allowed him to significantly increase his pension.

Ruiz retired not only as a trustee but also from his full-time job as a counselor at Irvine Valley College.

Had Ruiz retired from the board on a day other than when he retired from Irvine Valley, he would have received the typical board pension of about $5,000 a year, plus $54,000 annually from his counselor's job, for a total of $59,000 annually.

But state law allows part-time officeholders first elected before 1994 to join the state retirement system and, if they worked at another government agency and retired on the same day from both jobs, to receive a pension based on the highest salary from either agency as the basis for both pensions. Thus, Ruiz will receive a total pension estimated at $108,000 a year.

Now that he's been reelected, Ruiz also will continue to receive his board salary of about $9,800 a year.

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