YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

O.C. Trustee's Pending Retirement to Be Debated

Ruiz can reap a larger pension if he exits Coast Community, counseling job on the same day.

September 01, 2004|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

The Coast Community College District board is scheduled to debate an unusual question at tonight's meeting: Should it -- and can it -- bar one of its members from retiring?

A lot of money could be at stake for Armando R. Ruiz, who has served as a trustee since 1983.

Because of a quirk in state law, Ruiz could collect a much larger pension for his trustee service should he retire on the same day -- Oct. 31 -- that he is scheduled to retire as a counselor at nearby South Orange County Community College District.

Ruiz, 61, would be entitled to a combined annual pension of about $120,000 if he retires from both jobs on the same day -- nearly twice the amount he would receive if he were to wait at least another day.

Ruiz declined to discuss his plans last month when asked by fellow board members and officials with the Coast teachers union; he also didn't return calls from The Times.

Despite the financial incentive to retire from the board, Ruiz has not submitted a retirement request, college offi- cials said, and is seeking re- election Nov. 2 to a sixth four-year term.

Nevertheless, officials with Coast's Federation of Teachers said they fear Ruiz intends to retire Oct. 31 and then still run again for the board, a move that would allow him to collect the maximum pension and perhaps keep his trustee seat as well.

To force a discussion of the issue, the union has drafted a proposed resolution for board members to declare their opposition to any retirement by Ruiz before Dec. 15, when his term ends.

"The public is entitled to know if he is going to use this double-dipping retirement perk because he's asking for their vote for another four-year term," said union President Dean Mancina, a professor at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

But such a resolution would be unenforceable, said Scott Lay, vice president of the Community College League of California, a Sacramento-based alliance of college districts.

College boards can determine retirement dates only if an employee has a job contract, Lay said. Elected officials don't serve under contract and can retire whenever they wish, he said. "This is a political issue, not a legal one," he said.

The issue has split the board. Trustee Jerry Patterson said he would support the union resolution unless Ruiz withdraws his bid for reelection. Collecting a pension boost for a false retirement would be dishonest, he said.

If Ruiz wants to take advantage of the double-pension provision, Patterson said, "Fine. Retire. But don't resign and then two days later run as an incumbent on the ballot."

Ruiz joined the South Orange County district in 1990 but has worked for community colleges for more than 30 years as an educator and administrator, officials said.

A former vice president of student services at Irvine Valley College, Ruiz now works as a counselor at that campus, one of two in the South Orange County Community College District.

The possibility of a double pension comes from a quirk in state law that allowed part-time officeholders elected before 1994 to join the state retirement system.

If the employee worked at another government agency and retired on the same day from both jobs, he or she could use the highest salary from either agency as the basis for both pensions. If the retirement occurred on different days, the pension would be based only on the salary of the position being vacated.

The difference would be substantial for Ruiz. If he were to retire on different days, his Coast retirement pay would be about $5,000 a year, based on his $10,000 annual salary. If he were to retire on the same day from both jobs, his pension from the Coast district would jump to $54,180 a year--based on his highest annual pay of $107,500 from his service as a vice president at Irvine Valley College.

Ruiz resigned May 21 from his counseling job at Irvine Valley College and set his retirement date as Oct. 31.

South Orange County Community College District officials declined to say what his pension will be, but the state formula calls for a retiree with his salary and years of service to receive about $65,000.

Los Angeles Times Articles