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Villaraigosa blocks board's nominee for head of pension system

The mayor rejects a high-level city official for leadership of the public safety retirement fund and says he wants a new pool of candidates for the post. One board member calls the decision odd.

June 23, 2012|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • “Given the increasingly significant responsibilities of this position … I believe a more thorough and extensive search should be conducted,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wrote about the leadership of the city's public safety retirement fund.
“Given the increasingly significant responsibilities of this… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

In the latest sign of tension between Los Angeles City Hall and its pension systems, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday blocked a high-level city official from becoming the newest head of the city's public safety retirement fund.

The nine-member Fire and Police Pensions board, which oversees a $14.2-billion system that delivers benefits to retired officers and firefighters, selected William Raggio last month as the system's newest executive director.

But on Friday, with the City Council scheduled to confirm Raggio's nomination, the mayor forwarded a letter saying he had used his authority to "disapprove" the new hire and wanted a new pool of candidates.

"Given the increasingly significant responsibilities of this position … I believe a more thorough and extensive search should be conducted," he wrote.

L.A.'s pension costs have been steadily growing in recent years, taking up a larger share of the budget that pays for basic services. With that financial crisis as a backdrop, Villaraigosa has repeatedly attempted to intervene in decisions at two city pension boards.

Last fall, he tried to persuade the city's civilian pension board to delay a plan to lower its long-term investment return projections — a step being taken by retirement systems across the country.

He removed the president of that board — a woman he appointed — after she said she had informed the mayor's office that she could not ignore a report that warned that the retirement system could no longer expect a yearly 8% return on its investments.

Fire and Police Pensions board member George Aliano said his agency had already conducted a nationwide search, with five of Villaraigosa's appointees voting for Raggio, who was an assistant general manager of the system until last month. The board made its selection, Aliano said, after candidates were provided to the city's Personnel Department, whose general manager reports to Villaraigosa.

"It's odd that [Villaraigosa] would go against a unanimous vote after a process that was handled by his own Personnel Department," said Aliano, a retired police officer. "What information does he have that this is not the right selection? It was pretty obvious that this is the guy" for the job.

The Fire and Police Pensions board has five members who are selected by Villaraigosa. The other four represent police officers and firefighters.

Raggio would not discuss Villaraigosa's decision. He said he met with the mayor's high-level staff on May 8, after the board voted to select him. He would not discuss the conversation that occurred during that meeting.

Villaraigosa has been pushing for an increase in the retirement age of civilian city employees to 67. He has threatened to take that proposal to the ballot if the City Council declines to act.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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