PLUNDER! Greenhut describes “the kind of society we’re creating… government elite… special  pay… benefits… privileges… and exemptions – the rest of us pay for these excesses!”

26 Jan

In his book “PLUNDER!” Steven Greenhut makes it immediately clear he has no love for the public sector or government workers, opining, “Many, if not most of them, perform jobs that should either be eliminated or handled by the private sector…”

He goes on to describe the “Public Employee Smorgasbord” by which “public servants” receive special privileges and enjoy salaries and benefits “50% more than private sector employees doing similar jobs.” 

Yeah, I’ve seen this in the contracts and rules. I just read a cop contract from last year that allowed them to go to the  gym during their shift, already having been paid to “don and doff” – shower and dress at the beginning and/or end of each shift. They also get “mandatory overtime” – that’s not the city demanding that they work longer hours but the cops demanding to get paid a minimum amount of overtime each year. 

Our city employees, including city council members, are “indemnified” – they  can’t be sued for bad decisions, like those made in the early 2000’s that brought our city down the road to Bankruptcy. Scott Gruendl and Mary Flynn left in a cloud of disgrace over alcohol and drug problems – after having sat for years in whatever kind of condition making decisions that tanked our local economy. But they’re Teflon-coated, we can’t sue them. 

This book was written in 2009, when I was just becoming aware of the pensions and the burgeoning deficit. Greenhut reminds me of the days when they were still trying to hide the deficit. I remember going to a morning meeting back in the early 2000’s, at which Mayor Gruendl, probably reeling from a hangover or higher than a kite on pills, tried to pussy-foot around the problem. He wanted a revenue measure but was afraid to tell the public why. He had one of those oversize drawing pads on an eisle, with Sharpees of various colors, he tried to sketch out the situation. At one point he put down the red pen saying, “ooops! We don’t want to scare anybody!”

Well, since then, we found out, we were sitting at the edge of a precipice, in a junked out car, teetering on the brink of disaster, and here was Gruendl, not wanting to scare anybody!

Brian Nakamura, bless his black little heart, came in as City Manager in 2012. He had been hired to tell the public what was going on, and he made it very clear, announcing a pension deficit of about $189 million. He also mentioned a “benefits deficit,” but that has never been seriously discussed. 

Nakamura explained pension deficit, or liability, and chastised us for not passing Measure J – a cell phone tax that he said would have produced about $900,000 a year. That sounded pretty ridiculous, in the face of a $189 million problem. 

Our leaders hired this man, gave him an unprecedented salary, and signed a contract that promised him a full year’s salary if terminated. When he left within a year to take a job in Rancho Cordova, they all stood there with their mouths hanging open.

Why are our elected officials so dumb? Why do they agree to this stuff? Greenhut nails it – “Elected officials are generous … they buy labor peace and political support… letting future taxpayers deal with the growing debt…”

Yeah, where’s Scott Gruendl today? He’s sitting in a lucrative job with San Mateo County, Behavioral Health Director. The guy who left his job with Glenn County Behavioral Health just ahead of a tar and feathers party at which he was going to be fired. Instead of holding Gruendl liable for his behavior and incompetence, the Glenn County Board of Stupes  let him resign, meaning he gets full retirement.

With this kind of leadership it is not surprising to find ourselves in the situation we’re in. Our elected officials have been playing fast and loose with the cookie jar, especially in regards to “public safety workers.” Greenhut explains the “3% at 50” rule  – cops and fire get 90% of their highest year’s salary after 30 years of service. Get aload of this – if they claim disability they not only get year’s off with pay, but they protect half their retirement from taxes!

Anything is a job-related disability if you’re a cop or firefighter. Diabetes, heart condition, high blood pressure. Many claim bad back or bad knees. One Chico police officer came out of retirement to work a big student riot back in the late 80’s. When he died just a few years ago, I read in his obit that he blew out his knee that night, and ended up getting disability payments in addition to retirement! Gotta love that kind of initiative!

All this leads to the section entitled “Vallejo”. Remember Vallejo? And then Stockton went, and other cities in California started flirting with bankruptcy. Greenhut talks about “the kind of society we’re creating… government elite… special  pay… benefits… privileges… and exemptions – the rest of us pay for these excesses!”

I left off at “The $100,000 Pension Club” – I had to chuckle. Since Greenhut wrote this book, it’s become the “$200,000 Pension Club.” While “safety workers” enjoy 90% at age 50, the others get 70% at age 55. As salaries have climbed higher and higher for management, so have pensions. 

Our city manager, Mark Orme, made $212,000 a year in salary – the last time I looked! It’s probably more now. I’ll guess he’s been in the CalPERS system at least 15 or 20 years – in 10 or so more years, with one raise after another, he’ll be retiring at over $200,000 a year, with cost of living increases and all kinds of health benefits. 

As management, Orme didn’t pay anything toward his own pension/benefits until a few years ago, when public outrage pushed it to 4 percent. He may pay 9% now. And we pay the rest. As I explained in a recent blog – we pay 30 percent or more each month, and then we make a $7.5 million (and growing) annual payment on top of that. CalPERS wants more – as bankruptcy circles our town like a pack of wolves moving in on a church picnic.

I left off as Greenhut was  describing what I began to notice about Chico 10 or more years ago – “a two tier society where government elite live far better than the public.”

I’ll add, they raise the price of everything from housing to groceries to daycare. Those of us who  can’t afford the elite prices are left to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods with shredded streets while the newer subdivisions in which these people live are “clean, safe and attractive!” Imagine what it’s like to live in Chapmantown with kids, or as an old person.

Yesterday my husband and I were driving up Mulberry while running errands. I noticed the cars ahead of us pulling into oncoming traffic to avoid something – as we came along I was shocked to see a very old lady on one of those little electric wheelchairs, barely visible over the hood of our truck, making her way between parked and moving cars. I wondered, why is she in the street? And then I noticed – the curbs are all high on Mulberry Street, she couldn’t get onto the sidewalk. 

 

4 Responses to “PLUNDER! Greenhut describes “the kind of society we’re creating… government elite… special  pay… benefits… privileges… and exemptions – the rest of us pay for these excesses!””

  1. bob January 27, 2019 at 2:27 pm #

    That 3% at 50 stuff is completely insane. In the last decade we’ve had one of the greatest bull stock markets in history yet the pension underfunding GREW!

    The next recession and bear market will obliterate these pensions. But you can bet the only thing you’ll hear from the politicians and bureaucrats will be demands for tax increases.

    I hope Greenhut will put out an updated edition of his book.

    • Juanita Sumner January 27, 2019 at 3:38 pm #

      Good point about CalPER’s poor investments – remember that post about the CalPERS official who took bribes to buy his friend’s crap stocks? He committed suicide, but some other scumbag took his place.

      Maybe I’ll write Greenhut and pass along that suggestion. “PLUNDER II!”

      • bob January 27, 2019 at 4:47 pm #

        How many police chiefs has Chico had over the last 20 years? There was a time there were as soon as the chief was in his early 50’s he’d retire for that fat pension and even get another job! That crap has to end. Who will ever be held responsible for that???

      • Juanita Sumner January 28, 2019 at 5:49 am #

        I do remember Chief Massey, who was given the position for less than a year before he retired. A friend of mine who grew up with Massey in Paradise and had kept in touch with him over the years told me the position was given to Massey because Massey and his friends in the department felt he had been passed over when they hired another guy from out of town (I think that was Mike Dunbaugh). Now I realize, they gave him the chief position to spike his pension before he retired. He was old, grossly obese, hardly fit for any physical job, so they just handed it to him.

        That is a point Greenhut makes again and again – there is no accountability. I believe it’s in the city charter, the rules for council members, and one rule is they are indemnified for their actions, good or bad.

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