Tag Archives: Plunder

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. 


Book In Common: PLUNDER! How Public Employees are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, by Steven Greenhut.

25 Jan

I’d been waiting over a week for a book I’d ordered online that should have been delivered within a couple of days. I kept checking my PO box, by this past Monday, I worried it had got lost. Yesterday it finally arrived – well, I got it yesterday. I’m guessing it arrived at Chico post office about a week ago.

It was too big for my PO box, I know the routine – they put a key in your box that goes with one of the big boxes in front of the annex. I retrieved the package from the big box and immediately noticed – a postal worker had scrawled a box number in big black letters across the front of the package, unfortunately, it wasn’t my box number. My correct box number was listed in the address box on the front of the package, neat and tidy.  Postal worker transposed the numbers, in big black writing, so the key went to somebody else’s box.

Here’s where human decency comes in. Somebody else got my package, saw it wasn’t for them, and put it back in the stream. They may even be the same person who wrote the correct number above the transposed number. 

When this happened at my house, my neighbors got my packages. Both packages were clearly marked with the correct address, but mail man delivered them to my neighbors. Neither neighbor bothered to return the package to my clearly marked box on the street, both opened the packages, even though they were addressed to someone else. We got the packages back because my husband went door-to-door. 

Neither neighbor apologized for opening our packages, we let it go and stopped having stuff shipped to our home. 

Of course Christmas is a horrible time to get or send packages, we all know that. But I order a lot of household goods from an online seller in Vermont, and I had to have some stuff delivered in the first weeks of December. Right in the middle of the flood of evacuees driven out by the Camp Fire. But my package had a tracking number, I watched it move slowly across the US, and then I saw it had been delivered to Chico Post Office on Vallombrosa. But it wasn’t in my PO box, I kept waiting. Finally I went in very early one morning to ask for it. The man who called me up to the counter wouldn’t take the tracking number I’d written down, or look at the message on my phone that said the package had been delivered. He turned and disappeared into the back – which was a mess of packages laying all over the floor – and when he came back 15 minutes later he said there was no package. 

I looked him in the eye and shoved the tracking number at him and said real nice but firm, “please check the tracking number.”

He was huffy but he took the slip of paper. This time he was gone for 10 minutes, but by Gumm, he brought me my package. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind but the line behind me was starting to go out the door, so I said Thank You! with a big shit-eating grin and got the hell out. 

My family has received Christmas packages that have been ripped open, stolen from, and taped back together, so I  guess I was lucky to get my package intact.

Now the book, mis-marked by a post office employee. I’m getting sick and tired of the level of service we get from public workers. We bought a house in Paradise in exchange for an old rental we sold in Chico. My son was living in it at the time of the fire, luckily he had gone to work before the fire had hit town, and was safe. I’m thankful for that, but dealing with the county in the aftermath hasn’t been the least of our worries.

We were quick to send in our ROE – Right of Entry – so the county could get going with the clean-up. I understand the clean-up will take a long time, but when we didn’t hear anything about our ROE, I e-mailed them asking if it had been received. A fellow named Matt called my husband a few days later in response to the e-mail, saying we needed to submit a new insurance declaration from our policy, the old one we sent had expired when our policy turned over recently. They knew that for over a month, but didn’t contact us until we inquired about it. Is that going on all over Paradise?

And then yesterday we received a packet, sent in a custom “Butte Recovers” envelope, with  custom stationery inside, a letter telling us how important it was to complete the ROE form. They had included the entire form, over half a dozen pages. The letter was not addressed to us, it was a form letter, so I’m guessing they sent one to each and every address that had burned in the fire. 

How much did that cost? At 50 cents a letter? I’m guessing at least a few thousand bucks. Not to mention the custom printed stationery. How about $taff time, folding all those papers and shoving them in those envelopes, then running them through the stamp machine?

Here’s the irony I’ll leave you with – the book I ordered – PLUNDER! How Public Employees are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, by Steven Greenhut.

Think the post office workers knew what was in my package? 

I’ll describe Greenhut as a government watchdog, journalist, and public advocate. His articles have appeared in papers like the Orange County Register, LA Times, San Diego Union Tribune. This book was written in 2009 – before I started blogging about what’s going on in Chico, before I ever even heard of the pensions. So, it’s history for me, finding out exactly how public employees garnered their power and position. 

I’m calling this our BOOK IN COMMON, if you’d like to get a  copy, I bought mine used for 99 cents, cost $3.99 to ship. It’s in great condition, and so far I’ve enjoyed reading the forwards by Congressman Tom McClintock and Mark Bucher, who co-authored a late-nineties attempt at requiring unions to “at least ask members before using their money for politics…”

So come on along, learn some recent history, maybe find out what needs to be done to turn back the tide of entitlement that is drowning our state.