The Shifting Fiscal Landscape.

coins_cFor some time now council leadership and senior city staffers have been hesitant to bring the topic of Brea’s unfunded pension liabilities before the public, either to educate or discuss the current state of affairs.  Attempts to put the topic on the agenda were continually thwarted.

Luckily, Roy Moore remained steadfast in his belief that the people of Brea deserved to understand the situation and had a right to make their feelings, questions and suggestions known.  To that end, on Thursday, February 7th, Roy conducted an open meeting at the Brea Masonic Lodge and presented a clear picture of where Brea stood at the moment.

You can download a copy of Roy’s presentation HERE.

One small step for Roy Moore.

Roy’s dogged persistence, plus pressure from our regular cast of characters at Matters from the Audience, was sufficient to force a change of heart in those who prefer to keep things behind closed doors.  Here’s an excerpt from Roy’s Brea Net newsletter #650:

coins_b“As you know I have been very concerned about Brea’s unfunded liabilities and am interested in pension reform.  I am happy to report that the City Council will finally address the unfunded liability issue during its May 7 Study Session.  The discussion should include the extent of our unfunded liabilities, how they evolved, CalPERS recent decision on increasing the City’s contribution rate to fund employees’ pensions and the impact this may have on city services and what possible solutions are available.  This portion of the Study Session will begin about 5:00 p.m. in the Executive Conference Room.”

One giant leap for Brea citizens.

This is a breakthrough a long time in the making.  All folks with an interest in this topic, especially considering that this meeting will not be televised or adequately documented in minutes, should plan now to attend.

A handful of us, following Roy’s presentation, have stayed in touch and continued our own discussions.  Here are a few of the key questions we feel deserve to be addressed:

  • CalPERS recent actuarial policy change will require participant cities to increase their contribution to the fund by as much as 50% per year beginning in 2015.  How will Brea plan to absorb such a dramatic increase in cost?
  • Is Brea considering changing from a defined benefit retirement plan to a defined contribution retirement plan for Brea city employees?  How will the bargaining units, especially public safety unions who account for the largest unfunded pension burden on taxpayers, respond?
  • How did Brea squander it’s 42 year relationship with Yorba Linda for the contracted provision of police services?  Is there any unfunded liabilities legacy that comes with this loss?  How will the cost of rebuilding Brea’s Police Department impact our ability to keep up with unfunded liabilities?
  • Roy’s chart covering liabilities from 2001 to 2011 (download report above) indicates that Brea had a $10.8 million surplus for public safety and a $11.1 million surplus for miscellaneous – a total surplus of $21.9 million in 2001.  By 2003 that had reversed itself and become a $10.1 million total unfunded liability.  That’s a $32 million swing in just 2 years! If we skipped payments to CalPERS, where did the money go?

Please, come to the meeting and make yourself heard.

I’m sure there will be more questions than answers rising out of this meeting.  Remember that, at 7:00 p.m., the study session will adjourn to the public meeting downstairs which will be televised.

During Matters from the Audience, these and new questions generated by the study session report and discussion can be publicly put to Council and, because “Unfunded Liabilities” is on the agenda, Council and staff may reply without violating the Brown Act.

coins_aThere is also a Budget Workshop set for Tuesday, May 14 in Conference Rooms A and B (Civic Center, 2nd floor) beginning at 3:30 p.m. – not the most convenient time.  It will be staff run and the agenda/format are unclear at the moment.  As I learn more, I’ll pass it along.

Remember, it’s your city.

It’s (mostly) your money and it’s your services that are at stake.  Why would you stay home and not get involved?

 

No excuse is better than a bad one.

evil_hearnoTwo weeks ago the illustrious Mayor aggressively asserted that he would put his life on the line to guarantee free speech and open discussion.  He swore in front of his Viet Nam buddies he would never roadblock anyone’s attempt, especially fellow council members, to discuss any issue, anywhere at any time.

I decided to take him at his word.

Back in January Garcia and Murdock both gave reports from the same League of California Cities committee meeting.  It struck me odd that Brea would occupy two seats on any committee and I was not alone in my curiosity.  So I sent off a short email to Mayor Garcia with a couple of simple questions.

Opening a discussion with the Mayor.

They were simple questions, really.  They could have easily been handled with simple, honest answers.

“How is it that you and Mayor Pro Tem Murdock are both appointed to the League of California Cities’ Policy Committee on Housing, Community and Economic Development?  Does this mean the City of Brea will always have to pay for you both to travel to Sacramento, attend the same meetings and give the same reports?  Is this redundancy truly necessary?”

Simple answers can be a long time coming.

evil_seenoTwo weeks pass and, finally, this is the response I get, “We’ve each been appointed by separate entities of which the City is a members.”

“These types of committees are educational and have a major legislative impact on local governance.  The City of Brea has a long history of representation on these policy committees.  Having more representation is better for the citizens of Brea.”

What?

Did I find out how they both got on the same committee? No.

DId I get an answer to the duplicate cost and redundancy query?  No.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

So I responded, asking, “What are the separate entities making the appointments and why would they place two members from Brea and not make similar redundant appointments for other cities?”

“Would we not accomplish as much with a single representative while saving half of the travel costs?”

“What, precisely, is the benefit of membership on the League of California Cities’ Policy Committee on Housing, Community and Economic Development for the citizen’s of Brea?”

A slightly quicker response from the Mayor.

evil_speaknoAfter a seven day delay, I get this, “Among the duties of a Councilmember is representing the Citizens of Brea in the organizations in which we hold membership.”

“The City Council budgets for attendance at these meetings and events, the educational and networking opportunities have made the City of Brea the community it is.”

“If you would like to visit  regarding this or any other issues, please feel to contact my office.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back.

Up ’til now I had remained civil in my inquiry, albeit with a touch of sarcasm, but this response took me off the charts.  I’ll give you my final rejoinder in a moment.

Turning to other, more forthcoming, more articulate and more experienced resources, here is what I discovered.

  • Brea is a dues paying member of both the National League of Cities and the League of California Cities.
  • The National League of Cities and the League of California Cities are small lobbying organizations in a sea of giants, lobbying for municipal issues.
  • Any benefits coming to Brea are, at best, the byproduct of a lobbying effort that was initiated by someone else to resolve their need.
  • For years, Brea council members have been appointed to committees in both organizations, but never have we had two members sitting on the same committee.
  • Both organizations place members on committees through Presidential and Divisional appointments.
  • The organization’s President and Divisional Chair must receive letters requesting an appointment from the individual seeking the seat.
  • Garcia and Murdock had to make specific requests to be appointed, extolling their credentials, Garcia to the President and Murdock to the Divisional Chair.
  • No other committee has two members from the same city.
  • No explanation has been given regarding the benefit Brea receives having both Garcia and Murdock in attendance at the same meetings.
  • No explanation has been given clarifying any realtime benefit Brea has received, directly or tangentially from this or any committee.

Does no one up there talk to each other?  Does no one in city hall think it odd that both Garcia and Murdock were headed, at taxpayer expense, to the same meeting?

Granted, at about $200 bucks round trip each, maybe a meal and no hotel expense… for committee meetings that occur quarterly, this isn’t a ton of money.  It’s not like they were taking a vacation together in a foreign country.

My final response to Mayor Mumbles McEloquent.

rgarcia_stache“Let me be plain spoken.  Your repeated vacuous non-answers are unacceptable.”

“I asked simple questions, questions being posed to me by other Breans.  Simple, truthful answers would have been appropriate.  Extending the invitation to visit your office, the best way to avoid any written record of the discussion, is obviously sarcasm and, frankly, is insulting.”

“Your repeated deletion of the other Council Members from the Cc: list, effectively excluding them from witnessing and/or wading in on the discussion, cannot be whitewashed with the boilerplate Brown Act caveat.”

“You’ve left me no alternative but to carry this to a public forum, as I fully intend to have answers to my questions.”

“Shame on you for squandering an opportunity to really be the open and ethical elected official you repeatedly profess to be.”

While I have provided, verbatim, the exchange I had with the Mayor, here is a PDF COPY of the emails for those interested in documentation.