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Agency job would have meant pension bump for board member

Union Tribune (2010-11-16) Steve Schmidt

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By Steve Schmidt

Monday, November 15, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.

Jim Stieringer

Jim Stieringer

Pension math

Board pension: Retiring at age 69, Stieringer is expected to net a pension with this calculation: 18 years of service on the board times $6,000 a year of pay, times a multiplier of 3 percent. Benefit: $3,240 a year.

Staff pension: Retiring at age 70 after one additional year — as a staffer — Stieringer could have netted 19 years of service times $60,000 a year salary times a multiplier of 3 percent. Benefit: $34,200 a year.

The Grossmont Healthcare District board member who attempted to shift from his post into a staff job at the district would have enjoyed a tenfold increase in his pension benefits.

Board member Jim Stieringer of La Mesa stepped down from his elected position on Nov. 5 to apply for a $60,000-a-year staff job. He tried to rescind his resignation after he was rejected for the job, but the board denied his request on Monday.

Had Stieringer succeeded in getting a staff job as projects liaison monitor, he would have seen a bump from his $6,000 annual pay as a board member.

At 69, he was unlikely to hold that job many more years.

Because of a loophole in state law on public employee pensions, however, he stood to benefit for many more years from a higher pension.

His 18 years as a part-time board member would have counted toward the higher pension calculated using his full-time job as a staffer.

After just one year on staff, he would have qualified for a pension of $34,200 for life — well above the $3,240 his board service entitled him to.

Pension boosts of that size are effectively prevented under a 1994 state law, which blocks special district board members from accruing such retirement benefits. But because Stieringer was first elected in 1992, he was grandfathered in.

Citizen activist Ray Lutz, whose complaints about the job proposal brought it into the open, said he believes the pension was a driving motivation of Stieringer — a charge the former board member denies.

The board voted 4-0 on Monday to fill Stieringer’s vacancy instead of allowing him back on the board, which said his letter met the legal requirements of a resignation.

“It is in writing, addressed to the board, dated and demonstrates a clear and express intent to immediately vacate his position,” read a statement issued by the board.

Stieringer said he was disappointed, but not surprised by the decision. He said he believes the agency allowed itself to be cowed by critics who believe the district’s initial handling of the matter smacked of favoritism.

He said his interest in the district job was above-board and that he would have been a good candidate for the projects liaison monitor position, given his background in contracts and management.

“I love the district. I love my former colleagues,” he said. But, he added, “they could have showed a little more courage.”

Lutz believes the Nov. 5 announcement was part of an insider deal orchestrated to give Stieringer the liaison job. Stieringer and district CEO Barry Jantz said that was never the case. (619) 293-1380

Staff data specialist Danielle Cervantes contributed to this report.
Topic revision: r1 - 16 Nov 2010, RaymondLutz
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