Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Fallout From Bell

The controversy over high salaries of both staff and councilmembers in the City of Bell -- a controversy involving two former City of Ventura -- continues to reverberate. The staff members have resigned, the councilmembers have cut their pay 90%, and the state is investigating both the salaries themselves and the pension consequences they will have.

How could this happen? How can we avoid it happening in Ventura and other communities near us?

I'm pretty familiar with the cities in the Bell area from my past life as a journalist, so you can read a long blog I wrote here about what happened there and how we can be vigilant in making sure it doesn't happen again.


  1. Is it true that Ventura will be paying a good chunk of the Bell police chief's hyperinflated pension? I know lawyers have been dispatched, but in your piece you write, "odds are that when the District Attorney completes his investigation in Bell, he’s going to find that no laws were broken." I can't imagine that Ventura budgeted for these shenanigans.

    Even if new laws make it harder to game the defined benefit system, it will still be impossible to know exactly how much a pension will cost. I hope the Bell fiasco brings pension reform to Ventura. We shouldn't wait for the entire state to catch up. Some argue that a defined contribution plan won't attract qualified candidates, but it seems to me they're assuming the contributions would be substantially less under reform. Even if the city didn't save a dollar on the cost of pensions, I should think it would still make your job easier if there weren't any of these headline-grabbing surprises. And it would probably make negotiations with the unions more straightforward.

    In your piece, you dismiss the notion, "Elected officials are supposed to act like a board of directors, not like political hacks" as naive. I hope you're not that cynical. Besides, favoring good politics over good policy can backfire. In March, President Obama proposed expanding offshore drilling, not because he thinks it's a great idea, but to gain Republican support of a climate bill. "Oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills," he said. "They are technologically very advanced." Woops.

  2. Seems to me that one way to "get people's attention" is to promote investigative journalism at the high schools; with any luck, more young people (or those wishing a second career) will pursue this at the collegiate level.


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