You wonder if last week's sudden retirement by San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore isn't an unintended consequence of sudden "got religion" pension reform efforts by the cities of San Jose and San Diego, and now California.
Others likely will jump ship, though Moore's retirement marks the latest in a long line of big city police chiefs stepping down in recent years.
At his news conference, Moore cited the challenges of fighting crime amid budget cuts to the force, but his principal reason for retiring: "It's about the right time for me," he said.
Well, sure. Not counting the $200,000 accrued in sick pay, his annual pension will be $155,000. He's 51.
Retirement is no longer a departure; it's an incentive.
You see this across the board at managerial levels police chiefs, fire chiefs, school administrators, city managers in towns big and small.
The pension-spiking no one anticipated when lawmakers enacted the one-year rule in 1990 was how San Ramon Fire Chief Craig Bowen could combine accrued vacation time with a final salary of $221,000 into a $284,000 annual pension when he retired in 2009 at age 51; same for Moraga-Orinda Fire Chief Peter Nowicki, then 50, whose $185,000 salary became a $241,000 pension.
The housing crash and its declared bankruptcy made Stockton a national symbol of municipal malaise, as did Police Chief Tom Morris, whose $204,000 pension contributed to the insolvency of a city whose median household income is $45,700. Few can imagine retiring at age 52, as Morris did, let alone collecting $200 grand annually for the rest of their lives.
What impelled Morris to retire? Stockton ordered staff furloughs in 2008. Morris faced losing 12 days, which would've reduced his $175,000 salary by about 5.8 percent. The Stockton Record reported: "Morris said his decision was not motivated by money but by principle. 'Money wasn't the issue,' he said. 'Just don't take away what I've already earned.' "
It's easy to retire on principle when you're backed by the full faith and credit of taxpayers for an annual pension exceeding your annual salary.
Years ago, being police chief or fire chief was a sort of final step in one's career. Now, it's a stepping-stone to the next career, often with perverse results.
After just eight months as Stockton's police chief, Morris landed a job as an investigator with the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, adding a monthly wage of $5,332 to his chief's pension of approximately $16,200 a month, as The Record noted, thereby "earning in one month the greater part of what the average Stocktonian earns in a year." He's since left the District Attorney's Office.
One of the state's biggest double-dipping beneficiaries is William Lansdowne. After retiring as San Jose police chief in 2003, he joined the San Diego police force and now receives more than $400,000 a year in public money.
Another former chief, Louis Cobarruviaz, and two former captains all took new Bay Area police gigs, each making more than $340,000 in combined Bay Area salaries and San Jose pensions last year, according to a San Jose Mercury News analysis.
Why a laundry list of six-figure pensioners? Because they give average public workers a bad rap and it's entirely unfair to lump the two groups together.
Union leaders like to claim that barely 2 percent of CalPERS and CalSTRS retirees have six-figure pensions, but what they label as a small cost to taxpayers is costing far more in public relations. Look around: taxpayers bristle at public unions.
Though the average public pension is around $35,000, the moral pestilence of current six-figure pensioners pales compared to the future pensions of all retirees ending their employment over the next decade.
Currently, we have 12,199 Cal-PERS retirees in the $100,000 pension club, according to the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, an advocacy group for pension reform. A year ago, it was 9,812, a near 25 percent increase. Martha Fritz, the group's president, tells me her first list in 2007 had 1,700 "members." Ten percent of that list was first responders. Today, it's over half.
Six-figure pensions, 30 years of pension collecting, spiking and double dipping are bad for business. Unions should be fighting with voters to eliminate them instead of working with dimwitted politicians who lack the intellect, focus or concern to gauge the wide-ranging impacts of long-term contracts.
Even now, politicians are peddling a milquetoast pension reform effort that voters understandably see as a bribe to approve Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative. Having bargained badly with unions, lawmakers are now bargaining badly with voters, offering too little, too late.
I'd love to do something about those current loopholes and six-figure pensioners, but I'd really like to do something to all the elected dingbats allegedly serving taxpayers who instead served up this mess.
I hope they're happy.