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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

The director of California’s Department of Health Care Services will leave his post by year’s end, according to a letter to employees issued by Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley.

Toby Douglas, 42, was one of Gov. Jerry Brown’s first appointees to head the department that handles Medi Cal services for more than 11 million Californians.

During his four years at Health Care Services’ helm, the state added 3.5 million new to the federally-funded program. The department employs about 3,700 workers and manages $70 billion annually. Last year Douglas earned $166,158, according to state payroll records tracked by The Bee.

Before Brown tapped him to head the department, Douglas was its chief deputy for two years and had held other high-level positions there since 2005.

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Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
Department of Water Resources Senior Environmental Scientist Louise Conrad, right, weighs small salmon to be released into a flooded rice field near Woodland.

After rejecting Gov. Jerry Brown’s first contract offer, California’s state scientists have overwhelmingly approved a second deal with the administration, their union has announced.

The final tally of votes by members of California Association of Professional Scientists: 1,171 in favor (87 percent) and 177 opposed (13 percent). About one-half of the union’s members voted.

The vote tested the scientists’ solidarity and leadership, since the second contract offered less money – an immediate $1,000 bonus and a 3 percent raise next July – than the deal that two-thirds of voting members rejected just a few months ago.

The union has long sought much larger pay raises to close a considerable pay gap with state and local government workers who perform similar work. Union leaders promoted the just-ratified package to members with promises that taking the deal would restart talks with the Brown administration to decrease and reclassify the state scientists corps. That in turn, the union says, will open a pathway to higher pay.

Outmanned and outspent so far, an honest assessment of state scientist David Miller’s campaign for a CalPERS administrative board seat would say he’s a long shot.

The president of the tiny state scientists’ union has been in this position before, twice losing bids to sit on the 13-member panel that oversees California’s $300 billion public pension system.

So why will the third time be different?

“I’m the most qualified candidate,” said Miller, a biochemist and University of Pittsburgh MBA, “and the voters want to see a change that moves CalPERS forward.”

Our story in today’s Bee highlights State Controller John Chiang’s thumbs-down audit of CalPERS’ efforts to discover and to deter pension spiking. CalPERS strongly disagrees with the assessment.

Want to delve more deeply into the audit and CalPERS’ rebuttal? Here they are. The fund’s responses are found at the end of the audit, starting on page 25.

Check back later today for a poll gauging reader response to Chiang’s criticisms.

CalPERS Review Report 090914

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Anne Chadwick Williams/ Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
California’s largest public retirement system lacks a routine method for detecting pension spiking, according to a new report released by state Controller John Chiang, and the pace at which it does check employers’ payroll is glacially slow.

California’s largest public retirement system lacks a routine method for detecting pension spiking, according to a new report released by state Controller John Chiang, and the pace at which it does check employers’ payroll is glacially slow.

The report also blasted a pay tactic that auditors estimate will allow some public employees to legally boost their pay and increase their pension payouts by up to $800 million over the next 20 years.

Chiang’s report focused on 11 employers that contract with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to administer their pension benefits. While auditors found no instances of spiking – a practice that inflates an employee’s salary through promotion or other means specifically to hike their retirement benefits – the review did reveal CalPERS’ auditing unit is understaffed and doesn’t use advanced technology to ferret out spiking.

In a statement accompanying the report, Chiang said CalPERS has a “generally passive approach to the problem” that invites abuse.

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Hector Amezcua/ The Sacramento Bee
State Controller John Chiang at The Bee’s Capitol Bureau.

A new website went live Monday that culls more than decade of California city and county financial information into a searchable database compiled by the State Controller’s Office.

ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov allows taxpayers to track revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets, fund balances and other information provided by more than 450 cities and the 58 counties statewide. The data runs from fiscal year 2002-03 through 2012-13.

Controller John Chiang, who is running for state treasurer, said in a statement that the website is moving government information “out of the analog dark ages into the digital era.”

The website allows users to download raw figures, convert them into charts and share the information freely. Chiang’s office said the data will be refreshed each year with updates sent in by local governments.

Amid CalPERS board candidate David Miller’s suggestions that “dirty tricks” are behind the theft of his campaign’s signs, his opponent, Theresa Taylor, said that the signs’ disappearance “is a non-story” and that her campaign’s signs have also been removed from parts of downtown Sacramento.

In an email to The State Worker, Taylor suggested that Miller’s signs may have been taken down by CalPERS for violating election rules. And she forwarded a cordial email exchange between her campaign consultant and Miller about vanishing signs on both sides:

“... Just a friendly heads up that there seem to be some campaign sign thieves operating in the downtown area,” Miller wrote in a Wednesday email that Taylor forwarded to The State Worker. “Quite a few of my campaign signs have disappeared over the last few days and my campaign workers confronted a couple of the sign thieves just today while working for me downtown. It doesn't appear that your signs have been targeted but I thought I would let you know so your folks can keep a lookout as well.”

Taylor consultant Scott Adams replied to Miller’s email: “... We too are experiencing our signs disappearing from posted locations. Unlike your guys, we have not spotted any sign thievery in progress. We just started noticing the removal of our signs so it appears to be a recent development. I can't imagine anyone wanting to collect these as souvenirs – but you never know. Thanks for the note. I will pass it on to Theresa.”

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Jon Ortiz/ The Sacramento Bee
Signs supporting the CalPERS baord candidacies of David Miller and Theresa Taylor are lashed to a post at the corner of 9th and P streets in Sacramento.

With ballots hitting mailboxes this week, a candidate for one of two seats on CalPERS Board of Administration says that approximately 200 of his campaign signs in Sacramento have been stolen.

David Miller has filed a police report, claiming that $1,600 worth of election signs were removed along the busy Q Street and P Street corridors sometime late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. In a telephone interview, Miller said he doesn’t know who took the signs, but called the thefts “typical campaign dirty tricks.”

Miller, who is president of the state scientists’ union, said his signs were taken down while Theresa Taylor’s signs were left untouched. Taylor, a long-time Franchise Tax Board employee, also is running for the same state-employee representative seat on the 13-member CalPERS board and has the support of SEIU Local 1000. Taylor’s campaign did not return a phone call and an email seeking comment about Miller’s claims.

Miller said that campaign volunteers alerted him Tuesday morning that his signs were gone. He had about 45 signs in reserve and personally put them up Tuesday.

Here’s state employment for you: After working less than a month for the California Department of Aging, executive Monica Rea left her job – and then Aging was required to pay tens of thousands of dollars to cash out her backed-up leave time.

Rea’s story broke into public view this year after a state investigation said she was a central figure in an unqualified employee’s illegal promotion at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. A scathing report said that Rea, Fair Employment’s No. 2 administrator at the time, displayed “blatant dishonesty” by contradicting herself in written statements and interviews about the matter.

The state issued the report on July 11, a Friday. By then, Rea had secured a deputy director of administration gig with the Department of Aging, which channels funds to a variety of senior-adult services. She started her new job on Monday, July 14. The move boosted her base pay $251 to $8,621 per month, according to state payroll records.

(Ironically, Fair Employment personnel employee Chris Thomas, who objected to the unlawful promotion, lost a job she had lined up with the state’s health benefit exchange right around that same time. Thomas believes she lost the job because she told the truth about her concerns to an investigator, who detailed them in his publicly released report.)

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Hector Amezcua/ hamezcua@sacbee.com
State scientists look at the soil near the Lake Tahoe golf course East of Meyers to determine a wetlands boundary.

Members of California’s state legal corps have approved a labor contract with Gov. Jerry Brown, their union has told members in an email.

With approximately two-thirds of eligible members voting, 82 percent agreed to take the three-year deal, according to California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges said Hearing Officers in State Employment. The union represents roughly 3,500 legal professionals.

Not long after CASE announced member voting results, lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that allocates at total $18.1 million to cover raises and other increased compensation costs in contracts bargained with the attorneys union ($12.6 million), the state scientists union ($3.1 million) and state building operators ($2.4 million).

The same measure, Senate Bill 879, sets aside $10.2 million for a 4 percent state fire-fighter raise that kicks in Jan. 1.

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Hector Amezcua/ The Sacramento Bee
Richard Dziedzic speaks to an Employment Development Department employee on a phone at the EDD office on Broadway in Sacramento.

Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Californians have been forced to wait for their unemployment checks because the state wrongly denied claims only to have the decisions reversed on appeal.

A new state audit portrays the Employment Development Department as squeezed between federal deadlines to decide benefit claims and requirements that cases be carefully reviewed. Expediency often trumps accuracy, according to the report, such that half of denied unemployment-benefits appeals are decided in favor of the claimants.

Of more than 390,000 decisions made by the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board in the last three fiscal years, between 45 percent and 51 percent favored claimants. Many of the decisions overturned conclusions by front-line EDD staff that the applicants were lying about how much they earned before losing their jobs.

The law allows the state to withhold benefits for willful false statements of income, not honest reporting mistakes.

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Randy Pench/ The Sacramento Bee
Firefighters work together as a hand crew to clear a fire break during a training exercise.

Editors note, 3:18 p.m.: This story has been changed to include a quote from Mike Lopez, president of California Department of Forestry Firefighters Local 2881.

State firefighters will receive a raise next year, according to Brown administration documents published on the state’s human resources website, even though their current contract doesn’t specifically call for a pay increase.

Roughly 4,700 members of California Department of Forestry Firefighters will be receiving a 4 percent salary bump on Jan. 1, 2015.

In addition, the salary range for employees in the Firefighter II classification, an entry-level full-time position, has been increased by 6.1 percent, or about $200 more per month. The Fighter II raise is retroactive to July 1, 2014.

About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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