Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why do Sierra Madre’s City Employees Receive Better Benefits than the City Manager of Beverly Hills?

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On February 8th we posted an article titled "Why Is Sierra Madre's Employee Benefits Report AWOL?" (link). The story was about an excellent resource known as Transparent California.com, and the rather disturbing fact that the City of Sierra Madre had refused to supply information about employee compensation to them in the manner required by state law. Something that they then made very clear on their website. Every city in California is required by state law to make that information upon request, no matter who asks. We got called out.

Being the kind of guy I am, I filled out the form letter provided by Transparent California.com and sent it off to Sierra Madre's City Manger, Elaine Aguilar. Obviously the request made by that website was perfectly legit, and by not complying with their request our City Hall was in clear violation of California's Public Records Act. Specifically CPRA 6253.9 which states “records must be provided in their original, electronic format when requested as such.”

This is what I sent to Elaine:

Please obey California's public records law - As a concerned California resident, I am writing to let you know that you should obey California's public records law, California's Govt. Code §§ 6250-6270, and fulfill the public records request you have previously received from Transparent California. Please email the records to records@transparentcalifornia.com.

Here is the reply I received back from Ms. Aguilar:

On July 11th, the City of Sierra Madre notified Transparent California that the records were available, after receiving a request for the records to be provided electronically (verses "hard copies") -- the records were provided on July 15, 2013; and Transparent California responded indicating that they had received the information.    I wanted to let you know that the City of Sierra Madre had responded in compliance with the California public records law.  Last week we noticed that they were indicating that the City had not responded, so we resent the information. Thank you, Elaine

Unfortunately, the devil is once again in the details. And as is the case with much of what our City Manager tells us, we have been thrown something of a curve ball. So I got in touch with Robert Fellner, who is project manager at Transparent California. I wanted to hear their side of the story.

I forwarded to Robert the note I had received from Elaine, and he kindly provided me with an email trail between Transparent California.com and City Hall extending over eight months.

Here are the two e-mails of most interest to us today. Note Elaine's pique.

I am forwarding a long chain of emails which provides evidence that the City of Sierra Madre provided the information you requested.  Your own email (July 15th at 9:52 am) states that you received the information requested.  However, the current Transparent California website indicates that Sierra Madre “refused to provide the information”.   This statement is inaccurate and misleading to the public.  Sierra Madre provided the information in a timely manner and in compliance with the law.   Please refrain from publishing untrue statements about the City and I respectfully request that reference be retracted from the website. 

Additionally, just to follow-up, I am aware that the data was resent to you last week; but we have not received confirmation that you received the re-sent data. 

Lastly, if I should be directing my email to someone else at Transparent California, please provide the contact information. Sincerely, Elaine Aguilar City Manager

Elaine was quite obviously upset because we had posted the Transparent California.com noncompliance notification here on The Tattler. The one stating that her City Hall had refused to comply with California's Public Records Act. Something that had been revealed on the TCC site, and for all to see. It was not the result she'd hoped for.

Mr. Fellner was having none of that. He shot back the following e-mail to Elaine:

Ms. Aguilar, The requested records were provided to us a few days ago by a Ms. Cox, they will be uploaded to the site as soon as is possible.

The thread you sent me demonstrates what is, at the very least, a violation of California’s Public Records Act in spirit, if not the letter of the law, by refusing to provide a copy of the requested record in its original, electronic format. As is made explicitly clear in § 6253.9(a).

I would not be particularly proud of that exchange. Especially in light of the fact that the requested format was provided in less than 24 hours when we followed up this time around. Sincerely, Robert Fellner - Project Manager, Transparent California

Please note that it was only after we revealed this situation here on The Tattler earlier this month that the City of Sierra Madre finally complied with state transparency laws and correctly sent Transparent California the information they had requested.

Elaine had apparently refused to provide the documents in the required format for months. This is a direct violation of CPRA 6253.9, which, as I noted above, states “records must be provided in their original, electronic format when requested as such.” Obviously, the PDF conversion she sent back in July of 2013 was not in the original format. In other words, the records Elaine provided were conversions, not originals, and as such a violation of State Law.

The distinction is important because by sending employee salary and benefits in an unusable format, Transparent Caifornia.com would find it nearly impossible to post that information to their site. State law requires that this kind of information be sent in a way that can actually be used. Raising the suspicion that there might be something in that information our City Manager would prefer not be made available to the public.

In other words, the purpose was to thwart the purpose of TCC's request – to upload Sierra Madre's salary and benefits information onto a public online database.

Personally I am not surprised by this. I have sent several PRA requests to Elaine, only to receive a lot of inconsequential nonsense in return. Most of it in the form of email giving her opinions about my request. Our beloved City Hall, which likes to claim it is as transparent as they can possibly be, is about as opaque as a mud puddle when it comes to sharing information they'd prefer that you not know about.

So here is the big question:

Why did City Hall try so hard to keep this information hidden?

It seems possible to me that this was done because there's something going on in Sierra Madre that any sentient taxpayer should be outraged about. Here is how Robert Fellner put it in an e-mail to me on Tuesday.

Chris Cimino, the Deputy Policy Works Director with a base pay of $81,493 received a health insurance plan that cost $36,175 in 2012. 

Jose Reynoso’s plan cost over $37,800. This is disgusting. This is what your taxes are being used for.

That is the most expensive health insurance plan I’ve ever seen. And we have covered every City, County, School, and College in the State.

I knew things were bad, but not quite that bad. As taxpayers paying the highest overall utility taxes in California, it seems quite obvious that things are extremely out of whack here. But this?

It has always been my belief that Measure UUT, which for all intents and purposes will raise our utility taxes a full 25% next year over what the voters decided in April of 2012, is about funding employee benefits and pensions. And not all of that nonsense we've been hearing from the likes of Goss and Green. Now we have some clear proof.

More from Robert Fellner:

Jennifer Kay Peterson – Admin Assistant was paid $35,000 for 2012. Her health plan alone was $33,500.

I have filtered the data to include only Full Time employees. I have omitted anyone whose “Base Pay” is below the “Average Salary minimum” as well as eliminating those with the phrase “Part-Time” in their job description and those who receive neither a health care plan or retirement contribution of any kind.

We are left with 53 full time employees. Average compensation (salary plus retirement contributions and health insurance) for these full time employees is $102,376. I got to imagine that is much higher than average taxpayer’s income in your town.

As Robert also pointed out to me, the City Manager of Beverly Hills receives $31,000 in health benefits. This was previously the highest they had ever seen for a health insurance plan. That is, before they looked into Sierra Madre.

Think about it. An administrative assistant in Sierra Madre gets more money for her health plan than the City Manager of Beverly Hills. As it is with our utility taxes, we are once again paying the highest amounts of any city in the state.

You are invited to read all about it yourself on the TransparentCalifornia.com website by clicking here.

Somehow I think we're about to become famous.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

67 comments:

  1. What's your point?

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    1. It's a reading comprehension test. You can take it again if you like.

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  2. OMG, I do like knowing the facts.

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  3. 6:29, and what is your point? Bet your for raising the UUT. Guess you make a big salary so that the UUT is not going to be a burden on you with all the other taxes needing to be paid to government or, your on the big payroll as well. Not all of us are wealthy but we have lived here a long time.

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  4. After reading today's blog, Its hard to imagine why 6:29 could ask "What's the point?" The mere fact that this person asks that question shows there is a big problem. There was a recent School Board meeting in Lawndale or some community about a Superintendant who overseas a total enrollment of about 6,600 students and was paid over $650,000 last year. I heard excerpts of that meeting. Once the residents found out about this, the school board that approved that compensation package had to have security to escort them in. The people were outraged. I guess 6:29 would ask "What's the point?" there too. To make it simple, cities are going bankrupt and services are being cut to pay for the salaries and benefits of city employeees. It rises to the level of corruption when the the city unions get in bed with Ctiy Council members or School Board Members. To continue the corruption, cities have to pass a UUT tax on the residents to kick the ponzi scheme a few years further down the road. That's the point.

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    1. Yellow Dog Dirts are noted for their complete obediance.

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    2. As one wag once stated: "A pig this good you don't want to eat all at once."

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    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. My question is did our city manager Elaine Aguilar make an honest mistake or did she deliberately make all those mistakes. Could it have been a computer system that is difficult to operate? Do they need a new computer system that is easier to use?

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    1. So our very well paid staff is so incompetent that no one can use the computer?

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    2. The City bought a new computer system a couple of years ago. They should have learned to use it by now.

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    3. The original files are in Excel. They have to be manually converted into PDFs. So to answer your questions about the computer system, to comply with our request would have taken the amount of time it takes to copy a file on your computer (which already existed on their system, nothing new had to be created) and attach it to an email.

      I always find it amusing that every agency screams at the top of their lungs about the need to charge fees for any conversion or production of a document that doesn't exist; however, the agencies that convert the existing Excels that we specifically ask for, into pdfs, never ask us to pay fees for the effort required to produce the PDF file.

      Given that, and that my previous colleague specifically requested a copy of the original, Excel file on 3 separate occasions, and was flatly refused all 3 times, "honest mistake" is not a viable explanation.

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    4. I would imagine based on history that Elaine didn't make a simple mistake, she's calculated in her decisions to muddy the waters.

      She was part of the group that created a false emergency about our water infrastructure and called public forums and help mislead the public on many occassions. She was the final approval when the city sent out entirely misleading mailers regarding the water tax - and until this blog called her out and the public figured out we were being scammed, the city finally fessed up what was really going on.

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    5. in the real business world, Elaine would have been fired

      makes me wonder what else she is hiding?

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    6. Robert - thanks for checking in, and thanks for all the valuable work you folks are doing. It is appreciated, and you now have friends in Sierra Madre, CA.

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  6. In a real democracy the city manager would be fired and the mayor recalled. But instead we have 6:29.

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    1. Yes, it looks like some campaign trolls have been assigned Tattler duty.

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    2. That's fine. It gives us something to laugh about plus it jacks up the comment total. You know how they hate that.

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    3. Sierra Madre needs to STOP hiring City Managers that are trying to build a resume' at our expense - its been a pattern for several Council administatrions, the City Manager is pro development and the last 3 or 4 have put the interests of developers and the real estate firms ahead of the general public.

      There is no reason why we can't hire a City Manager who is older and at the end of his or her career and not looking to make a mark so he or she can show off what was done in SM and how that will help a new job in a larger city.

      Basically, we keep hiring the wrong people and electing the same old same old.

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    4. You're fired!

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    5. noah pants, no vote

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  7. WOW, Sierra Madre city manager makes over $220,000 total pay package. Guess she wont be applying some where else for a job. Things are starting to make sense. I am now voting no on the UUT, this changed me.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. absurd and a total rip off - and nothing we can do about it

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    4. Please take a moment to check what other city managers are making.

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    5. The article is about health care benefits. A category where Sierra Madre employees lead the state.

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  8. Sierra Madre is looking more like Bell, and so are some of our city employees...........

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  9. 7;28 are you kidding? Manager Aguilar does not make any mistakes with that kind of salary. She is skilled at doing what the council wants. If you don't believe that I hope your not working for the city as your being payed too much and we can't afford you and your skills.

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  10. I notice that these figures are 2 years old. Some of those people don't even work here any more. Wonder what the new figures are, what ever they are there too high. Sierra Madre has a lot of people on the payroll.

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  11. You'd have thought the city would have filled us in on this. Instead of fighting to keep their numbers from being posted on the internet..

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  12. That health figure seems very odd. It sounds more like pension is included to me. Is this a clerical error or was it really over 30k for health insurance? how do you even spend 30k on health insurance?

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    1. Maybe it is a way of compensating city employees more without having to call it a pay raise.

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    2. The difference between Bell and Sierra Madre.....The people of Bell took action and the people of Sierra Madre are oafish dolts.Hello..we are being plundered and looted big time and you don't care! Pathetic!!!

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  13. Thank you John. It warms me heart ta know you're exposing these "divils". May the wind be at your back as you continue to dig for the TRUTH!

    God bless the Irish.

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  14. one overpaid government workerFebruary 27, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    I find it interesting that you compare the salaries to the City of Beverly Hills. Their data is not even available on the referenced website. I also find it interesting that there is no clear showing of health benefits vs. pensions. You think your staff is screwing your city over. I find that a far cry from the truth. Yes, there have been some bad seeds. Yes, some cities have had their executive powers take advantage of their public. Please understand and know that not everyone has or makes bad ethical decisions. Sierra Madre is a true gem in the San Gabriel Valley that has a very transparent and well supported government. Its a shame that you are always throwing these people under the bus.

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    1. Had Ms. Aguilar provided this organization this information as requested in July of 2013 instead of attempting to jack them around for 8 months, none of this would have come up. That was not transparency, and it was a stupid decision. Remember, it is not the crime, it's the cover up. Having this come out at a time when the residents of this town are deliberating a 25% UUT hike is probably not the best timing for City Hall.

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    2. Ah, it is 9:26 am writing for the Coluntano & Levy lobby. This is far too professional for our underpaid City Hall staff to have produced. But, that having been said, the chart is pretty heavy on paramedic, police and fire department, and surprisingly, library staff. What happened to cutting the personnal costs to the bone?

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    3. I noticed one employee listed 3 times with different job descriptions. Adding total salary/benefits, the very versatile staffer's compensation was significantly different that what might first be thought. I didn't take the time to analyze this Excel sheet closely but I bet there is much to be discovered, including what constitutes total benefits.

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    4. Great reporting, Crawford. This is the thing we like to see on the Tattler, an expose of the finances of the City, and those who defend the budget. Keep it up.

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    5. 9:26 Transparent government in SM? laughable - this is the same city staff that purposely lied to us over and over and sent out misinformation regarding city business and flaunts disdain and tries to undermine Measure V and lied to us about the actual reason for the UUT.
      True the local government is well supported - by the real estate firms, Susan Henderson and those Councilmembers who put us in this hole
      I agree we have some nice people working in the city, but transparent - no way - not with the City Manager, the Public Works dept and the Council.

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    6. one overpaid government workerFebruary 27, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      Its a great thing that the public can have access to these records. Its a shame that most people don't compare their jobs in the private sector to the jobs in government. If you take all the benefits given in the private sector on average those jobs tend to pay more and have sweeter benefits. Oh, and in the private sector those jobs don't have to disclose all the names and salaries. This is America and we have freedom of speech and we all strive for the American Way. You gotta love this site!

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    7. In the private sector you need to produce to earn retirement benefits. In government all you need to do is wait.

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    8. 10:18 my private sector employee doesn't have a defined benefits retirement plan like city employees do.

      In fact, he didn't even offer a 401(K) until a few years ago. The match = 0%. Tell me again what a great deal I have compared to public employees.

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    9. One overpaid government worker - given your statement above, and how it directly contradicts reality, I am less surprised by your previous comment insinuating that the health care costs of Sierra Madre are not accurate. Because so many agencies report benefits in different ways, we cannot list all the seperate categories. As such, we list a "benefits" column that only reports benefits directly provided to the employee - pension and health insurance. I just happened to notice the extremely high values in the "health insurance" column, which is the highest I have ever seen.

      I provided the unedited source data to the Tattler and that same data is available to anyone who would like it - records@transparentcalifornia.com. I hope that, upon learning that you are wrong, you do considering changing your opinions to match the facts.

      I hope you consider the information below when announcing how much better the private sector has it than the public sector:

      According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employer Costs for Employee Compensation report
      for December 2009, state and local government employees earned total compensation of $39.60 an
      hour, compared to $27.42 an hour for private industry workers — a difference of over 44 percent.
      This includes 35 percent higher wages and nearly 69 percent greater benefits.

      Source:


      U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employer Costs for Employee
      Compensation—December 2009,” pp. 8, 10,
      http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecec.pdf

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    10. one overpaid government workerFebruary 27, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      I know that what I have seen on my paychecks and what I see on your website. No need for me to see your raw data. I agree Sierra Madre does have a really nice benefit package for their management. But, there are other employees in the CEA that pay a high dollar amount for their health insurance as well for all their dependents.

      As for private sector which a I had the chance to work various jobs. There was always perks that were part of the job that were not recorded on a paycheck. Such as attending awards ceremonies, being a guest at banquets, receiving holiday bonuses, various gift cards, the list can go on. Do public sector employees get those benefits? No. They get their benefits in other ways.

      Also, while on the subject, those that complain that government employees have it made need to look at the reality of the jobs as well. Majority of the workforce isn't in city hall or behind a desk. They are out there picking up the trash and keeping your cities functional. I would appreciate the line being drawn at who is actually being over compensated for their work.

      One last point I would like to make is the fact that private sector jobs make the same unethical mistakes as you are putting on government jobs. I am sure we can agree on something. If not to each their own.

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    11. Hmmm, Sierra Madre outsourced the pool, park maintenance and janitorial. Are you next gonna tell us that public employees are doing the work the private sector doesn't want to do?

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    12. These figures are for 2012. The one employee who was listed three times went to three different jobs during that time. She is now a full time employee in administration so it is not known what her salary is. There are several others who are listed who no longer work for the City in the police dept, the library, and community services. In addition to that, some of the positions were down-graded and will reflect a lower salary today. That being said, it looks like the benefits are way high. Keep up the good work, Crawford.

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    13. curious, when I went to look at the data for Bevery Hills... "records require reformatting". Check out other cities. Sierra Madre employees do not come close - job for job.

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    14. The article is about health care benefits. A category where Sierra Madre employees lead the state.

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  15. John, great job in following up on Elaine's stonewalling. We owe you a great debt. Can hardly wait for you to bring your considerable talents to the greater San Gabriel Valley.

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    1. Our city manager, Stonewall Aguliar

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  16. Time to put these outrageous health packages into perspective.
    Our family pays (not my husband's employer) $1700 a month for a family of two. Medical, dental, vision.
    Don't forget these employees get a very generous sick leave package.

    The City's employees must have zero copays and a $50 deductible. These are benefits that Elaine and Elisa Weaver Cox negotiated with the unions. .

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    1. Negotiated, or just gave away?

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    2. The unions robbed those two ladies. They are not qualified to negotiate for us. Where was the City Council??

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    3. These two gals will also negotiate the next % raises for these benefits.
      Neither one have the training to do that job and it shows.

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  17. I have to say, the Transparent California site is much more useful than that one Harabedian spent our money on. Very good stuff there.

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  18. Thank you for your exposure of what appears to be good old fashion racketeering...Heaven help the citizens!

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  19. Not only do people like Elaine have these benefits, she has a contract to boot. All employees should be at will and no walk away packages.

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  20. Good article on Transparent California:

    California pension database ready - Group: Searchable information will spur calls for reform

    A nonpartisan think tank on Tuesday will unveil a searchable database of the California workers, teachers and local government employees who get a public pension.

    The California Public Policy Center’s TransparentCalifornia.com was compiled from more than 3.3 million salary and pension records, including data from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

    Representatives with the nonpartisan policy center argue the database will “anger California taxpayers and increase calls for pension reform in California.”

    “These data give new meaning to the phrase ‘Golden State,’ ” policy center president Mark Bucher said in a statement. “Amid civic bankruptcies in cities that can no longer pay for essential services, Californians can now see exactly where their tax dollars are going and how much current and former government employees are being paid.”

    Officials say the database, compiled from 2011 and 2012 data, will show more than 31,500 people earned six-figure pensions in 2012.

    http://www.mydesert.com/article/20140203/NEWS01/302030019/California-pension-database-ready

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  21. All government employees across the state are trying to jump on board the gravy train. Why should Sierra Tax Me be any different?

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  22. Excellent work, John! Thanks!

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  23. Elaine playing fast and loose with the Transparent California PRA has Colantuono and Levin's fingerprints all over it. Their "let's see what we can get away with" approach to transparency laws and the public's right to know was definitely in play here.

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  24. Thank you, Mod. This is such important info to get out before the election!

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  25. City manager's as a whole believe themselves to be above the law and untouchable, take Robert Rizzo of Bell for instance he was charged with multiple felonies and should have been sent up river for 40 years plus, but instead he has pulled in political favors and will do the minimal time and get his pension. He should have been stripped of all pension money's since it was acquired during a criminal activities, how long was this going on before he landed in Bell?
    These city managers stick together thicker than thieves and pass their trade secrets along to one another like criminals in prison, they need to be separated from the herd and make hardcore examples of "the tax payers are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore." French style, heads will roll need to take place and strip them of all their ill gotten proceeds.

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