The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

September 30, 2013
Hearing postponed in Jerry Brown's appeal of furlough lawsuit

130930-Jerry-Brown.jpgA key court hearing in a multimillion-dollar court fight between Gov. Jerry Brown and unions representing California's state engineers and scientists has been taken off the calendar without explanation.

A new date hasn't yet been set for oral arguments, which had been scheduled for Oct. 9 before a panel with the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. The court cancelled the hearing on its own, according to the calendar it maintains on its website:

BY THE COURT: On the court's own motion, oral argument in the above-referenced appeal set for October 9, 2013, is taken off calendar. Counsel will be notified when the matter is set for oral argument.

Brown is appealing an Alameda trial court's ruling that the state owes back pay to roughly 13,000 employees on furlough two days too many and another 250 or so who shouldn't have been furloughed at all. The unions estimate the withheld wages total around $12 million.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown listens at a news conference on May 6, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

September 30, 2013
CalPERS retirements decline for first three quarters of 2013

The number of California state employees entering retirement is at its lowest level in four years, according to the latest CalPERS data, underscoring that the economic and political headwinds that once blew against government work have eased.

From January through September of this year, 8,035 state employees put in their retirement papers, the fewest for the nine-month period since 7,143 applied for their pensions in 2009.

September's 708 applications marked a 30 percent decline from a year ago and the lowest state retirements tally for the month since the pre-furlough days of 2008.

"I think it is a combination of the fact that a lot of employees have retired in the past few years coupled with the more positive tone that is currently permeating public finance in California," said Pepperdine state budget expert Michael Shires.

September 27, 2013
Jerry Brown signs state employee pay raise, contract bills

130927-Jerry-Brown-bill-signing.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that funds special pay raises for workers in two departments and another measure that appropriates money for new contracts he bargained with seven employee unions.

Senate Bill 102 approves special agreements with various unions totaling $45.1 million, including raises in fiscal 2013-14 for key State Water Project employees and wage hikes for DMV workers.

Assembly Bill 478 appropriates $18.5 million to cover the fiscal 2013-14 cost of contracts negotiated with seven unions and conforms to pension roll-back laws passed last year.

The measure also makes compensation for those employees a continuous appropriation for either two or three years, depending when their contracts expire. The designation guarantees their pay won't be withheld if a budget impasse keeps the state from paying other obligations on time.

Here's a list of the unions included in AB 478 and the final year of their continuous appropriation protection:

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (BU 6) - FY 2014-15
California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (BU 7) - FY 2015-16
Professional Engineers in California Government (BU 9) - FY 2014-15
International Union of Operating Engineers (BU 12) - FY 2014-15
Union of American Physicians and Dentists (BU 16) - FY 2015-16
California Association of Psychiatric Technicians (BU 18) - FY 2015-16
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (BU 19) - FY 2015-16

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and his Legislative Affairs Secretary, Gareth Elliot, discuss a bill awaiting the governor's signature in the Capitol courtyard on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

September 27, 2013
Former government tech official weighs in on Ohio's IT lessons

Thumbnail image for email.jpg Reader Steve Steinbrecher emailed his response to our Thursday State Worker column, "Lessons from Ohio's state tech project." We're publishing it here, unedited, and with the author's permission:

Dear Jon:

I read your piece in this morning's Bee with a great deal of interest. I am a retired Chief Information Officer (CIO) who worked 35 years in public sector IT. I spent a number of years as CIO for San Joaquin County, as well as Contra Costa County, and also spent a good amount of time working on integrated projects with the state and its CIO's.

Short background: I had leadership responsibility for a couple of very large and expensive, but successful county IT projects (integrated Health Care and Criminal Justice Systems for San Joaquin, a couple of Enterprise Resource Planning systems for both counties (more commonly known as "Empty Rear Pocket" if you allow the consultants to drive your project) to replace aging Payroll and Human Resources applications, and of course, the infamous Y2K project. I cut my teeth on California's first attempt at a Statewide Welfare System (I think it was called SPAN) back in the late 1970's (failure), was very involved in the only successful Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS) in the 1980's, and the Statewide Automated Child Support System (SACSS - A colossal failure that County CIO's warned the state of impending failure three years before it even attempted to "go live"). I truly love reading all of these stories in the Bee and other publications, because as Led Zeppelin says, "The Song Remains the Same."

Mr. Conomy got almost everything correct in your interview. However, fear NEVER works as a motivator, in my humble opinion, because when the brown stuff hits the fan with respect to a public (or private) sector IT project, the CIO is fired, the politicians and high level project sponsors cover their butts, and the project either goes on, or another one come along to take its place (just look at California's IT track record, as you so aptly pointed out in your piece). Having said that, what he DID get right is:

NEVER give an IT project to outside contractors and consultants. The only skin they have in the game is receiving your monthly payments (and yes, post-retirement, I too worked as a strategic planning IT consultant for about 8 years...)

September 26, 2013
Jerry Brown honors California Highway Patrol officer, others

Thumbnail image for 130926-MC_VALOR_01.jpgGov. Jerry Brown this morning recognized a California Highway Patrol officer for an act of bravery that likely saved a man's life last year at the risk of the officer's own well-being.

Officer Dane Norem was on patrol out of the CHP's Riverside office on Oct. 25 when he responded to a call about a man threatening to jump off the La Sierra overpass on Highway 91.

Norem arrived in time to see Javier Hernandez Rios, then 45, climbing the overpass fence. The officer grabbed Hernandez to keep him from jumping and was stabbed nine times -- including in the eye -- with a utility knife. Despite the attack, Norem held onto the man's leg long enough for help to arrive.

"It is without a doubt, his courage, dedication, and quick thinking are what helped save a man's life, even when his own life was in jeopardy," CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said in a press statement.

Hernandez, who was found to be under the influence of drugs, was arrested and charged with several crimes including the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

Brown awarded Norem with the 2012 Governor's Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, the highest honor the state can bestow on its public safety employees.

The ceremony in the Governor's Council Room also recognized 13 other men for heroic acts, including 11 Modesto Police Department officers who risked their lives to retrieve two shooting victims as well as a San Diego police officer and San Diego sheriff's deputy who were involved in a shootout.

From the Modesto Police Department:
Sgt. Rick Applegate
Sgt. Patrick Kimes
Sgt. Scott Myers
Sgt. Ivan Valencia
Detective Eric Beffa
Officer Joseph Bottoms
Officer Jonathan Griffith
Officer Gary Guffey
Officer Frank Inacio
Officer Robert Reyna
Officer Richard Rodarte

From the San Diego Sheriff's Department
Dep. Michael Spears

From the San Diego Police Department
Officer Michael DeWitt

PHOTO: The Governor's Public Safety Medal of Valor. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

September 26, 2013
California state auditor sounds warning on prison realignment

Supreme_Court_California_Prisons.jpgCalifornia's woefully underfunded teachers' retirement system, the state's swelling long-term health care costs for government retirees and its deteriorating roads, bridges and other infrastructure aren't the only items on the list of "high-risk" issues noted in a new report issued Thursday morning.

Like prior biannual assessments by State Auditor Elaine Howle's office, the audit dings the government for those failings and others: poor preparation for the mass exodus of retiring employees, inadequate emergency-preparedness and insufficient oversight of information technology projects.

But new to the pantheon of multibillon-dollar worries since the last high-risk report in 2011 is prison realignment, which shifts responsibility for some lower-level offenders to the counties. Here's Howle's summary:

The State does not currently have access to reliable and meaningful data concerning the realignment. As a result, the impact of realignment cannot be fully evaluated at this time. Even so, initial data indicate that local jails may not have adequate capacity and services to handle the influx of inmates caused by realignment. Until enough time has passed to allow the effectiveness and efficiency of realignment to be evaluated, we will consider it a statewide high-risk issue.

Here's the full audit:

September 26, 2013
Column Extra: How pigs flew in Ohio

Our State Worker column in today's Bee looks at a high-profile Ohio state government technology project that -- gasp! -- launched on time and essentially within budget.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Public Safety looked high and low for documented models of successful government technology projects and found virtually nothing to inspire them when they started the project in 2007. When they finished their work in 2012, they wrote a brief look back at the experience.

The flying pig reference in the paper's title comes from the comment by a discouraged project team member who "believed the task to be so overwhelming and impossible that 'pigs would fly' before this project was completed," the report said.

Later, as the group notched incremental wins and gained competency and confidence, the flying pig became a mascot and a symbol of pride.

Exodus Case Study - Ohio Department of Public Safety August 2012

With just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, much of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes, the documents and the observations that inform what's published.

September 26, 2013
The Roundup: Ohio's IT win; NH payroll snafu; Iowa ordered to reimburse state travel costs

HA_newspapers3808.JPGThe State Worker: Lessons from Ohio's state tech project
Ask John Conomy the key ingredient for a successful government technology project and he'll give you one word: "Fear." - The Sacramento Bee

State workers say payroll software causing problems
CONCORD, N.H. --State workers are complaining about payroll software that they say keeps screwing up their checks. - WMUR

Iowa Ordered To Refund State Workers' Meals
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa is in the process of reimbursing public employees for meals dating back to 2011 after an arbitrator ruled that Gov. Terry Branstad's administration improperly slashed the travel allowances. - AP/KCRG

Want more? For stories of interest to state employees, check out the State Worker's constantly updated News & Views feed by clicking here.

Follow @TheStateWorker on Twitter and check out our community page on Facebook for links, comments and insights into our reports, blog posts and columns.

September 24, 2013
California Energy Commission HQ to remain closed Wednesday

130924-California-Energy-Commission-LOGO.jpgThe California Energy Commission headquarters in downtown Sacramento will remain closed on Wednesday after a chemical leak forced the building to be shut down Tuesday morning.

State and local officials closed the building shortly after the leak was discovered at around 6 a.m. The commission had expected the cleanup to be completed in time to open for business on Wednesday, but it's going more slowly than anticipated.

The building has to be certified by the appropriate authorities to reopen, commission spokesman Adam Gottlieb said Tuesday afternoon, adding, "They want to make sure it's absolutely clean."

Roughly 550 people who work at the building at 1516 Ninth St. were displaced after an employee discovered diesel fuel in a mechanical room. The fuel came from a backup generator on the building's roof. No one was injured in the incident.

IMAGE: www.energy.ca.gov

September 24, 2013
CalPERS mail glitch may disenfranchise 25,000 in board election

CALPERS_COURTYARD_JAY_MATHER_2005.JPGAs Friday's deadline to vote in CalPERS Board of Administration elections approaches, officials with the fund have discovered that about 25,000 members could be disenfranchised.

The reasons: The affected members have no mailing address on file with the fund, combined with a mailing programming mistake.

In past elections, CalPERS published packets for members without an address and sent the materials to employers who would then then forward the the ballots to employees. But this year that didn't happen. Testing over the last few days revealed a mail programming mistake excluded members' names without addresses.

"It was human error," CalPERS spokesman Robert Glazier said.

CalPERS is prepared to immediately Fed Ex ballots to eligible members who call (916) 795-3952 or (800) 794-2297 through Thursday. Ballots also can be picked up at the fund's downtown Sacramento headquarters at 400 Q St.

Historically, between 14 percent and 15 percent of eligible members -- about 1.2 million this year -- vote in CalPERS' board elections, Glazier said. As of last Friday, CalPERS had received 124,011 ballots.

Voters will decide two races on the 13-member board. One contest pits incumbent J.J. Jelincic against three challengers: Andrew Hopkins, Lorenzo Rios and Kumar Sah. In the second, Harvey Robinson is opposing incumbent Michael Bilbrey.

Terms for both positions run from Jan. 16, 2014, through Jan. 15, 2018.

Ballots must be postmarked by Friday or returned to CalPERS' offices by close of business that same day.

PHOTO: The courtyard at CalPERS' Sacramento headquarters. The Sacramento Bee/Jay Mather

September 24, 2013
Fuel spill closes Energy Commission building


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Roughly 550 California Energy Commission workers are at home today after a backup generator on the agency headquarters' roof leaked diesel fuel into a mechanical room.

No one was injured by contact with the noxious fumes.

Commission spokesman Adam Gottlieb said that an employee discovered the fuel around 6 a.m. State and local toxic substance official have closed the building, located at 1516 9th St. in Sacramento.

"We're in clean up mode," Gottlieb said by telephone this morning. "We should be back up tomorrow."

September 24, 2013
The Roundup: San Jose's pension battle; FL drug-test fight; Greeks go on strike

HA_newspapers3808.JPGStruggling, San Jose Tests a Way to Cut Benefits
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- This metropolis of nearly a million residents is the third-largest city in California, home to tens of thousands of technology industry workers, as well as many thousands more struggling to get by. Yet even here, in the city that bills itself as the capital of Silicon Valley, the economic tidal wave that has swamped Detroit and other cities is lapping at the sea walls. - The New York Times

Government shutdown? 59% of workers exempt
WASHINGTON -- If Congress doesn't pass a new spending bill in the next week, the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1. That is, 41% of it will. - USA Today/Lansing State Journal

Greek workers start 48-hour public sector strike
ATHENS, GREECE -- Greek civil servants walked off the job Tuesday at the start of a 48-hour public sector strike, the second in as many weeks, to protest job cuts required for the country to continue receiving international rescue loans. - The Olympian

Rick Scott Continues to Push for State Employee Drug Testing
Florida has been the brunt of jokes since it decided to drug test state workers and welfare recipients. - WJHG

Want more? For stories of interest to state employees, check out the State Worker's constantly updated News & Views feed by clicking here.

Follow @TheStateWorker on Twitter and check out our community page on Facebook for links, comments and insights into our reports, blog posts and columns.

September 24, 2013
The Roundup: Thieves banned from MS state service; pension history; government workers protest in Spain

HA_newspapers3808.JPGNew state law invoked in cases of former state employees guilty of stealing
Two former state employees will no longer be eligible to work for the state in any capacity, a result of a new law that prohibits anyone guilty of stealing public funds to serve for any Mississippi agency. - The Clarion-Ledger

The Long, Sorry Tale of Pension Promises
Fifty years ago, the auto industry suffered a massive pension bust. The numbers back then were small, but pension failures are never about the numbers--they're about human frailty. People are tempted to promise more than they can deliver. Today, cities and states across the country are way behind on the promises they made to their employees. Several--including Detroit--are in bankruptcy. - The Wall Stree Journal

Spanish public workers continue to protest spending cuts - Press TV

State officials planning in case of federal shutdown
Virginia state officials are making contingency plans in the event that gridlock over spending in Washington forces a federal government shutdown. - Richmond Times-Dispatch

Want more? For stories of interest to state employees, check out the State Worker's constantly updated News & Views feed by clicking here.

Follow @TheStateWorker on Twitter and check out our community page on Facebook for links, comments and insights into our reports, blog posts and columns.

September 23, 2013
San Jose mayor backing ballot measure to roll back pensions

A new push to ask California voters to let state and local governments roll back pensions for current employees is taking shape, with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed leading the charge.

In a telephone interview Monday evening, Reed said that he recognizes the economic pressure on state and local budgets has eased and that he hasn't raised any money yet, but that he is convinced the need remains to dial back public pension costs.

"I'm not seeing signs that the public thinks this isn't a problem that has to be dealt with," the Democratic mayor said, noting that pension costs have been in the spotlight for financially struggling cities such as San Bernardino, Stockton and Detroit.

Language for the proposed ballot measure is still in the formative stages, he said, but it would ask voters to change California's constitution to explicitly allow state and local governments to alter pensions going forward for current employees.

Reed said he has been meeting with mayors across the state, and his calendar shows that he has been in discussions with several pension reform crusaders, including Dan Pellissier, who led a group that unsuccessfully tried to put a pension measure on the 2010 ballot. That effort failed to raise enough money to gather qualifying signatures.

Unlike previous proposed measures that never reached voters, Reed's measure wouldn't mandate a one-size-fits-all change to pensions. Instead it aims to settle a state constitutional question about whether public pensions may be altered prospectively once promised to employees.

"I'm not trying to be prescriptive," Reed said. "We need to empower local governments."

The default assumption for years has been that the state and U.S. constitutions protect pensions as a contractual agreement and a vested property right. That has meant that rollbacks to pension formulas, including the less-generous package mandated in a pension law that Gov. Jerry Brown signed last year, affect only new employees. Reed's measure would not address federal law.

Governments could enhance pension formulas retroactively, and did, until the new pension law forbade it this year.

Reed and others say that those changes, while necessary, don't go far enough. They contend that the more generous pension formulas that have kicked in over the last 14 years and the Great Recession delivered a double-whammy to pension funds. Altering pensions for current workers, Reed says, is the only way to address projected shortfalls that run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the union-backed Californians for Retirement Security, called Reed's idea a "radical attack on the retirement security of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public servants."

"Because he is incapable of providing the leadership to solving pension issues at the bargaining table and in the Legislature," Maviglio said in an email Monday, "Mayor Reed has decided to try to advance his political career by going to the ballot box in a costly campaign."

September 23, 2013
Hearing date set for Jerry Brown's furlough ruling appeal

Jerry_Brown_HJA3698.JPGWith an estimated $12 million at stake, Gov. Jerry Brown and unions representing California's state scientists and engineers will again debate whether the government owes back wages for wrongly furloughing a combined 13,000 employees.

Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists successfully argued last year that Brown in 2011 reduced their members' hours and wages two days longer than authorized by the Legislature.

The unions also persuaded Alameda Superior Court Judge Steven Brick that about 250 of their members shouldn't have been furloughed at all because state law protects their positions.

September 23, 2013
Friday deadline for ballots in CalPERS' board election

100806 ballot-box.jpgThe deadline to return ballots for CalPERS' Board of Administration election is Friday.

Harvey Robinson is opposing incumbent Michael Bilbrey for one of the two positions up for re-election on the 13-member board. J.J. Jelincic is running to keep his post against challengers Andrew Hopkins, Lorenzo Rios and Kumar Sah.

Terms for both positions run from Jan. 16, 2014, through Jan. 15, 2018.

CalPERS sent ballots to members several weeks ago. To be counted, the forms must be either postmarked or received by CalPERS no later than Friday.

This CalPERS' webpage has details about the election, material about the candidates and information about the Board of Administration.

IMAGE: www.freeclipart.com

September 23, 2013
Government administration group meets Wednesday

RCB_20111001_FIREFIGHTER_0061.JPGThe American Society for Public Administration's Sacramento chapter will host a reception for leaders on Wednesday at Capitol Park.

The nonprofit national organization is "dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and nonprofit administration. ASPA's four core values are Accountability and Performance, Professionalism, Ethics and Social Equity," its website says.

The reception is intended as an opportunity for public leaders and executives to meet.

The event will run from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the California Firefighters Memorial on the east side of Capitol Park.

RSVP no later than today via email to yvonnesa@usc.edu or by calling (916) 637-8963. Click here to view a reception flyer.


PHOTO: A member of the Contra Costa Fire Department sings the national anthem at the California Firefighters Memorial in Sacramento on Oct. 1, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

September 13, 2013
Poll: California public-employee bills that passed, failed in 2013

With the California Legislature now closed until 2014, here's a quick scorecard on legislation of consequence to state workers (not including contract bills). Will measures that went to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk will become law? Will defeated bills make a comeback next year?

AB 1222 (Bloom and Dickinson) PASSED
Temporarily exempts unionized mass-transit employees from California's new pension law. Keeps billions of dollars in federal mass-transit grants flowing while the courts decide whether pension reform mandates violate collective bargaining and therefore disqualifies agencies that apply the law from receiving the federal funds.

AB 218 (Dickinson) PASSED
Requires that state and local government employers delay asking job applicants about their criminal conviction history until the agency determines potential hires' minimum qualifications. Part of the "ban the box" movement.

September 13, 2013
California Legislature closes, three unions still without contracts

130222 Blanning.JPGWhen California lawmakers closed the books on their 2013 session Thursday night, state employee unions representing state attorneys and other legal officials, scientists and stationary engineers still didn't have contracts.

California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers In State Employment (CASE), California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS) and Bargaining Unit 13 of the International Union Operating Engineers (IUOE) represent a combined 7,700 or so employees who will be working for the next several months under the terms of contracts that expired in July.

The Legislature's recess ended any chance that it would authorize money for new labor contracts before it returns to work in January. Until lawmakers appropriate funds, a deal can't be sealed.

September 13, 2013
Obituary: Carl Larson helped launch prison-building program

The State Worker normally leaves death notices to The Bee's obituary section. but today we're making an exception.

Obit writer Robert Dávila forwarded this memo from Corrections Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard about the passing of Carl Larson, who served the department for nearly 50 years. We are publishing it here as it was sent to us:

Carl Larson obituary

September 12, 2013
Lawmakers OK bill banning felony question on public job apps

130912-Job-fair-pge.jpgThe state Senate today approved a bill that converts the state's job application policy regarding felony conviction questions into a law that applies to local government agencies.

Assembly Bill 218, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature or veto and after 40-seat upper chamber passed it with the minimum 21 votes.

September 12, 2013
Column Extra: More info about Knox v. SEIU Local 1000

130912-US-Supreme-Court.jpgThis week's State Worker column looks at how much and to whom SEIU Local 1000 is making repayment for special assessments it wrongly took from nonmembers, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, to fund political activities in 2005 and 2006.

While Local 1000 wouldn't talk about it, the attorney on the other side did. The column lays out what James Young said about how many people will get some money back and how much.

Here are a few links and documents that informed the column:

SEIU Local 1000's Information and FAQs: Knox Judgment Refunds

Bloomberg Law's SCOTUS Blog's page for Knox v. SEIU International Union, Local 1000

The petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by Diane Knox and other SEIU nonmembers

The response by SEIU Local 1000

The U.S. Supreme Court's Knox majority ruling and dissent

With just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, much of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes, the documents and the observations that inform what's published.

PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court building. The Associated Press/Pat Benic

September 12, 2013
Column Extra: A stealth SEIU Local 1000 check envelope?

We wouldn't have written today's State Worker column about SEIU's Knox v. SEIU Local 1000 nonmember repayments, but someone who received a check for more than $200 sent along an image of the envelope an explanation letter that went with it. We'll let the employee's email explain a concern about the envelope:

Below is a graphic of the envelope the SEIU 1000 settlement check I received in the mail this week. As you can see it is very basic like it should be tossed as junk mail. In preparation to shred I opened the envelope and the attached letter with a check for over $200 was received.

In showing it to fellow state workers we all are shocked on how this was received. We believe the union is doing this on purpose to make it look like junk mail so people will throw it away and after 6 months the check is void.

We are shocked and saddened when we pay over $70.00 per month union dues and then we are treated like we can be duped and will not open the envelope. Sad that our union would do this.

I hope you can write something about how SEIU 1000 sent out these checks.

We've embedded the check image and the letter below. As to the envelope's nondescript front, it actually makes sense to us. Marking mail in a way to draw special attention to monetary contents might encourage theft.

Side note: We ran the letter by James Young, whose signature is on the bottom of it, to verify authenticity. Young is an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which describes its mission as eliminating "coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses."

Young said that the letter was authentic, although something at the bottom was added somewhere along the line during the printing process: a union bug.

With just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, much of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes, the documents and the observations that inform what's published.

September 11, 2013
Judge: Federal prison receiver can get California state pension

130911-Kelso-2008.jpgA Sacramento judge has ruled that California's Prisons Receiver J. Clark Kelso qualifies for a state pension, even though his position as the penal system's medical overseer was established by federal appointment.

The decision by Judge Michael Kenny sides with CalPERS, which said it had vetted an unusual deal between the federal judge who appointed Kelso and the state Administrative Office of the Courts that allowed him to stay in the state pension system. In essence, Kelso is working as a state-courts employee on loan to the federally established California Prison Healthcare Receivership Corp. charged with overseeing the medical care of inmates.

Before Kelso took the receiver job, he held several leadership positions in state government, with years of contributions built up in his CalPERS pension account.

Daniel Francis, a retired state employee, sued CalPERS, arguing that Kelso was really a federal employee and that payments to his state pension account amounted to a gift of public funds.

Kenny said that Francis failed to prove that CalPERS' determination of Kelso's employment status was wrong.

RELATED:
Lawsuit claims prison receiver spiking CalPERS pension
Judge: Lawsuit against CalPERS over California prison receiver pension may proceed

PHOTO: Federal Prisons Receiver J. Clark Kelso takes questions during a 2008 news conference. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

September 10, 2013
Audit outlines California parks' budgeting, vacation leave ills

RP_SUTTERS_FORT_CANNON.JPGCalifornia's scandal-plagued parks department manipulated its roster to keep from abolishing vacant positions, lacks sound budgeting methods for individual parks and, despite extreme scrutiny of an illegal employee leave buyback program, "still has not done enough to prevent such practices from occurring," according to an audit released today.

California State Auditor Elaine Howle said her investigation turned up four additional instances of inappropriate leave buybacks between May 2010 and March 2011 that totaled $16,394.

The department couldn't document the rationale for the largest payment, $8,721. Payroll records showed the department bought down an 340 hours of time an employee banked for extra time worked.

The 43-page audit sampled operations at five park districts and describes a department budget process so unorganized that district administrators make an educated guess at how much money they'll receive when the fiscal year starts each July. They then reset their budgets sometime between August and November when they find out how much money they have.

The poor communication ran the other way. District expenditure tracking is so poor that four of the five districts audited had developed their own systems for watching their expenses on a real-time basis. That has created duplicate work in some instances and the department still does not know how much it costs to operate each park.

The lack of sound financial information would hobble the department's compliance with a law that kicks in July 1 requiring the department cut costs at its individual facilities if funding falls below a certain level.

Auditors blamed the disarray on the lack of sound budget allocation and expenditure processes, unclear communication in the organization and chaos created by extreme budget cuts the last few years.

The report also says parks officials routinely played a personnel shell game to dodge a law that abolishes state positions -- and the budget money that goes with them -- when the jobs go unfilled for months. To avoid the ax, the department temporarily transferred employees into the empty slots ahead of the deadline. The moves made it appear the positions had been correctly filled.

Aaron Robertson, parks' chief deputy director, said in five-page response that the department is either working to correct the problems identified in the audit or will soon. Examples include improving its budget allocation and expenditure-tracking processes, training on personnel issues and increasing the management oversight of leave buybacks.

We've embedded the audit below. Download a copy here.

PHOTO: Workers rebuild the roof at historic Sutter's Fort on Aug. 7, 2013, in downtown Sacramento, a California state park displaying a cannon that John Sutter bought from the defunct Russian outpost at Fort Ross. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

September 10, 2013
August retirement applications to CalPERS down slightly

The number of California state workers who applied for pensions declined less than 2 percent last month, according to CalPERS, but the retirement trend since January remains higher than in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of all retiring CalPERS members -- state and local government, school district and special district employees -- rose nearly 12 percent in August. The number of all CalPERS retirements is up nearly 4 percent this year for the combined group of state and local government, school district and special district employees.

The gradual increase in the overall retirement numbers so far this year suggests that the slumping economy, furloughs that cut pay, layoffs, and (for local governments) early retirement incentives of a few years ago have washed through the government ranks. Still, employers expect to see the upward retirement trend continue as aging baby boomers head for the exits.

The state employee figures for the last few months of this year will bear watching as a bellwether for how a new round of raises negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown will affect retirements. Will some workers who might have left with no prospect of a pay increase might decide to stick around enough for the higher pay to affect their pension checks?

Click here for detailed tables of month-by-month retirement application numbers tracked by CalPERS dating back to 2007. The fund counts applications from mid-month to mid-month. The last two weeks of December, when many state workers leave to take advantage of cost-of-living allowance rules, are counted in the January tallies.

September 10, 2013
The Roundup: State economies still struggling; MD gun-registration deluge sparks controversial staffing policy

HA_newspapers3808.JPGFive Years After Crash, States Still Picking Up Pieces
Five years after the 2008 financial crisis sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin, only a handful of states are charging full steam ahead. Four states' economies are the shakiest and one of them, Delaware, is in danger of slipping back into recession. - Stateline

State workers, retirees object to single plan, higher-out-of pocket costs for state health insurance
ATLANTA -- Private-sector employees affected by Obamacare won't be the only ones seeing changes in their health insurance on Jan. 1. The half-million state workers, retirees, teachers and school workers will also see their coverage revised when 2014 begins. - Florida Times-Union

Metro State University says summer staff shortchanged
The Metropolitan State University system in the Twin Cities has shortchanged many of its employees' paychecks this summer, prompting a call for an outside audit. Heavy turnover in the school's human resources division contributed to a series of payroll problems, including overlooked promotions and career step increases, administrators said. - Pioneer Press

Maryland's 'all hands on deck' firearms application review under fire
Facing a deluge of gun ownership applications, state employees from multiple agencies were called in to process paperwork over the weekend -- to the dismay of gun-rights activists. - Capital Gazette

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September 9, 2013
California state worker-AWOL bill sent to Jerry Brown's desk

110822 Assembly chamber.JPGA bill that gives state employees a better chance at reinstatement if they're fired for being AWOL is on the way to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.

Republicans in the Democratically-controlled Assembly framed debate over Assembly Bill 855 as an argument over existing law that allows state workers five days away without explanation before they can be terminated. They can be reinstated if they explain to an administrative law judge why they were absent and why they failed to get leave for the absence. They must also show proof they are "ready, able and willing" to return to the job.

But the judge can't consider the other side of the equation: whether the employer properly invoked the AWOL statute to terminate an employee. The measure by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, allows for that.

The Democrat-controlled Assembly had already approved the bill once and sent it to the Senate. Friday's vote was to approve minor tweaks made by the upper chamber.

Such "concurrence" votes usually aren't dramatic. But the first round of votes fell a few shy of the 41 required to produce a majority for the union-backed bill, despite Democrat's two-thirds control of the 80-seat Assembly. The measure was put on hold, more votes rounded up and it eventually went to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. Final tally: 46-30.

PHOTO: The California Assembly during a 2011 session. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

September 9, 2013
The Roundup: CalPERS pension data; MN state workers' ID info stolen; VA workers' ID info mishandled

HA_newspapers3808.JPGThe Public Eye: California public pension payouts doubled after bump in benefits
The average retirement payout for new retirees in California's biggest public pension system doubled between 1999 and 2012, according to CalPERS data, and initial monthly payments for one group nearly tripled in that period. - The Sacramento Bee

4 Charged In ID Theft Ring Targeting State Employees
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Ramsey County investigators say they have busted a major identity theft ring involving the personal information of hundreds. Four St. Paul women have been charged in the string of ID thefts. The victims were retired state employees, investigators said. - WCCO

13,000 Va. state workers' personal info disclosed
ROANOKE -- Virginia officials are working to improve security after 13,000 state employees' personal information was mistakenly sent to 11 state human resource and payroll workers. - Richmond Times-Dispatch

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September 6, 2013
Read bill exempting mass-transit workers from pension reform

DICKINSON-lg.jpgAs we've reported, Gov. Jerry Brown is backing legislation to exempt California mass-transit employees from his pension-rollback law while the courts decide whether it violates federal collective-bargaining conditions for mass-transit grants.

Here's the legislation, Assembly Bill 1222, authored by Assemblymen Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica. The bill is an "urgency" measure that needs two-thirds support in the Assembly and Senate to take effect immediately with Brown's signature.

September 5, 2013
When should government ask job seekers about criminal past?

job-seekers.jpgOur State Worker column in today's fiber/cyber Bee looks at government hiring policies in California and laws in other states that de-emphasize asking whether job applicants have criminal histories.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson's Assembly Bill 218 would make California's policy a law with a few more restrictions on employers and apply it to all state and local governments. (Dickinson's bill makes some exceptions for law enforcement officers and the like, although some opponents say those exceptions need to be braodend and better defined.)

The National Employment Law Project -- which describes itself as partnering with "grassroots groups and national organizations, worker centers and unions, policymakers and think tanks" to promote middle-class jobs -- tracks state and local governments that aren't giving as much prominence as they once did to criminal history questions. Click here to view the group's thoroughly linked list of entities that "ban the box," a phrase referring to the check-box lines that many job applications use to ask about criminal history.

The column also refers to two lawsuits that the Obama administration filed against private-sector employers that allegedly screened applicants and fired employees using criminal background checks. Here's the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's June press release about those two cases and why the commission says their practice discriminated against minorities.

PHOTO: Job seekers crowd around a table to get information on available jobs during the California Job Journal HIREvent on Feb. 10, 2009, in San Francisco. Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

September 5, 2013
From the notebook: Letter explains how California, federal laws conflict

thomas_perez.jpegAs we reported in a breaking news story on Wednesday and followed with a more detailed report today, the Brown administration has announced a plan that it says will allow federal grants to continue flowing to regional transit districts while the courts decide whether California's new pension law degrades mass transit employees' collective bargaining rights.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez had warned Gov. Jerry Brown that at least $1.6 billion was at risk, because federal mass transit law requires agencies that receive certain federal grants protect their workers' collective bargaining rights. The Labor Department certifies whether employers are complying.

The warning became an official decision on Wednesday. Here's the letter from Michael Hayes, the director of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards, that explains why the Obama administration decertified the Sacramento Regional Transit District because it has implemented California's Public Employees' Pension Reform Act.

September 5, 2013
CalPERS' board candidates to face off today

100607 CALPERS HQ.JPGSix candidates vying for two seats on the California Public Employees' Retirement System's governing board will meet for a forum today from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the fund's Sacramento headquarters.

The discussion, open to the public and presented by the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County, will be held in the CalPERS auditorium at 400 P Street and streamed live online..

Three candidates are running against incumbent J.J. Jelincic for the first seat: Andrew Hopkins, Lorenzo Rios and Kumar Sah. For the second seat, Harvey Robinson opposes incumbent Michael Bilbrey.

Terms for both positions on the fund's 13-member Board of Administration run from Jan. 16, 2014, through Jan. 15, 2018.

CalPERS mailed out election ballots to members last week. To be counted, the ballots must be either postmarked or received by CalPERS no later than Sept. 27.

Click here for CalPERS' webpage with more details about the election, material about the candidates and information about the Board of Administration.

PHOTO: The tower at CalPERS' Sacramento headquarters. The Sacramento Bee/Jay Mather

September 5, 2013
The Roundup: California's pension-law conflict; government hiring, criminal questions

HA_newspapers3808.JPGCalifornia mass-transit workers get pension reprieve
Federal officials cut off $54 million for Sacramento Regional Transit on Wednesday, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to announce a pension-law compromise intended to keep the money flowing to transit agencies on the verge of losing grant funds. - Sacramento Bee

The State Worker: Which 'common-sense' view on criminal records will prevail?
A week after The Sacramento Bee detailed an employee's return to state government after a two-year prison term for embezzling $320,000, we're still hearing about it. - Sacramento Bee

State employees fired: Michael Chyi at the Princeton lagoon
Michael Chyi, an environmental engineer for the DNR, was fired in 2010 after he illegally permitted the city of Princeton to use a sewage treatment program that he had patented. Chyi says the system saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. - Des Moines Register

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September 4, 2013
California state law enforcement contract costs $26.5 million

RP_STATE_PARKS_BINOCS.JPGA new three-year contract for about 7,000 state workers in public safety and inspection jobs will add about $26.5 million in costs through fiscal 2015-16, according to a just-published review by the Legislative Analyst's Office.

The centerpiece of the agreement with the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association and Gov. Jerry Brown is a 3 percent raise on July 1, 2015. The union represents employees including California Highway Patrol dispatchers, Department of Motor Vehicles licensing-registration examiners, park rangers and game wardens.

Two other employee subsets in the union, state hospital police officers and developmental center peace officers, are in line for an additional 4.67 percent bump on the same date.

Related: Law enforcement officers' union agrees to new contract

The agreement also gives employees the option to cash out up to 20 hours of vacation or annual leave each year at their employing department's discretion.

There's no official estimate of what that would cost, although the LAO says it would be "a few million dollars in any given year." While the leave buyouts would hit departments in the short-term, they're a long-term savings because employees who cash out when they exit state service do so at their final pay rate.

"At the end of fiscal 2011-12," the analysis embedded below notes, "the state's liability associated with Unit 7 employees' vacation/annual leave balance was about $55 million."

September 4, 2013
Jerry Brown backs bill to let transit workers sidestep pension law

JV_072913_K_STREET_070.JPGA billion-dollar stare down with federal officials ended this morning with an announcement that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed legislation to exempt roughly 20,000 mass transit employees from California's new pension law.

The measure, which is expected to move swiftly through the Legislature, was prompted by the U.S. Department of Labor's decision today to suspend millions of dollars in grant money for the Sacramento Regional Transit District.

Assemblymen Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, will author the legislation.

Although the administration's announcement says the bill "preserves the state's ability to fight for the pension reform law in court," the news is at least a temporary win for the mass-transit unions, which argued California's pension law mandated terms that should have been collectively bargained.

Although the Brown administration disagreed, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez sided with the unions' position. He warned the governor earlier this year that $1.6 billion in federal money for mass transit projects around the state was at risk because federal law requires that grant recipients preserve their employees' collective representation. The Labor Department certification of that requirement is the last step before the money is released.

Brown's proposal exempts mass-transit employees from pension changes that required they pay more toward their own retirement accounts and mandated new hires work longer to receive less-generous benefits than their longer-tenured coworkers.

Brown's office declined to comment.

PHOTO: A light rail train crosses Eighth Street on K Street in Sacramento on July 29, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/José Luis Villegas

September 3, 2013
Read the contract between Jerry Brown, California engineers

AerialDelta.JPGAs we reported over the holiday weekend, California's state engineers' union has tentatively agreed to a two-year contract that includes an across-the-board raise.

The deal "deep classes" a handful of engineering job classifications and also adds State Water Project engineers to a paid-time-off incentive program. Other union contracts already include the program, which pays up to 80 hours to employees whose divisions within the Department of Water Resources meet certain water delivery and power generation goals.

Here's the tentative agreement. Scroll down to pages 18 and 19 for more details about the incentive program:

September 2, 2013
Lawmakers to CalPERS: Let's talk about that pension database

The controversy that kicked up in July over CalPERS' plan to launch a online pension database has reached the California Legislature.

According to an Aug. 26 letter from Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblyman Rob Bonta to CalPERS President Rob Feckner, the Senate and Assembly pension committee leaders plan to hold hearings on "issues related to the right of the public to access CalPERS data and ... personal privacy concerns."

The letter doesn't set any dates, but it's safe to assume that hearings will be scheduled sometime between the legislative year-end on Sept. 13 and Jan. 6, 2014 when lawmakers return to the Capitol.

Fund officials hoped the website would become the go-to resource for CalPERS pension data that they said is sometimes mishandled or cherry picked for political purposes. They also expected a regularly-updated site would curb the number of individual requests for information that now consume staff time to process.

Pensioner groups, including California State Retirees, said that putting names, allowance mounts, last employer information, service time and other data on in searchable form on the Internet -- even though it is considered public record -- would make some vulnerable seniors easy targets for scammers.

The retirees asked the Legislature to intervene. Meanwhile, CalPERS decided to put the database launch on hold.

Here's the Beall/Bonta letter:



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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