“After conducting a diligent search for responsive records, we have been unable to locate in the possession of theÂ County “a record of Supervisor Moorlach’s pension status.”Â - Howard Sutter,Â Manager, CEO Community/Media RelationsÂ (2-4-2011).
Supervisor John M. W. Moorlach has also been a vocal critic of public employee defined benefit plans, even though he has participated in this plan since he was appointed to the Board of Supervisors back in 1995. Moorlach is also responsible for the failed lawsuit brought against the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s (AOCDS)Â to overturn the retroactive portion of their current pension benefit because he believes it to be unconstitutional. Last month, the CaliforniaÂ 2nd District Court of Appeals sided with the trial court judge who through out the lawsuit. The Board is scheduled to discuss whether to appeal that decision to the California Supreme Court on Tuesday.
When Moorlach first proposed challenging the legality of the retroactive portion of the AOCDS benefits he was asked why he was participating in the defined benefit pension plan offered to general county employees. At that time, and throughout the debate, Moorlach has said that he “did not have a choice whether to participate” and that he had “tried to opt out of the plan and was told that he could not.”
When I learned back in September thatÂ the Orange County Employee’s Retirement System had reached a conclusion related to Supervisor Nelson’s options that suggested Moorlach could now opt-out of the system,Â I asked “If Nelson can opt-out of pension in November, what will Moorlach do?” Since I hadn’t heard back from Supervisor Moorlach on my question, I asked on January 6th if it was “Time for Moorlach to put his pension where his mouth is?” That time, I sent the question directly to Moorlach’s district office to make sure he got the question and was given the opportunity to respond.
After having heard nothing for a few days I began to think that the problem getting a response was that it was me asking the question. In order to find out if that was the case, my colleague Dan Chmielewski submitted the following public records request to the County’s Public Information Officer Howard Sutter on January 11th.
Iâ€™d like to know if Supervisor Moorlach is still enrolled in the countyâ€™s pension plan or if he opted out of it prior to his swearing in for his second term.Â
Can you please provide me with a record of Supervisor Moorlachâ€™s pension status?
Seems like a simple question to me, as well as one that should be easily answered. Ten days later Dan got the following response in a letterÂ from Sutter.
Dan responded to Sutter with a quick email stating the obvious:
You need two more weeks to tell me if Supervisor Moorlach opted out of the pension?Â Seriously?Â Couldnâ€™t you just pick up the phone and ask him?
Flash forward two weeks to this February 4, 2011 letterÂ from Sutter:
On the agenda for Tuesday’s Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting is item number 45Â to direct staff to make changes to the ElectedÂ OfficialsÂ 401(a) Alternative Retirement (defined contribution) plan.Â Among the changes is to tie the contribution amounts to Social Security rates and identify necessary steps to require that all future elected county officialsÂ only have the option to participateÂ in that plan. The discussion is the result of a proposal introduced by Supervisor Shawn Nelson. During the special election to fill the vacancy left by former Supervisor Chris Norby when he moved to the Sate Assembly, Nelson was an outspoken critic of defined benefit pension plans that current county workers participate in. Nelson was labeled a hypocriteÂ for initially selecting the most generous defined benefit pension option rather than the 401(a) plan when he took office. Ultimately, do to a technicality, Nelson was able to change his selection to the 401(a) plan, but his confusion about what he could and could not do related to his pension selection brought this discussion forward.
One of the clarifications that came out of this is that a county elected official must choose whether or not to participate in the defined pension plan during their first 30 days after taking their oath of office. That option occurs at the beginning of each term of office. Further, an official who chooses to participate in a defined benefit plan can opt out of their participation in that plan within 60 days of the end of their term.
As you can see, it is not like Supervisor Moorlach doesn’t know we’re asking what his plans are regarding his countyÂ pension. Further, Dan has sent his request directly to the Supervisor’s district office to the attention of his Chief of Staff Rick Francis.Â All we’ve heard back since we initially raised the question has been silence.
As we begin the Lunar New Year of the Rabbit/Cat it occurred to me to look up what Lunar year Supervisor Moorlach was born in. Moorlach was born on December 21, 1955, in the Year of the Sheep. I was born in the Year of the Ox which probably explains my stubborn determination to get an answer to this simple question out of Moorlach.
The year of the Sheep sure seems to explain the “Silence of the Lamb.” Happy Lunar New Year.