Shawn Nelson Replaces John Moorlach as Board of Supes Pension Hypocrite

R. Shawn Nelson, 4th District Supervisor

R. Shawn Nelson, 4th District Supervisor

Orange County 4th District Supervisor, who ran for election and re-election under a pension reform platform promising not to accept a taxpayer pension for doing his job, has been revealed as a hypocrite for accepting an enormous taxpayer-funded pension after all.

Both the OC Register and the Voice of OC have the scoop.  But we wrote abut this very hypocrisy back in 2010. To be fair, it’s another example of a candidate running for office and then seeking to squeeze as much money out of it as they can.  Just ask State Senator John Moorlach about all his pensions when he finally retires.

From the VofOC story, this:

Orange County’s Auditor Controller Eric Woolery is locked in a heated battle with county retirement administrators and county executives over a quiet deal struck back in February to retroactively fund a pension for Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s first term in office – one in which he publicly fought to refuse a public pension.

Under the deal, uncovered this week by a Voice of OC public records request, Nelson paid a one-time payment of $75, 861.67 earlier this year to cover his employee contributions for his first term in office.

In exchange, county officials will pay $247, 625 over the next two years from his office budget to the retirement system as the taxpayers’ contribution to Nelson’s pension.

Nelson describes the February deal as the end of a bureaucratic snafu over his involvement in the local pension system, dating back to 2010 when he first was elected.

That year, Nelson campaigned aggressively on pension reform and then immediately signed up for the most expensive public pension option upon his election that June.

After Nelson drew criticism for his choice, he then publicly pressed to be removed, which he was a couple of months later that August.

Yet he was a retirement system member for a few months.

That apparent wrinkle, Nelson said, triggered a quiet firestorm last year when Nelson was sworn into his second term, because he is now covered by the supervisors’ 2012 pension initiative, Measure B, which he helped author and pass.

Measure B was billed as a way to force county supervisors into a cheaper public pension. But by establishing a limitation, it ironically also formally prevents a supervisor from refusing to take a pension – a position that earlier supervisors, like Pat Bates in 2006 were able to do.

So far there are numerous open questions, such as Nelson’s contention that OCERS asserts that there cannot be empty gaps in service for an employee thus taxpayers have to pay out nearly $250,00 on his behalf.

It’s also questionable that this never came back to the board of supervisors for a public discussion on such a high profile pension matter that has implications for future supervisors.

Nelson and County Counsel both argue that the board has nothing to do with deciding eligibility at OCERs – thus it’s a question between Nelson and the system.

Yet come on, these are the folks that just spent a month arguing over a dog, where a court had already taken action.

Thus, if Woolery hadn’t balked, no one in the public would know about Nelson’s new pension.

Woolery is also asking questions about extra money he says was deposited in Nelson’s 401A retirement account in lieu of him participating in the pension system – a similar move for Bates.

Thus, if Nelson now gets a pension, does he also get to keep the extra retirement account funds as well?


And from the OC Register story:

A voter-approved law aimed at reducing the tax money going to elected officials’ pensions has instead led to Orange County owing nearly $250,000 on behalf of a lucrative plan for a supervisor who pledged never to take a pension.

Shawn Nelson says he had no choice but to sign up for a pension after he was re-elected to the Board of Supervisors last year because a ballot measure sponsored by Nelson and approved by voters in 2012 requires all supervisors sign up for the least expensive plan, but doesn’t allow them to choose not to enroll at all.

He said he was surprised when the Orange County Employee Retirement System told him that because he’d briefly enrolled in the system five years ago, it was like he never left. That meant he owed $75,861.67 for the employee contributions he would have paid had he not announced he would no longer participate in the pension system in the midst of a reelection bid against another vociferous anti-pension politician.

Now the county has to pay its part of the pension for those five years, too: $247,625.

“I’m not real thrilled about it,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I got re-elected, how can I go backward?’ OCERS called me. I didn’t call them.”


Emails obtained by the Register show OCERS contacted county officials in December not about paying the last five years of contributions, but to reimburse Nelson and Bates for the contributions paid before he opted out of the system in 2010 and she opted out in 2007. But Nelson refused to take the reimbursement, reminding OCERS they had already told him that wasn’t allowed.

To get back on the pension system this year, the first thing he had to do was revoke an Aug. 26, 2010, document he signed stating his intent to opt out of OCERS, according to a document provided by the county’s executive office.

Still, Nelson said this week he wouldn’t have enrolled in a pension this year if he’d known it would lead to him having to pay past employee compensations for the years he’d opted out.

“I’ve got a lot less in my savings account now, and if I live long enough, I get a pension. Good for me,” Nelson said. But, he added: “I’m not a victim here. I’m an informed guy. I’m a lawyer. I was dumb enough to run for this office.”

But hey, Shawn Nelson needs that pension; those dye jobs aren’t cheap you know.

Shawn Nelson, Photo: Voice of OC

Shawn Nelson, Photo: Voice of OC


  1 comment for “Shawn Nelson Replaces John Moorlach as Board of Supes Pension Hypocrite

  1. RHackett
    October 26, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I’m sure Tony Bushala will be leading the charge to oust Nelson.

    If this office is such a financial burden for Nelson there is nothing stopping him from stepping down.

    He actively and aggressively getting elected.

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