Questions on Sick Time Payouts and Other Pension Issues

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The OC Register published a fascinating story this weekend about the huge sick leave payouts for some public employees who recently retired from the county government.

In all, these retiring county execs cost taxpayers more than $35 million in payouts by being able to cash out sick time they never took.

When you read the database assembled by the Register, a notable pattern emerges: You’re not going to see these folks hanging out at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall.

They’re all top tier managers.

  • The healthiest man in county government over the last decade was apparently Ben De Mayo – the county’s top lawyer who retired last year. He cashed out more than $350,000 in sick leave.
  • Next was Juliette Poulson, director of the Health Care Agency, who went home with $163,000 in sick leave. Maybe being at the health care agency netted her some health tips.
  • Tom Beckett, retiring head of finance, went home with $102,000. Apparently, working in finance also helps ward off viruses.

These kinds of payouts — the result of negotiated labor contracts with the manager’s union that allows sick leave payouts — are the kinds of stresses on pension systems that haven’t drawn much tweaking despite several rounds of negotiations with county supervisors.

All this has me wondering just how much every bargaining unit is giving up or revising at the negotiating table when it comes to pension benefits.

For example, county officials recently finished negotiations with the Orange County Employees Association that established a new tier for incoming workers that’s aimed at lowering unfunded liabilities over time.

In South County, the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association also adopted changes to its retirement for firefighters at the Orange County Fire Authority.

I’m also curious exactly what kinds of workers generate what kinds of pensions?

In the lawsuit between the county and the deputy sheriff’s, we were able to get a picture of a slice of that unfunded liability. The retroactive portion of the deputies’ pension enhancement in 2001 was pegged at $187 million.

So who’s responsible for the rest of the county pension system’s more than $2 billion unfunded liability?

How much comes from the retirement of janitors, secretaries and cooks? And how much is from county lawyers, CEOs and department heads?

I also wonder how much each worker pays for their pension? How much do cops and firefighters, elected officials and general workers pony up for their pension?

I’m also curious just who gets a pension? For example, why does an elected official require a pension? I wonder how much retired county supervisors get?

Voice of OC is interested in raising the dialogue level on pensions, engaging readers on alternatives and options. With the election season ready to kick into gear, lets’ all get armed with the facts before the torrent of election mail starts arriving.

I’m going to be making some calls over to the Orange County Employees Retirement Fund this week to find out. If any of you have other ideas on this issue please shoot me an email at



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