So we've finally gotten the answer to the question of whether new Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson will opt for a pension from the county. And that answer is yes.
I posed the question to Nelson in June right after his long, furious and ultimately successful primary campaign that centered on the need to reign in the county's $3.7 billion unfunded pension liability.
Nelson has yet to give me an answer, however he has acknowledged to The Liberal OC that not only did he take a pension, but took the most generous option available to him.
Yep, it seems Nelson took the good ole 2.7 at 55 formula that is the bane of conservative Orange County and was one of his top talking points during the campaign.
And get this -- he says he did it on accident.
As The Liberal OC's Chris Prevatt pointed out, Nelson could have opted for a lesser pension but declined to do so.
Or he could have done as Supervisor Pat Bates did and just opted to not join the pension system at all. When Bates ran -- and made pensions a big part of her campaign -- she promised not to add a penny to the unfunded. And she kept her promise.
When I ran into Nelson's chief of staff, Denis Bilodeau yesterday, I asked about the pension and got a rambling, nonsensical defense that sounded like Nelson had mistakenly just filled out the forms he got, which happened to include the option into the pension system. Yesterday, I asked Bilodeau to relay my message to Nelson and call me back.
Nelson repeated the line that he didn't know his options in an interview with Liberal OC writer Dan Chmielewski, who generously pointed out that I could explain it to him if he'd just return my phone calls...
On the day Nelson was sworn into office, I checked with the local retirement system (OCERS) and confirmed that elected officials have to opt INTO the local retirement system under a state statute.
That's exactly what Bates opted for.
Nelson said he's never read the story that ran on his inauguration day. Apparently, others in the Republican establishment did. And they're not very happy.
Yesterday, Red County Publisher Chip Hanlon penned a critical post on Nelson's decision with the general message of: "WTF?"
This might indeed make the campaign this fall for Nelson's supervisor seat quite a bit more interesting than most thought it would be.
Nelson, is now finishing up the term of former Supervisor Chris Norby who left for Sacramento after winning a special election. He still faces a challenge from Anaheim City Councilman Harry Sidhu, who placed second the June special election.
The good news is that Nelson does have an opportunity to make up for his accident. Another state statute allows a supervisor who inadvertently opted into the system to actually cash out all their contributions 60 days after they leave office.
And as always, he can call me if he needs any help researching the issue.
-- NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.