Santa Ana Mayor Double-Dipping On Benefits

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 | At a time when many in Orange County are without health insurance, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido appears to be double covered, once by the city and again as a director for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

OCTA records and interviews with senior-level Santa Ana employees show that taxpayers contribute a total of about $33,000 to Pulido's health care each year. Santa Ana contributes about $15,000 a year to the mayor's health and dental coverage, while OCTA puts in about $18,000 annually, records reviewed by staffers reflect.

Such double coverage violates OCTA policy. The agency requires its 18 directors to reimburse the authority for health benefits if they are also covered by another agency, said OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik.

Records posted by OCTA online for 2009 don't show a reimbursement by Pulido, who was first elected to the Santa Ana council in 1986 and has served as mayor since 1994.

He has not returned a reporter's calls and emails seeking to clarify his health benefits. An executive assistant for City Manager Dave Ream did respond via email, saying that the mayor "does not utilize the city's benefit program, which is available to all City Council members."

But two other senior city employees independently checked the official records and said Pulido currently is enrolled in the city health plan. Santa Ana, according to one of those officials, contributes $14,195 a year to Pulido's health insurance and $1,080 to his dental coverage.

Information about the mayor and council members' salaries and benefits is scheduled to be posted to the Santa Ana website today.

As a Transportation Authority director, Pulido, mayor of Orange County's largest city, collected a total of about $22,000 in per diem and health benefits last year, the most of any of the 18 directors.

According to the list, Pulido, in 2009, was paid $4,700 in per diem. Each director is allowed to receive $100 per official meeting that he or she attends, up to a maximum of $500 a month or $6,000 a year. OCTA paid $17,728 in health benefits for him and he contributed $3,128.

Besides Pulido, other board members who belong to the health plan are Orange Mayor Carolyn V. Cavecche, Lake Forest Mayor Pro Tem Richard Dixon and the two public members, Peter Buffa and Greg Winterbottom.

Cavecche was the second-highest compensated OCTA director, receiving $6,000 in per diem plus $15,989 in health plan coverage for a total of $21,989. Buffa, a documentary film producer, was third with health benefit payments of $13,133 and a $6,000 per diem for a total of $19,133.

Two others, Supervisor John Moorlach and Garden Grove Mayor William Dalton apparently participate in a small part of the plan, which provides eye or dental coverage, in addition to general health care. OCTA paid $254 for Moorlach in 2009 and $134 for Dalton.

Board spokesman Zlotnik said board members and Transportation Authority employees pay a portion of their health care costs, so the amount paid by the district can vary, depending on whether family members are included in the plans.

Cavecche has indicated she's exploring leaving the OCTA plan in favor of another form of coverage, Zlotnik said. Orange City Attorney David DeBerry said all Orange council members are eligible for the same benefits as the city's top employes.

That includes $1,475 a month that can be used to participate in a "section 125" cafeteria plan that covers health insurance for those who need it or other IRS-approved items, like adoption assistance or dependent care assistance.

According to the Transportation Authority's online list, in 2009 most directors received at least $4,700 in per diem and $96 for life insurance coverage.

Many cities began putting compensation information on their websites in the wake of the Bell salary scandal, where the ex-city manager took home a nearly $800,000 annual paycheck. But OCTA is one of the few county-level government agencies to make its information available online.

Pay and benefits of top executives and board members is an ordinary public record that anyone can go to the agency's offices during business hours and look at for free or, for a fee, request a copy.

Last week, Voice of OC reported that Denis Bilodeau, a member of the Orange County Water District board billed the water agency nearly $3,500 for meetings he either didn't attend or that didn't occur, according to official Water District records.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org, and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracy111. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

 

Comments are closed.