Ever since he was elected last summer, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson has been trying to get rid of pensions for local elected officials.

It hasn’t been easy.

At first, Nelson tried to get officials to adopt a simple 401K plan instead of a pension. That proposal — delayed at virtually every meeting where it’s been on the agenda — never got far even though most supervisors publicly said they supported the idea.

Things might be changing.

Nelson and Supervisor Bill Campbell said they have developed the basics of a proposal that would have future supervisors switch their pension for the U.S. government’s Social Security program.

“This is a very hot topic,” Nelson said, noting concerns about public sector pensions.

Nelson noted that he got some inspiration from Assemblyman Curt Hagman who proposed taking pensions away from all elected leaders. Frustrated with how little progress he’s achieved on his 401k plan, Nelson said this option seemed workable.

“Put all future electeds on a FICA system,” Nelson said.

Under state law, supervisors are allowed to opt-in or out of the county pension system. Since taking office, Nelson joined Supervisor Pat Bates as the only two supervisors who are foregoing a county pension. The others will still get a pension even if they change the rules for future boards.

The taking of pensions has been a sticky issue for top local officials, especially as anti-pension rhetoric continues to heat up in this Republican-controlled county.

It has become a particularly awkward issue for Supervisor John Moorlach, who has made a name for himself as a prominent critic of public sector pensions.

Moorlach said he wants to switch down to his former pension — as OC officials are asking federal officials to allow — but he still supports the concept of a pension for elected officials.

“I never wanted to go up to this new level,” said Moorlach, referring to the enhanced pension formula known as 2.7 @55. “I’m happy to move back to the old formula. It’s time for something dramatic.”

Yet many observers said Moorlach is being hypocritical because he won’t accept what he’s prescribing for many public workers: no pension at all.

Campbell asked County CEO Tom Mauk to bring back alternatives in mid-May.


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