After more than a year of tinkering and arguing, Orange County’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday reluctantly approved a plan to ask Sacramento for a law to swap pension benefits for Social Security for local elected officials.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson also announced he would soon be seeking a charter amendment that would force county supervisors who do choose to participate in the local pension plan to accept a lower pension benefit formula.

The issue has been lingering since Nelson was elected last year. Nelson, who ran on a campaign critical of pension benefits, ran into opposition from conservatives when he decided to accept a pension, which he later said was a mistake.

Nelson followed the lead of Supervisor Pat Bates (first elected in 2006) and ultimately declined a pension.

But when he urged his colleagues to follow suit, he was met with muted opposition. While other supervisors never voiced opposition to the idea, they pointed out numerous small flaws and kept the plan in limbo for more than a year.

On Tuesday as Supervisors John Moorlach and Janet Nguyen were asking how federal withholding would be calculated and how sick days and vacation days would be factored into compensation, Bates spoke up.

“I’m starting to lose my patience. We continue to discuss this up here and go nowhere,” Bates said. “If you want to look good, just don’t take the pension. That’s what the public is asking for.”

Then she boiled it down: “This is for elected officials who aren’t supposed to be career politicians.” That’s the reason voters enacted term limits for local offices like county supervisors, she said.

While Nelson wasn’t as forceful in public as Bates, he expressed frustration over his year of fighting for the change, especially on a board that is supposedly composed of fiscal conservatives.

“A fiscal conservative quickly gets on board with this, and then that’s the end of it,” Nelson said. “If you don’t, then you’re redefining the word.”

The message, he said, crediting Bates, is simple: “We get it. These are not career jobs.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that supervisors are in the state pension system. We regret the error.


Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.