Newport Beach police officers are suing City Hall to be able to retire earlier and still receive their full benefits.
City officials, on the other hand, say what the officers are asking for would breach public pension rules agreed upon with the state.
Officers Kelley Maslin, Michelle Hampton, and Dallas Lopez in a lawsuit they filed in September say they were incorrectly enrolled under a public pension formula that doesn’t allow them to retire — and receive the full, subsequent annual percentage of their highest salary — until five years later than what they agreed to.
Since raising the issue in 2017, the officers in their lawsuit say the city has refused to work with them.
What the officers want is the option of retiring at age 50 and still receiving the full, annual 3% of their highest salary as their pension.
That’s compared to what they say they’re incorrectly entitled to now: a retirement plan that doesn’t allow them to check out until age 55 with their full benefits.
In court filings, city officials argued the age requirement under the pension formula was changed from 50 years old to 55 years old after CalPERS and the city amended their agreement around pension rules for new sworn police department employees.
Because the officers “did not become sworn until after the City and CalPERS amended its contract to provide newly sworn employees with a 3% at 55 formula, they have no contractual right to the old formula,” reads the legal documents submitted into court by the city.
CalPERS officials in a separate legal filing also said any challenges to pension entitlements must first be heard by a state administrative law judge as required by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
“No evidentiary proceeding under the APA has occurred,” CalPERS officials in their filing said. “The Plaintiffs do not contend otherwise.”
City spokesman John Pope said the officers could still retire before age 55, they just wouldn’t get the full percentage of their benefits.
He added: “A good few of our public safety officers are under the new formula — not just two or three.”
Yet as the lawsuit continues, union members have turned up the heat, sending out a public statement on Tuesday that aims heavy criticism at Newport City Attorney Aaron Harp but also praises City Council members.
“In a recent attempt at mediation, it was apparent the City Attorney, Mr. Aaron Harp, had no intention of doing the right thing or even considering working together to resolve the issue,” union members said in their statement, adding that since filing their lawsuit they have been consistently met with resistance and hostility from the City Attorney’s Office.”
Yet the union’s president, Sabrina Fabbri, added her union “has always taken pride in having a wonderful working relationship with our City Council.”
“The entire membership is feeling frustrated and disappointed by the City Attorney’s refusal to give our employees what they are rightfully entitled to. At this point, the issue has become time-consuming, costly (for both taxpayers and us), and mentally fatiguing,” she said.
All three officers were hired as recruits in 2012. Officer Maslin is the spouse of the Newport police union’s former president and current vice president, Alexander Maslin.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.