Unintended Costs of a Council

Ian Smith, CCS Reader

In recent weeks we’ve learned about issues of pay and perks in the City of Bell but only recently have we learned of analogous issues in San Juan Capistrano.. The Orange County Register has published a list of the salaries of our city staff. Yes, it also includes the perks received by our own city council members.

Many of us are learning of these issues for the first time. Frankly, I am shocked how little we knew before reading this alarming article. I suggest you go to the OC Register web site and click on cities and then San Juan Capistrano issue 10-01 and 09-30 all currently available to view.

You will see that our city council has paid the City Manager one of the highest annual salaries in the county, $325,000 even though we are not nearly as large as the average size city. Please observe that we have five (5) employees who are in the high salary levels above $200,000 per year. There are the additional costs of their healthcare (including dental and vision care), pensions, sick pay and other benefits. There is also one omission from the OC Register list; the additional high salaried staff running the Water Department that inexplicably is not listed! Please note we reimburse city staffers for certain sick leave even if they are not sick. Wow some perk! If the private sector behaved like this you could not count the bankruptcies! We all know that the State of California has severe fiscal problems but we must all realize this problem is rooted in our home city as well. Please say your peace to our leaders!

In 2006 Mark Nielsen and Lon Uso voluntarily and specifically ran on the promise of fiscal responsibility. Yet now, these same two men who as incumbent council members are now seeking reelection, have retained a City Manager who had never run a city before at this exorbitant salary level. Oh yes, the council defends this with "he has saved us three million dollars." These are the same two who voted to spend $27.5 million of our tax dollars on the RMV Riding Park.

Now what about the Council members themselves? Did you know they all benefit from the perks? Mr. Nielsen has declined the health insurance electing instead to take the cash value of $3,900 annually! There are some other issues but overall this costs us taxpayers plenty more than we had learned hitherto. Thank you, OC Register. At a recent council meeting in September we were asked pointedly by Dr. Uso to trust them but trust always has, in my book, to be fully earned. Oh no, not yet!

Where do we go from here? Please write to the City Clerk and express your personal views. We must also request that our future council members should pledge to reject these outrageous benefit costs.This will obviously put the two remaining council members, Mr. Allevato and Ms. Freese, to the test and hopefully they too will then accept these terms.

I have been personally assured that the team of Reeve, Reardon and Worthington will willingly accept these terms if elected. They will only accept reimbursable expenses for work on behalf of and for bona fide city business. If city council members forego their healthcare benefits as listed we will save $55,000 annually. I had always thought this was a volunteer position!

This is just a start to get our fiscal house in order; we have had too much spending and too little conservation of our monies. We must demand more transparency in all aspects of our government at every level but let’s start here at home in San Juan Capistrano. Does that sound familiar?

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