How Many 800 lb Gorillas Are Needed
to Change a Light Bulb at City Hall?

By Roy L. Byrnes, MD Former Mayor, San Juan Capistrano 

The undisclosed and unfunded liability for San Juan Capistrano employee retirement/ health care remains a grinning 800 pound Gorilla lounging in a corner of City Hall.

With a population of 34,734, San Juan has an estimated pension liability of $17.3 million or $500 per resident. San Clemente, in contrast, has double our population at 63,743 residents yet San Clemente has less pension liability; $16.6 million or $262 per resident. Clearly, the difference is a reflection of the financial largess of our recent City Councils. The present Council has avoided confronting this issue of over-generous employee benefits. For years citizens have been justifiably demanding that the Council institute hiring and wage freezes and decrease payroll costs. The Council has continued to ignore the wise advice of concerned citizens but it’s time the Council ‘fessed up to the following 4 simple questions:
  • What are we obligated to pay for retirement benefits? 
  • When is this going to occur? 
  • Where do we get the money? 
  • What steps are necessary to avoid future problems? 
True, the new City Manager was hired with a less generous retirement package than her predecessors – a step in the right direction. But at the same time, the City Clerk received a raise and has a generous car allowance even though it’s unmerited since hers is a desk job. Clearly the salary increase is a step backwards. The Council still hasn’t gotten the message.

So far, this problem has been virtually ignored. The Council has been attacking Mt. Everest with a toothpick when what is needed is a stem-to-stern re-evaluation of City Hall pay and benefit packages in order to bring the compensation of our public service workers in line with comparable positions in the private sector.

A second “800 pound Gorilla” is the topic of “Outsourcing”. Apart from casual mention several months ago, our Council remains mum about this. No one has dared start a serious investigation to determine if outsourcing offers a realistic solution. Many cities believe outsourcing is saving them from paying unsustainable benefits. It’s vital to this community that these problems be confronted and solved. Our debt is mounting; let’s get to work!

The third “800 pound Gorilla” is that our Mayor, Sam Allevato has spent virtually all of his working life as a public sector employee in law enforcement and is now the recipient of a taxpayer-funded pension. It’s been pointed out that, as a public sector retiree, he has an insoluble conflict of interest and will be unable to aggressively represent the fair interests of San Juan taxpayers in the coming conflict between the City (that’s you and me) vs. The Orange County Public Employees Union whose mission is to maximize the already bloated compensation of public sector employees.

The late Frederic Bastiat wisely observed that, “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else”. With this thought in mind, our Council members must be dedicated to paring back the overly generous salary and benefits of public employees in order to equalize those of private industry and minimize our debt burden. There’s simply no other way to correct the wild financial irresponsibility of the last two Councils.

An aggressive “management vs. labor” dog-fight looming. I think you’ll agree that it’s time for leadership, courage and action. I encourage the Council to confront these 800 pound Gorillas.

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