LUNCH TAKES LEAVE
I am out of town this week. Surprised Mom for Mother’s Day.
Which is why we’re running a 16-pager.
Note: that has since changed.
And Owen’s in charge.
Scott Baio, eat your heart out.
My favorite story this week comes from my sister. She said that the fraud rate for unemployment claims in Vermont was 90%. Of course, I didn’t believe her.
But a man doubts his sister at his own peril.
An online search confirmed her claim via an April 30 story in sevendaysvt.com.
The title: “Widespread fraud prompts Vermont to disable online unemployment claims.”
Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said that when the online reporting was disabled and people were forced to call in to report claims, “The number of claims being filed dropped by 90% and so too did the fraud.”
The article adds, “The U.S. Department of Labor has cited a national wave of unprecedented unemployment insurance fraud and has set up a task force to combat it.”
People really don’t want to go back to work.
Speaking of taking advantage of the system…
It took six months, but the City of Bishop finally reported out on its Council retiree benefit issue.
During the last election cycle, there was some consternation expressed upon learning the City was spending about $30,000/year on health insurance for former Councilmembers and their spouses who’d been retired for decades.
With recently retired Councilwoman Laura Smith set to join the list, and Chris Costello a potential future beneficiary if he won a few more elections, the issue entered the spotlight – particularly given budget uncertainty amid the pandemic.
Back in the mid-1990s, Bishop’s then-Council voted to provide lifetime retiree benefits to those members who were more than 55 years old and had served on Council for at least ten years.
The terms were later amended to 62 years old and two terms on Council (or eight years).
Just so happens that the Council at the time (I don’t know the precise number, but certainly the majority) tended to meet both criteria.
Inyo County Supervisor Rick Pucci was Bishop’s City Manager at the time and his name is on the documents, so I called to ask about it.
He explained that with PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) approval, Council was provided health insurance at the time. And given the equal protection clause under PERS, if a group is extended into the program, the benefits of that program (in this case health) are also conferred – in this case retirement benefits.
To put things in context, he said, the City was trying to encourage younger people to run for office (“There were Council elections where no one ran”) and he said Council decided to offer health benefits as a carrot.
But it would appear like it was more of a carrot to get folks to pat themselves on the back on the way out rather than to get new blood to join.
Laura Smith is literally the first person in a few decades to meet the criteria.
Unfortunately, aging eventually gets us all. Within the past six months or so, three of the remaining six people who were receiving the benefit have died, leaving three remaining.
With the addition of Smith, four.
The cost this year to the City for the perk still amounts to approximately $30,000. And it’s probably not going away.
City Manager Ron Phillips penned the following letter of explanation:
Dear Mr. Carleton,
Thank you for sending us your Public Comment regarding the Council
retiree benefit issue. Staff and legal counsel were directed to explore options if a majority of the City Council wished to discontinue or modify retiree health benefits for Council members, which were put in place long before the composition of the current Council. The issue presented a complicated question under the City’s retirement and benefits programs provided by, and through, CalPERS under PEMHCA (Public Employees’ Medical and Hospital Care Act)
It has been determined that eliminating coverage or benefits for some within a group or classification and not for others (former vs. current Council members) would not be permitted under PEMHCA’s equal and minimum contribution rules. As such, the only option for eliminating the benefits or modifying them within a group or classification would be for the City to withdraw from its coverage under PEMCHA.
Unfortunately, due to the City’s remote location and very limited options for replacement coverage, it was determined not to be in the City’s best interest to do so at this time. Staff will be working on other policy and ordinance modifications in order to address the City Council’s desire to have Council benefits that reflect its fiscal and policy priorities.
Ron Phillips City Administrator
And in other news…
The Inyo County LADWP Technical Group Meeting took place viz Zoom on Monday. LADWP Civil Engineering Associate Eric Tillemans said 2020-2021 makes the 9th direst year since 1935. But five of those years have occurred since 2012.
Forecast runoff is 55% of the long-term average
The city of L.A. as is wont, then attempted to assuage Inyo County residents by saying LA’s not nearly as greedy as advertised.
Tillemans pointed out that LA will “only” pump 64,600-79,950 acre feet of groundwater this year, though provisions of the long-term water agreement allow it to pump almost 191,000 acre feet.
Inyo County Water Commissioner Paul Huette asked plaintively, “Where’s the compassion here?”
“We need to look at pumping and that adverse effects it has on people here,” he added.
“Like with exploratory drilling for gold, we all see it coming,” said Sally Manning, alluding to the future environmental impact of too much groundwater pumping. “Sad.”
In particular, Manning castigated LADWP for pumping at the Fish Springs hatchery even though there are no fish in the raceway.
“You’re just pumping disingenuously,” she said, knowing the water’s just heading right into the aqueduct.