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Testy Council Session Delays Vote on Pay, Benefits

Rancho Santa Margarita officials vote 3-2 to consider the item no later than August of this year, pending the results of a survey of city residents. The meeting gets a little testy at one point.

A divided City Council chose to postpone a decision Wednesday on how much Rancho Santa Margarita elected officials should receive in benefits.

In a 3-2 vote, councilmembers pushed back a full review of compensation for the position until August at the latest, pending the results of a proposed citywide survey.

The item, brought forward by councilman Jesse Petrilla, was originally agendized as a discussion of the possibility of either a ballot measure or an ordinance, both of which would have eliminated benefits for the five residents who comprise the city's governing body.

“I believe that our city council should consider ending benefits for our positions,” Petrilla said Wednesday.

Petrilla asked his colleagues to lead “by doing what is right and ending these benefits once and for all.”

Mayor Tony Beall said council compensation is on the median among Orange County cities, and that council members earn their keep. There hasn't been an increase to the benefits since 2007.

“When you leave the city council, you take with you the money that you have earned,” Beall said.

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According to the staff report, in addition to stipends for participating in various commissions, the elected posiiton carries with it an allowed a monthly salary of $463.50, and monthly benefits allowance of $1,378.47.

The total of benefits plus salary per year is $22,103.64. In a four-year term, salary and benefits total $88,414.56.

Councilmembers are not enrolled in calPERS, the state retirement program, but unused benefits can be rolled over into a 457 retirement fund.

Prior to the night’s discussion, councilmembers received more than 20 emails from residents on the issue; many with the sentence “Please allow us the opportunity to vote to reduce your pay in November.”

The emails were the result of online campaign by Kenney Hrabik, owner of the Dove Canyon Courtyard, who in an email, said the city council’s “pay and benefits have been hidden from RSM residents until now,” and that the benefits had cost the city about $1 million.

City Manager Steve Hayman said that it was about half that since the city incorporated on Jan. 1, 2000. Hayman, who is serving as the interim city manager while , said he took personal offense at some of the claims in the letter campaign and went to great lengths to explain council salary and where it could be found on the city's website.

Said Beall: "The letters that they (the people who emailed the city) have sent are just the fruit of that poisonous tree."

He also said that the process of compensation discussion has never been secret. 

 “It is scrutinized. It is openly discussed. It is posted prominently on our city’s website,” Beall said. “This information has never been hidden from the public as some have falsely told their neighbors."

Petrilla pointed out that he and Mayor Pro Tempore Steve Baric were not receiving benefits from the city. Beall asked Petrilla when he had stopped receiving those benefits.

"Three years before the end of my term," Petrilla said. "You can do the math."

According to city staff, Petrilla put in the paperwork on March 26 and will continue to receive benefits until April 1, about 15 months after taking office and at least three months short of three years before the end of his term.

Petrilla got somewhat testy in response and went on the offensive and asked if Beall thought it was right to “pad your pension, to pad your retirement with taxpayers dollars and if so why?”

Baric, who has not accepted benefits from the city since he took office, said that the council should “lead the way” in doing away with benefits for council members.

“This issue is not personal,” Baric said. “This is about principle."

However, Baric added, “No one up here is getting rich.”

After Petrilla made a motion to remove councilmember benefits by creating an ordinance similar to the one enacted by the city of Orange, councilwoman Carol Gamble made a substitute motion that the item be discussed no later than August following the completion of the city’s proposed survey of the residents' opinions.  

“I will take no action on this item,” Gamble said. “I will take action on this item when I hear back from the people that I work for.”

During public comments on the item, two people spoke in favor of cutting benefits and one spoke against.

Beall, Gamble and Jerry Holloway voted in favor of the substitute motion. Baric and Petrilla voted against.

Petrilla, who brought the issue forward, declined to talk with Patch after the vote.

Other business

• During public comments, Rancho Santa Margarita resident Chris McLaughlin asked for an update on the Orange County District Attorney’s investigation into the officer .

McLaughlin asked questions including how many shots were fired and the name of the officer in involved.

 “Some of that information might well be disclosed quite soon,” said Lt. Brian Schmutz, chief of police services for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. 

Schmutz said that the investigation could take months.

“We will release as soon as we possibly can,” Schmutz said of the information flow that is controlled by the D.A.'s office.

Beall said he appreciated McLaughlin’s comments and that he wanted residents to know that the city council is not privy to the information either.

“It’s not as though we're waiting for the green light so we can tell you,” Beall said. “We don‘t know that information either."

• As part of the city’s student recognition program, officials honored Mission Hills Christian School students Faith Fong and Colin Eastman and Serra Catholic School students Aiden Brotman and Christeen Kerolos.

• The council also recognized Girl Scouts of Orange County troop Rancho Trabuco 2 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the girl scouts.

The troop also led the council in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Jack Russell March 30, 2012 at 05:27 AM
I'll assume the city does an annual wage and salary survey, including benefits, with other similar sized cities, and your wages, salaries, and benefits are based on an average or sightly above average of your surveyed cities. Would that be correct? Are there any cities who do not pay retirement benefits for city council members? How many hours does the city council members actually put in time doing the city work?
April Josephson March 30, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Jack, how much should the city reasonably spend on an annual survey? Will items such as whether cities are running at a budget deficit—or a surplus, as RSM is doing—be considered? As far as how many hours council members actually put in, it varies significantly. IMO, that's not a valid basis for determining compensation. I've heard that one council member says it only takes 10 hours of his time per month. I don't see how that can be true when there are regular council meetings, closed session meetings, and council study sessions that alone total more than 10 hours per month. Is he skipping some of the meetings? What about the time that's needed to read the extensive council packets with staff reports (hundreds of pages) that are provided on each topic to be addressed at council meetings? For the past five months the city has been pursuing hiring a new city manager to replace Steve Hayman, who gave his retirement notice last year. There have been numerous closed session meetings to review requirements, conduct interviews, etc. I've been involved in city activities where I've seen council members put in 20 hours per week, especially during the time when someone is mayor. That person doesn't receive any greater compensation than any other council member. Those who claim only 10 hours per month are telling us that they either don't understand the full breadth of their duties, or are not doing their job properly. I'm fine with council's current compensation.
Tony Smith March 30, 2012 at 01:41 PM
What others receive is irrelevant. That thinking is why CEO's are paid 1000 times the average employee and why our state is being crushed by public employee pension debt. The real questions are "what is it worth" and "what does it take to get qualified candidate"?
LeAna Bui March 30, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Count me among those who think this is not necessarily a bad idea. Leading by example - people throughout California are complaining about public employee health care costs. City Council members can set the example by not taking this expensive option. They can obtain their health benefits through their employers. This also would discourage them from becoming full-time politicians (which is part of California's problem). If it is good enough to reduce health benefits for the employees, it should be good enough for the leaders.
Chris McLaughlin March 30, 2012 at 04:35 PM
On the City Council compensation/benefits issue, depending on how much it costs to piggy-back a ballot measure on the November General Election ballot, I think it should go to an up-or-down vote directly from the voters who pay the taxes to fund the City Council's compensation. I'm a big fan of direct democracy, and I would like to see this measure soundly defeated directly by the voters, so we can stop wasting time talking about it and (finally?) get focused on the important business of this City. I also believe firmly in the idea of You Get What You Pay For, and I want a quality, committed City Council, and am grateful to pay for it. Overall, our City Council is doing a fantastic job, they are not overpaid, the City's finances are in great shape, and continued efforts by Jesse and Friends to paint a different picture is annoying, if not outright libelous. I think a ballot measure is the only way to get Kenney and Co. to get the message that they don't represent the majority of this City's voters, and to stop wasting our time with this crusade. Like Steve Hayman clearly outlined, the case for how our City Council is compensated is very fair, the exact average of Orange County, and haven't increased in years. You have 7 full months to explain the case to the voters before November and get everyone to vote down the ban. Please do us a favor and read the low figures we pay our Council members, on the RSM website, before Commenting on this article.
Chris McLaughlin March 30, 2012 at 04:51 PM
On the Dennis Mueller shooting incident this month, I'm a little more confident that justice will be done eventually, and I'm not primarily focused on justice for this officer or this suspect/victim (I don't know either of them personally), as much as troubled that it could happen in the first place, and concerned that enough is not being done to prevent a tragic reoccurence of shooting an unarmed suspect in broad daylight at 1 p.m. on a Saturday after a traffic violation. The pace of the investigation is frustrating, and the attitude of the DA in terms of not revealing any information (even to our local Police Chief) that they don't want to, until the investigation is completed, is unacceptable. There's also a troubling disconnect between City Council and our Chief of Police Services and the DA's office that's investigating this incident. They seem perfectly willing to wait indefinitely for the DA to determine if a crime has been committed. No one in authority seems interested in examining the policies and training in effect that led up to this incident, which doesn't bode well that any real lessons will be learned or applied from it, and that it won't happen again.
April Josephson March 30, 2012 at 04:58 PM
LeAna, I see your point, yet know that "They can obtain their health benefits through their employers" is not an option for a lot of people, even those fully employed. Many small business owners can't afford the cost of providing health insurance for their employees, so they just don't offer it. They are not legally required to do so. There's also a large segment of our workforce that work as independent contractors and are responsible for everything on their own, again, employer provided health insurance is not an option. Labor statistics consistently show that more than half of U.S. businesses are small businesses. For those who've always worked for companies where insurance is provided, they probably don't give this a second thought. I don't know the actual numbers, but I do know a great many people who work full-time and do not have health insurance. I know at least one former city council member who could only justify to his family spending the enormous amount of time he did on council-related matters because of the fact that he was receiving health benefits. If you haven't done so already, you may want to listen to this agenda item online. I really think this whole thing is a non-issue and waste of our council's time. Our city manager announced his retirement in September of last year. IMO, the council should focus ALL of their efforts on finding his replacement ASAP, rather than coming up with more politically motivated nonsense.
Kenney Hrabik March 30, 2012 at 05:07 PM
The OC Register said it best, "RANCHO STALLS ON REMOVING COUNCIL BENEFITS." http://www.ocregister.com/news/council-346837-benefits-petrilla.html The council denied the community the opportunity to vote on reforming their benefits package in the November election. Instead we get a study session and city wide survey? REALLY! Wouldn't a vote of the people be your survey? To give a part-time public servant full medical, dental, vision and a retirement account is FLAT OUT WRONG! Keep your $463.50 stipend but give back the rest. This entitlement attitude is killing this country. These benefits should be reserved for full-time employees of the city. Council members pay and benefits have been hidden from RSM residents. Recently the OC GRAND JURY released a "Compensation Study of OC Cities" after the scandal in the City of Bell. The City of RSM, when it came to content, clarity, and transparency about government compensation, received a "D", the lowest grade possible! It is important to note that it wasn't until AFTER the OC GRAND JURY report that the city started posting compensation figures to the cities website. http://www.cityofrsm.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=7999 Our council recently reformed and lowered benefits for the cities full-time employees, but chose to not touch their benefits. Our council members have full-time jobs and WE SHOULD NOT BE FUNDING THEIR MEDICAL AND RETIREMENT!
April Josephson March 30, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Chris, I agree that we really need transparency to understand what happened in the Mueller shooting and prevent something like this from happening again. I wonder what, if anything, can be done legally to get the information...
Shawn Gordon March 30, 2012 at 05:27 PM
I just confirmed that the deputy who shot Mueller is still on duty. That is outrageous if there is an ongoing investigation. This would indicate they've already come to a conclusion and just aren't telling us.
April Josephson March 30, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Kenney, I beg to differ with you on this. You need to get your facts straight. I have some pertinent questions for you: 1. Why did you send out a mass email to the public filled with false information, asking the public to send messages to our city council, and urging them to attend Wednesday night's meeting, yet not show up for the meeting yourself? - The City Manager spent a great deal of his, the council's, and the public's time correcting the misinformation you spread, and apparently are intent on continuing to do. John Crandall has done an excellent job of describing what transpired. You and any other concerned citizens should listen to the FACTS presented by our city's CEO in public, on the record, on Wednesday night. The audio for the March 28, 2012 city council meeting can be found here: http://www.cityofrsm.org/gov/council/agenda_2011.asp 2. How can you say the council has denied the voters anything? - You are well aware of the initiative process available to ANY voter to put this on the ballot in November. In fact, you filed a notice of intent to circulate a petition to do just that. Why aren't you following through? If you complete your process, the voters WILL have the opportunity to vote on this in November. Other cities have citywide surveys to gauge the priorities of their residents in many areas. A survey is a great way to rank the importance of various issues to determine where they should focus their efforts. I fully support a survey.
LeAna Bui March 30, 2012 at 05:34 PM
April: I'm a part time employee and as such do not collect health benefits from my employer. Yet, no one offers to cover my health care, but me. The City Council has voted to reduce employee health benefits to full-time employees while keeping their benefits intact. That is wrong. I also do not want people on the city council who are only there for the benefits. If they do not have the time or inclination, then they should not do the job. Part of the problem with politics (government) in California is that there is too much entitlement at all levels. If the benefits of the every day employees should be addressed so should the executive levels. City Council positions are part time positions. No where else in public or private employment are part time employees provided health care benefits. The City Council should be no different.
LeAna Bui March 30, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Hi April: I do not think this is any more a waste of time than the time spent on sleeping in cars. Your post touches on a very big problem in this country, health care and it's related costs. This is an even bigger problem that needs addressing beyond our City Council's health care benefits.
LeAna Bui March 30, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Chris: We do have the opportunity to vote for this in November. I believe at least 2 of our City Councilmen are up for re-election. If they voted this down, then we, as voters, can refuse to re-elect them.........
April Josephson March 30, 2012 at 05:56 PM
LeAna, I think you have been misinformed. As you know, I attend all meetings. I have never seen the city council vote to do anything to current employee benefits of any kind. To my knowledge, the only reduction they voted on was to change the structure of the pension plan for future employees. The council hasn't done anything with regard to health benefits. If I am incorrect on this, Martin/John, please feel free to correct me. I completely agree with you that we have a lot of problems in politics statewide. I am in favor of a part-time legislature. I don't believe we have had those problems in RSM, and am offended by those who intentionally spread misinformation to the public for their own political gain. If the public buys into it, we will have those problems on our city council. With regard to the former council member that I mentioned before, he was not there because there were benefits. He was always there because he wanted to help RSM. The benefits merely allowed him to do so. Carol Gamble made a good point at the meeting. If we take away the benefits, then we are limiting the position to only the very wealthy, and possibly excluding very qualified and committed average to lower income individuals from being able to serve.
April Josephson March 30, 2012 at 06:09 PM
LeAna, I agree with you about healthcare and its costs on a nationwide scale. I don't think that cutting our city council's health benefits has any impact on that problem. I disagree regarding the sleeping in cars item because law enforcement came to the council asking for this tool to give them the ability to do something about the stalker that is spending the night sleeping in front of someone's house. I have known such situations to happen. To me, that is important. I want them to be able to do something about that type of situation immediately. It could be an urgent, live threatening scenario. Whereas, I don't see the urgency in removing council benefits. I would like to see more fact-finding before making a decision in this area. Any council member who doesn't want or need health insurance can opt out now.
Chris McLaughlin March 30, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Good point, LeAna! I believe the votes on Wednesday night breakdown perfectly along the lines of who's up for re-election this November. (3-2, Jesse and Steve voting 'Nay'.) I can't remember whether Carol is up for re-election this November or is appointed for the rest of the full term from Gary Thompson, but Jerry and the Mayor are both up for re-election this November, and they both voted NOT to put it on the ballot this year, although Jerry definitely wants something to be decided before the vote this November. I wouldn't want the City Council election to become a referendum on City Council benefits. In that case, I would want the issue separately on the ballot so that voters could both ban City Council benefits but retain the incumbents they want to at the same election. Carol had a very good point about taking away all the benefits would preclude some very good people from running for Council or even staying on Council (for current incumbents). I think if you look at the City's website info on pay and benefits, you can add up what the entire council received in total compensation, and for all 5 Council Members it adds up to about $100K, and then each of the other 6 positions on the dais all receive more than that, most making almost twice that much or more. So when you look at it that way, I don't think the Council itself is overpaid. I think we're getting a good deal, and trust more voters would agree with me than buy into the Kenney/Jesse/Steve campaign.
Chris McLaughlin March 30, 2012 at 07:55 PM
SMGA, He (assuming it's a male officer) may be back at work in a 'non-patrol' capacity, like Darren Sandberg in San Clemente. That's probably standard protocol after a preliminary determination has been made. After the Sgt Loggins killing, I thought about how one could establish who's working the different shifts now (or before an incident), as a baseline, and then after an incident, when an officer is placed on administrative leave, you could simply see who's still working and figure out who must be on leave and be the shooter through process of elimination. Honestly, I don't see anyone tries to hide anything these days. It seems like over and over again people in power (not just cops, but all kind of government officials, business leaders, celebrities, etc.) think they can suppress the truth/get away with things, and then it all comes out in the end anyway. Just be open from the get-go. It saves having to explain the cover-up later...
Sharon Y. March 30, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I was at the meeting this week because I got the "Kenny" email and knowing him I knew every word was a lie. Kenny is one of the most dis- honest humans I have ever met and I was so happy the city manager did a power point no less to dis- credit Kenny's every word. Anyone Kenny is involved I do not trust and I have good reason, so Baric and Jesse are no one I will ever support again, they all have an agenda and it is not what is best for our community. Beware voters in 2012 vote for anyone but Kenny
Sharon Y. March 30, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Oh and by the way my favorite part of the night was when everyone found out Jesse was still getting his benefits , Jesse your are such a liar!
Nancy Thompson March 31, 2012 at 02:57 AM
it would really be nice to be able to address this issue without any emotion regarding anyone, including city council members, who are invoived in bringing this to the attention of our residents , Like Steve said, remove the personal attacks and lets take a look at the issue. I dont think this is an issue revolving around who is up for re-election or a new canidate, its' about maybe saving our city some more money to be able to replace those programs that had to be removed because of our budget, i.e. the school leiason (spelling???) IMO We have a good council, just need them to work together more and stop snyping at each other like they were out on the playground and fighting over a ball
Capo Parent Too March 31, 2012 at 04:00 AM
What you don't understand is that this is not about the benefits, they are getting cash in lieu of benefits which is being put into an account. This is not about health care benefits, this is about the fact that you can deny benefits and collect the money. So in essence, they are taking money from the City and putting it away in an account. You are arguing about health care benefits and it is obvious you may not even understand the issue fully.
Capo Parent Too March 31, 2012 at 04:27 AM
He is getting his stipend not the benefits, big difference. He says it in the OC Register article, he's not lying at all. It is the health benefits that can be taken as cash in lieu and put into an account. You should be worried about libel. "The only compensation I do not have a problem with members of the City Council receiving is the limited $463.50 a month stipend," Petrilla said.
Chris McLaughlin March 31, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Capo Parent Too, that is an important point, that the benefits money that is not actually spent on healthcare can be rolled into some kind of retirement fund, and Jesse did bring that out in the meeting, right around the time it was being clarified that he was actually still receiving the benefits that he had just repeatedly said he wasn't anymore. Let's face it though, the full benefits allotment amount is what the City should be budgeting for, to assume that all 5 City Councilmembers are receiving the full amount they're eligible for, and it's what everyone bases all of their cost/savings calculations on, like the fact that Jesse thinks this idea will save a Million dollars over 12 to 13 years. So it's not just about health benefits, it's about total compensation, and the terms are important, and not always interchangeable, which was another part of Steve Hayman's presentation. Maybe Jesse could confirm which line on the RSM Website Comp info he is, since he's all about disclosure these days. Baric is apparently line 1, with just salary, so Jesse is either Line 4, costing this City just as much as Baric, despite him declining all benefits, or is Line 6, and has cost this City almost twice as much as Baric, for serving the same amount of time as him. My guess is that Jesse is Line 6, because the smaller salary amount for Line 4 makes sense for Carol since she wasn't serving as long as the other two, and that Jesse cost us $2,858 in insurance premiums last FY.
Chris McLaughlin March 31, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Capo Parent Too, you apparently weren't at the meeting, or listened to the audio close enough. They eventually dragged out of Jesse that he just recinded his benefits last Saturday, so they're still in effect through the current month, hence he's still receiving them as of the current date. Steve Baric has never received benefits, and has been receiving a higher salary because of that, I believe. That was one of Steve Hayman's points, that the detailed explanation that he gave at first earned him a D from whatever body rates these things, so now we have the simplified chart on the website that groups things just as Salary, Other Pay, Insurance Premiums, and Pension Costs. None of the amounts seem to be the same, but they're labeled as to length of service last fiscal year (sort of), so anyone who's been following the turmoil since the 2010 election can pretty much figure out who's who.
LeAna Bui March 31, 2012 at 05:31 AM
April: I am referring to the pension cuts that were reported by Patch (and the Register?) several months ago or last year. I am not in communication with Mr. Hrabik.
April Josephson March 31, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Capo Parent too, to me it is about the possibility of health insurance. I don't mind them opting to put the money away instead. I want those who need it to be able to get it. Just because someone doesn't need it, doesn't mean they should receive less compensation for doing the same job.
April Josephson March 31, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Hi LeAna, okay, I think I understand what you are referring to now when you wrote "The City Council has voted to reduce employee health benefits to full-time employees while keeping their benefits intact." They are different benefits. It was the CalPERS pension plan for future city staff hires that was modified. If that is what you meant, health benefits weren't impacted, and it did not apply to current employees. I don't consider the two subjects related since city council is not a part of the CalPERS pension program.
Martin Henderson (Editor) April 06, 2012 at 02:42 AM
As a public figure in RSM Kenney Hrabik is fair game to be discussed openly, but please justify your comments that call into question Kenney's honesty rather than making a blanket statement. Please keep it civil and thoughtful; you'd expect the same courtesy. My point is let's keep this stuff smart and civil. Thanks.

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