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Old Mendocino County Courthouse Around 1915

California County Pension Debt

Articles in Mendocino County Papers

Read Grand Bargain or Bankruptcy to the left for description of these articles. Click title of already published articles - opens pdf file.

Article 1

Mental Health Tax
and Unfunded
Pension Debt

Published 10/8/17 - 10/13/17
Article 2

County Officials
Hid Pension

Coming Soon
Article 3

$9.6 Million
Pension Fund

Within a Month

Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants - Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Grand Bargain or Bankruptcy - Which Do You Prefer?

Top Story

June 2016 Annual Financial Statements


A Very Good Man
Fighting Our Fight
Needs Our Help


Recent Media & Reports

John Dickerson -
Reality Sometimes is Very Painful
John Dickerson

I started digging into Mendocino County's unfunded pension debt 12 years ago. I had no idea how much bad news I'd find.

Last summer I wrote three articles to the People of Mendocino County and our County's employees and retirees summing up what I've learned and where I believe we're heading. It isn't pretty.

I wish County officials ten to twenty years ago had taken their financial duty seriously. I wish employees and retirees had held their Retirement Board accountable for gutting their Pension Fund. I wish We the People had taken our democratic (small "d") duty to hold our County accountable seriously. But we all failed.

I'm trying to convey:
•what I think is the most fundamental cause of this debt,

•why I believe no group is more responsible for creating this debt than the County's Retirement Board,

•employees and retirees have a moral duty to the People of our County to help clean up the mess their reprentatives on that Board made,

•what I believe the fundamental goals of a resolution of this threat must be,

•that by far the best fair resolution would be to reach a "Grand Bargain" among the key stakeholders in our County,

•but I believe the most likely future is our County will be driven into federal bankruptcy and a huge write-down of pension benefits will be imposed on retirees and employees.

It could take a surprisingly long time to get there. The longer it takes to confront this threat the worse the ultimate cost will be.

Click the links at the upper right of this page to see these articles with links to the analysis that supports them.


2/12/17: Twenty-one California counties have independent County Pension Funds - 14 have released their June 2016 annual audited financial statements. The graph below shows the percentage that three types of debts are of total assets and whether or not there are more assets than debt, or vice versa

14 CA Counties - Net Assets

Click for a larger image.

Twelve of these counties reported more Assets than Debts. They had "positive" Net Assets. Two - Mendocino and Sacramento - reported more Debt than Assets. They have "negative" Net Assets. They owe more than they own.

The red columns are unfunded pension debt. There are 2 kinds - "Net Pension Liabilities" owed to the Pension Fund and the remaining balance of Pension Bond debt (in the "black boxes"). That's money borrowed in the past by selling Bonds to eliminate earlier Net Pension Liabilities. They are simply former unfunded pensions "restructured" into Pension Bonds in the hope of obtaining a lower interest rate. But the source of the debt's the same - unfunded pensions.

The pink columns are all other debts. The green columns show the percentage the value of assets is greater than total debt. Twelve of these counties had "positive" Net Assets. Two - Mendocino and Sacramento counties - had more debt than assets. That is - they had "negative Net Assets".

In 2015 Mendocino County was the most "upside-down" of the 21 counties with their own Pension Funds. Looks like that will be true for 2016 as well.

  David Brown - Marin's Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans

David Brown is a core member of Marin County's Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans (CSPP) - one of California's most active County pension reform groups.

David's trying to help all of us. We need to help him.

Twenty-one counties have independent Pension Funds. Grand Juries in 3 produced reports showing the process their counties used in granting massive pension increases in 2002 - 2004 violated key California laws designed to protect the public's right to know and be heard.

This is a BIG DEAL. Another example of the desdain of County and Retirement officials about legal obligations to the People. And - illegally granted pension increases might be reversable in court.

David is filing suite in Marin Superior Court to force Marin County to admit it's failure to obey the law. If they do - or the Court rules they did - Round 2 gets really interesting.

Marin County is spending big bucks to fight David and has filed a motion that David must PERSONALLY pay all their legal costs.

Please visit David's explanation of what he's trying to do - and give David what you can to help this good man fight this fight that needs to be won.

Click for the Grand Jury Reports and Responses from Counties: Marin (4/16/15), Sonoma (June 2012), Sutter (5/18/16 - report only - no responses)

The Daily Headache - recent press and analysis worth reading

Courtesy (mostly) of American's best public-pension news source - (the date is when the story appeared in PensionTsunami - link opens new window).

10/4/17 - Sonoma County Pension Debt Subject of New California Superior Court Lawsuit (Rollie Atkinson / Healdsburg Tribune)

10/4/17 - Pension Costs 'Crowding Out' Spending on California's Parks, Schools and Social Services, Report Says (column - Adam Ashton / Sacramento Bee)

10/3/17 - NEW STUDY: Public Pension Spending and Service Crowd Out in California, 2003-2030 (Joe Nation / Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research)

10/2/17 - Lawsuit Seeks to Roll Back Generous Pension Benefits Granted to Sonoma County Public Employees More Than a Decade Ago (Paul Payne / Press Democrat)

10/2/17 - REPORT: Sonoma County Appears to Have Not Fully Met Law in Hiking Pensions (Brett Wilkison / Press Democrat)

10/2/17- TAXPAYER TOOL: How to Determine if Your City or County Complied With the Law When It Increased Pensions (Ken Churchill / California Policy Center)

10/2/17 - We Are Paying the Price for California's Lack of Public Pension Reform (op-ed - Bob Bunnell / Marin Independent Journal)

10/2/17 - How Fraudulently Low 'Normal Contributions' to Pensions Wreak Havoc on California's Civic Finances (Ed Ring / California Policy Center)

10/2/17- Study Good, Action Better on Pensions (editorial - Orange County Register)

9/28/17 - CalPERS Rising Costs Could Cause Oroville - and Cities Like It - to Go Bankrupt (Risa Johnson / Oroville Mercury Register)

YourPublicMoney-Version 4

Twenty-One CA Counties
with Independent Pension Funds


Mendocino County

Pension Basics 1) Pension Basics
A general introduction to how California County Pension Funds are organized - how pension finance "works" - and what pension funding failure looks like.

Impact of End of Pension Financial Reporting Fraud 2) Reporting Fraud

Major pension financial reporting reforms just forced these 21 counties to write-off $28 Billion of their People's Net Assets - 70% - POOF! $28 Billion of real past pension expenses - they never reported to the people.

Growth of Mendocino County's Unfunded Pension Debt
1) Growth of Debt  
Mendocino County's Pension Debt
2) Impact of Debt
The growth of Mendocino County's unfunded pension debt. Local taxes diverted to pay the debt, destruction of County services and roads, fewer employees paid less, pressure to raise more and more taxes, loss of local control over budget.

Immediate Causes of the Debt 3) Immediate Causes of the Debt Fundamental Causes of the Debt 4) Stories and Evidence
The Pension Fund is like a patient in the emergency room out cold. Was he stabbed, shot, beaten - what was the specific thing that put him in this condition?

But who done it? These are some of the stories I dug up over the last decade about what happened - that leads to - "Who Done It?"
Fundamental Causes of the Debt 5) Fundamental Causes of the Debt Mendocino Official Avoidance 6) Official Avoidance
Given the evidence - what's the Verdict? What were the fundamental causes of Mendocino County's unfunded pension debt?

  It's not like we haven't tried to engage County and Retirement Officials. Here's a decade of official "willful blindness" - a refusal even to answer basic questions.



Archives & Resources


The Classics

Click to see Dozens of Videos on Pension and Reform Issues
Videos about Pensions, Reform, etc.

Click to go to our archives ...

•My Reports
•10 Years of County Officials Refusing to Answer Questions
•Grand Jury Reports
•Peer Review of My Analysis
•California's Pension Reform Act
•New Pension Reporting Rules
•Gina Raimondo (My Hero)
•City of San Diego Pension Crisis
•No on Measure C Campaign
•Data Sources

My Top Recommended Reading to Learn What's Real

The Dutch Do Pensions Right - And Demonstrate What's So Wrong with American Pension Benefits.

I've learned more of importance from Girard Miller than any other expert. Click for a listing of all his Governing Magazine Articles. Look for "pensions" in the titles or descriptions.

If you read just one article - make it this one:
Pension Puffery - 12 half-truths that deserve to be debunked.

Truth in Numbers - Gina Raimondo's (My Pension Reform Hero) hugely effective 14 page report to the People of Rhode Island. This is how to lay out the problem and what solutions must accomplish.

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