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Old Mendocino County Courthouse Around 1915

California County Pension Debt


Read the first two columns in the second section below to put these articles in context.

Fall 2017

Summer 2016

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

Analysis of County Pension Funds &
Mendocino County's Unfunded Pension Debt

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 finance reporting reforms imposed in 2015 forced these 21 counties to write-off $28 Billion (70%) of their People's Net Assets - POOF!
21 CA Counties have Independent Pension Funds 3) Ca County Pension Funds

Twenty-one California Counties have their own independent Pension Funds.

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.

Current Reports & Articles - Other Information Sources

Retirement & County Officials Broke Laws About Pensions


Grand Bargain or Bankruptcy - Which Do You Prefer?


June 2017 Audits of 20 of 21 CA Counties w/Pension Funds


Other Great Sources of Information

John Dickerson -
Fall 2017 Articles

Hiding Pension Increases & "Fraudulent" Funding of Health Care

I started digging into Mendocino County's unfunded pension debt 13 years ago. I had no idea how much bad news I'd find.

Mendocino County's unfunded pension debt is the largest of the 21 CA Counties with independent Pension Funds compared to its assets. Some of what happened was unique. But much happened in many other counties.

The near-complete lack of real accountability is a brutal lesson that applies to nearly all County Pension Funds.

For the first several years of digging into this mess I made a point of saying I hadn't seen evidence of breaking laws.

And then I saw it. And then I saw more. And more.

The People of Mendocino County (population 88,000) must pay a total of TWO-THIRDS OF A BILLION DOLLARS to eliminate unfunded pension debt that wasn't supposed to exist. It won't produce one minute of public services or fill one pothole.

This debt was created by the unaccountable Retirement Board that runs our County's Pension Fund and County officials. Illegal activity played a major role.

Today's Retirement and County officials refuse to tell the People about this. They want us to shut up and pay.

Summer 2016 Articles

Reality Sometimes is Very Painful

Retirement and County Officials hid what they were doing. They denied financial reality. They sacrificed the County's long-term financial health for their short-term benefit. They found clever ways around the law. No one felt accountable for the accuracy of Pension Fund and County financial reports.

Local papers ran three articles in Summer 2016 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. We all failed.

In these articles I tried 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,

•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 federal bankruptcy and a huge write-down of pension benefits imposed on retirees and employees.

The longer it takes to confront this threat the worse the ultimate cost will be.

Click the links in the lower table at the upper right of this page to see these articles.


3/21/18: Twenty-one California counties have independent County Pension Funds. As of this date only one - Imperial - has not released its June 2017 audited statements.

A few weeks after Imperial finally releases its statements I'll publish a more complete report. This is a "Sneak Preview".

The graph below shows the percentage that debts are of total assets and whether or not there are more assets than debt (or vice versa).

21 CA Counties with County Pension Funds - Net Assets - June 2017

Click for a larger image.

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. 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 was greater than total debt for 17 counties. The 3 counties with more debt than assets have no "green".

Seventeen reported more Assets than Debts. They had "positive" Net Assets. Three - Fresno, Mendocino, and Sacramento - reported more Debt than Assets. They have "negative" Net Assets. They owe more than they own.

For the first time since major reforms in government pension financial reporting were imposed in 2015 Mendocino County is no longer at the bottom - Fresno is.

However - the County in the best shape once again is Tulare.

Pension Tsunami - recent press and analysis worth reading American's best public-pension news source focusing on (but not limited to) California. Jack Dean emails you a daily listing of yesterday's media articles and reports. Click through to the articles you want. - Ed Mendel Ed Mendel is a long time political reporter in Sacramento. Research and writing are excellent. Focus on big statewide systems CalPERS and CalSTRS but often delves into local governments. Ed's exposed a number of outrageous violations of the public trust. A wealth of articles on a broad range of issues.

Girard Miller

Girard Miller I've learned more of importance from Girard Miller than any other expert. Although he stopped being public finance analyst for Governing Magazine several years ago a number of his articles are still the best available. Link above is listing of all his articles - look for those about pensions. In particular read Pension Puffery.

California Policy Center

California Policy Center This takes you to a list of "Resources for California Pension Reform". Scroll to the bottom for a list of their excellent reports.

Transparent California

The state's most complete public record for pensions and employee compensation.

Pension Tracker

Another site with gobs of information about California's state and local pension debt. Produced by Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.




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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