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Old Mendocino County Courthouse Around 1915

California County Pension Debt

Recent Articles in Mendocino County Papers

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

Fall 2017

Check Back Early December
Summer 2016

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

Retirement & County Officials Broke Laws About Pensions

Top Story

Grand Bargain or Bankruptcy - Which Do You Prefer?


Mendocino in Worst Financial Shape - Again


Recent Media & Reports

John Dickerson -
Hiding Pension Increases & "Fraudulent" Funding of Health Care
John Dickerson

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

For the first several years I made a point of saying that although I was convinced serious financial mis-management had occured 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 including you and yours must pay a total of TWO-THIRDS OF A BILLION DOLLARS to eliminate unfunded pension debt that isn't supposed to exist. That's $7500 for every adult and child. 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. We believe illegal activity played a major role in creating this debt. But today's Retirement and County officials refuse to tell you about this. They want us to shut up and pay.

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

You can access these articles from the upper row in the table in the upper right part of this page. I go into some detail about two of the many legal violations I've found in the second and third articles

Reality Sometimes is Very Painful

Last summer (2016) 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.

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


Twenty-one California counties have independent County Pension Funds. 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) from their June 30, 2016 annual audited financial statements.

21 CA Counties with County Pension Funds - Net Assets

Click for a larger image.

Eighteen of these counties reported more Assets than Debts. They had "positive" Net Assets. Three - Mendocino, Fresno, 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 was greater than total debt for 18 counties. The 3 counties with more debt than assets have no "green".

As has been the case for a number of years Mendocino County is in the worst shape of the 21 counties with their own Pension Funds.

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).

11/17/17 - Updating the Status of an Unusual California Supreme Court Grant-And-Hold Case: The Marin Association Pension Case (David Ettinger / Horvitz & Levy)

11/17/17 - Background on the Pending California Supreme Court's 'Marin Association' Pension Case (Daniel Grunfeld / Daily Journal)

11/14/17 - How Did CalPERS Dig a $153 Billion Pension Hole? (op-ed - Dan Pellissier / East Bay Times)

11/10/17 - End CalPERS' Reckless Pension Debt Repayment Plans (column - Daniel Borenstein / East Bay Times)

11/10/17 - California Needs to Tackle Its Pension Problems for the Good of Orange County Cities (op-ed - Dixon, Semeta & Stratman / Orange County Register)

11/10/17- Future Firefighters Beware! California's Local Government Budgets Need Protection Too. (David Crane / Medium)

11/10/17 - It Begins- Pension Bailout Bill May Be Introduced in Congress (Tyler Durden / Zero Hedge)

11/9/17 - Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper Channels Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo on Pension Reform (David Crane / Medium)

11/8/17- Reforms Locked in as Houston Voters Approve $1 Billion Pension Bond (Mike Morris / Houston Chronicle)

11/6/17 - Cynical Bill Shows Why Public-Sector Abuses Are Rampant in California (column - Steven Greenhut / Orange County 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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