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Stealing What’s Been Earned

There have been some articles written lately in the local newspapers both as “Another Voice” and as letters to the editor by a group of individuals who claim to be looking out for your public money. The fact is that they are trying to destroy the earned pensions of the retirees of Mendocino County.

Their ringleader, John G. Dickerson, goes all over the state of California speaking to groups of people who think like he does. These groups’ missions are to destroy public employee retirements. You can go on YouTube and watch Dickerson speak in Marin County and Contra Costa County.

As for Dickerson's project in Mendocino County, his group consists of a retired lawyer, a financial consultant, a few well-to-do business people, and anyone else who will join his group. I believe these individuals are well off and their retirement is secure. They are the 1%ers of Mendocino County, in my opinion.

Dickerson tries to convince you that his group is looking out for you; that your house is on fire. The facts are that Dickerson and his group are fanning the flames.

They are trying to destroy the retirements of the employees of Mendocino County. They take about 20% fact and mix it with about 80% error. You know the old story: “You can fool some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time.” Even his lawyer friend wants the County of Mendocino to declare bankruptcy. Shame on these ideas. Not only is that unethical, it’s immoral. Especially when there is over $400 million in Mendocino County’s retirement investments. Well, I and others are not fooled by these ideas.

We all know that the Mendocino County retirement is underfunded. Most of the retirement programs in the United States are underfunded. Dickerson's financial consultant friend says we have had a bull market; the fact is the market has been on life support since 2008. If the market was in such good shape, interest rates in this country would not be so low. That is the real problem that these retirement funds are having, low interest rates.

Now, pay attention to this: Mendocino County must not be having too bad a problem, because they are paying two retirements to employees in middle and upper management. Employees who make $70,000 to $150,000 a year and above. If the problem is so bad, why does the County of Mendocino not stop paying two retirements to employees (middle and upper management) who can afford to fund their own second retirement, and put all of the funds in the main retirement that all county employees are part of?

This would help the main retirement recover. The people of Mendocino County should be mad as hell about this; I know I am. You don't hear Dickerson or his group say anything on this subject. In fact when I asked about this at the joint meeting of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and the Mendocino County Retirement Board in January of this year, no one would answer my question. Maybe a few of the editors of the local newspapers should investigate this.

A few months ago the Ukiah Daily Journal listed some names of retirees of Mendocino County that receive fairly high retirements. What the article did not say was that most of the retirees of Mendocino County do not receive a retirement anywhere close to the amount that this handful of retires receive. In fact most of the retires — after paying income tax and now their own medical insurance — are struggling to make it from payday to payday.

The people of Mendocino County might think that the pensions of the retirees of Mendocino County are completely funded by the county. The fact is that the retirees of Mendocino County paid two deductions every payday. One deduction for retirement and one deduction for COLA raises. So when you hear Dickerson's group complain about COLA raises or want to reduce COLA raises, just remember the retirees paid for these raises.

When I went to work for the County of Mendocino, and I received my first check, I could not believe the amount in deductions that was being taken out. I had worked 21 years in the private sector and never had this amount of deductions taken out, but I and my fellow employees endured this because we believed we were going to receive a decent retirement when we retired. Now that I am retired, I and other retirees have to put up with a group of financially well-off individuals (the 1%ers of Mendocino County) who are hell-bent on destroying our retirement. These 1%ers like to say that our retirement will cause the county roads not to get fixed. That is more false error spread by these individuals. The County of Mendocino Department of Transportation gets their funds from federal and state fuel taxes. Sometimes the county adds some funds, and sometimes they don't. I worked for Mendocino County Department of Transportation for 21 years. I know that if MCDOT had to depend on county funds to run their department they would go broke, but they do not. So quit using county road repair for your excuse about my and every Mendocino County retirees’ lack of funding. It’s not true.

Think about this, citizens of Mendocino County: If Dickerson's group is successful in destroying the county's retirement system, they will cause most of the county's retirees to have to go on welfare and food stamps (Social Services). Will that help the county budget? I don't think so. It will be both an economic and emotional hardship on the retirees. It will also hurt the majority of the businesses in Mendocino County. You see, most of the county retirees stay in Mendocino County when they retire, and they spend their money in Mendocino County. While the retirees will probably still shop at Safeway and Food Maxx, they probably won't be able to shop at places like Mendo Mill, Rainbow Ag, Ken Fowler Motors, etc.

This group's financial consultant says that about 50¢ of every tax dollar the county takes in is paid to the county retirement plan. This is not true. If the County of Mendocino's retirement plan did not have any investments and the county funded all of the retirement payments from the general fund, it would cost about 16¢ on the dollar. It’s simple math (no Power Points needed). Take the total yearly retiree payments divided by the total yearly county budget equals the percentage. About 16% if there were no investments. But there are over $400 million dollars invested.

It’s very interesting that when I was called out in the middle of the night by the California Highway Patrol to plow snow, sand roads, or for downed trees (many times with power lines involved), nobody told me they were going to try and steal my retirement. In the New Year’s flood of 05/06 when I risked my life to help the residents of Potter Valley (see Ukiah Daily Journal), nobody said, “Hey, John when you retire, we are going to steal your retirement.” These residents were glad I and my coworkers were there. I laid thousands of tons of asphalt during the years I worked for the County of Mendocino DOT. Not one time did anyone from the public tell me they were going to try and steal my retirement. These people were happy that we were doing this work.

Folks, it’s time to wake up to this sham that these people are trying to steal from the Mendocino County retirees. Now, to the retirees of Mendocino County, it’s time more of you make your voice heard in the newspapers, to the retirement board, and to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors if you want to keep these 1%ers from stealing your retirement.

(John Almida, a Mendocino County retiree, lives in Willits.)

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