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    Reverse the "Golden Handshake"

    (June 27, 2006) -- has previously detailed the May 23 Council 8-0 action (B. Lowenthal, Colonna, O'Donnell, Kell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga, Gabelich, Lerch) granting outgoing Mayor Beverly O'Neill a de facto "golden handshake" of 600 credited hours of "sick leave" worth $31,000 in health insurance.

    The issue is bigger than this...and today, becomes the first LB media outlet publicly to call on outgoing Mayor O'Neill to return to the taxpayers' General Fund a sum equivalent to that benefit or face a Council action to rescind its May 23 action in sufficient time to prevent its taking effect prior to her exit.

    We acknowledge that there are benefits to letting the Council action stand. Among other things, it will help kill any chance of 2/3 voter approval for a City Hall desired property tax/sales tax for basic necessities like police, fire and libraries that better run cities fund before (among other things) fattening pensions, collecting perks and dispensing raises.

    City management claims its May 23 consent calendar item (with no public discussion planned) was to correct an error made in 1997 when the Council credited the offices of City Auditor (Burroughs), City Attorney (then John Calhoun) and City Prosecutor (then John Van Der Laan) with 50 hours of credited sick leave on retirement for each year of their incumbency. Management portrays the addition of O'Neill as a matter of fairness for the Mayor.

    That is a bogus argument. The issue isn't fairness to the Mayor. It's about fairness to taxpayers.

    Almost exactly four years ago, Mayor O'Neill presided over one of the worst votes in LB history: the costly 2002 pension spike. That action will continue hurting LB taxpayers for years to come while benefiting City Hall's non-public safety employees, including O'Neill.

    The 2002 pension spike came on two votes steathfully scheduled for the last meeting of an outgoing Council (with Grabinski and Shulz exiting) and the first meeting of an incoming Council (with Reyes Uranga and Lerch arriving) when ceremony would eclipse substance.

    Mayor O'Neill deserves to be held accountable for those actions, not rewarded for them. Blaming the Council's 2006 action on what others did in 1997 after what O'Neill did in 2002 won't wash. It will show that at the end of the day, there is no accountability at LB City Hall even for the worst actions.

    This will only add insult to injury as Councilmembers approach a July 11 Council item seeking to add a similar benefit formula for themselves (50 hrs credited sick leave per yr of incumbency, worth about $5200 for an eight year retiring Councilmember). If the Council is so intent on adding the benefit for all subsequent Mayors, it can do that after O'Neill leaves office. As it stands, what the Council did for O'Neill looks to us like a gift of public resources, plain and simple, not an officially-spun retirement benefit.

    Morever, the 2002 post-election pension spike didn't occur in a vaccum. Going into the 2002 election cycle, Mayor O'Neill forwarded a budget -- unchanged even after 9/11 when other cities prudently reexamined spending -- that increased spending, creating a deficit-boosting "happy days are here again" fake prosperity. The Mayor amplified this in January 2002 with a state of the city message that claimed City Hall was on the "right track." This mythology, echoed by the Press-Telegram and her other endorsers, helped reelect her...along with City Hall conveniently spending public money to change LB's ballots to a system that could help a write-in candidate (official excuse: eliminating "chad" punch ballots).

    O'Neill prevailed in a "write-in" reelection with less than a majority vote; she got roughly 46% with a low turnout. This has since been transformed into a myth of her great popularity...which helped sink two Council incumbents in 2004, and in 2006 failed to save City Auditor Burroughs and we believe worked against Councilman Colonna (with Bob Foster sending a shrewdly calibrated anti-incumbent message).

    It would be in the best interest of the city for Mayor O'Neill to renounce the Council-voted golden handshake, approved when she wasn't present, and to rebate the amount back to city taxpayers. That would avoid the which the Council either rescinds the golden handshake...or shows LB taxpayers that it thinks public service means the public serves officials, not the other way around.

    Some Councilmembers may say they'll forego the benefit personally, which is a principled personal act but isn't the issue. The issue is how Councilmembers use the vote the public gave serve those temporarily holding power or to serve taxpayers' interests citywide.

    Over 200 years ago, some Americans dumped tea in Boston harbor and King George and his advisors didn't get it. They thought it was about a lowly tax...when (as Jefferson would later write) it was about a long list of usurpations.

    LB residents now have a ballot box to deal with incumbents and usurpations. Long Beach City Hall has refused to provide basic city services including sufficient police, fire and libraries without demanding a new tax. We believe that unless the Council's "Golden Handshake" is reversed, LB residents will use the ballot box to send City Hall a message on this, and perhaps other matters, that some local officials may find unpleasant.

    Happy July 4th.

    Related coverage:

  • Your Opinions On Mgm't-Proposed, Council-Approved "Golden Handshake" For Exiting Mayor...And Council's Consideration Of Add'l Retirement Benefit For Itself

  • Retired Councilman Doug Drummond Comments On Council-Voted "Golden Handshake" For Exiting Mayor O'Neill...And Councilmembers' Consideration Of New Retirement Benefit For Themselves

  • And Now Retired Councilman Les Robbins Weighs-In On Council-Voted "Golden Handshake" For Exiting Mayor O'Neill & Council Consideration Of Add'l Retirement Benefit For Itself

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