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Ironhouse Needs “Real” Benefit Reform, Not Gimmicks

By Michael Burkholder

The Directors of Ironhouse Sanitary District (ISD) must think they are pretty clever for trying to pull a fast one over on ratepayers as they consider a possible change in policy for Director benefit’s right before an election.

Under Director Chris Lauritzen’s proposal, the Board freezes the amount the District will pay for current Board member benefits (medical, dental, vision). This plan came two-weeks after I put in a public information request while they previously blew off Councilman Randy Pope and the Contra Costa Grand Jury last year.

Ultimately, this gesture  refuses to fix the real problem which is this Ironhouse Directors have no business receiving any medical, dental and vision at the expense of the ratepayers and should be eliminated, not frozen!

Below is what you have overpaid for your directors along with Director Lauritzens proposal.

During their Sept. 4 meeting, City Council liaison Susan Morgan provided the following information to the City of Oakley in her report.

Currently, here is what the Directors receive in compensation:

Aside from their $170 per meeting stipend (maxes out at six-meetings per month), Directors are eligible to receive medical, dental and vision.  Directors can also choose to have (i) 1 family member added; or (ii) all family members’ added (different prices/plans for each).

  • Director only Plan: $625/mo.;
  • Director plus 1 family ~$1,000/mo
  • Family Plan ~$1,588/mo.

As you can see, Ironhouse Directors can earn up to $1,020 per month–more than double that of an Oakley City Council person who makes just $465 per month. If a Director was to “max out” all its pay and benefits, its a pretty good gig for a Board as it would pay over $30,000.

To put this in perspective, the ISD Board makes more in medical. dental, vision benefits than some of our East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Firefighters. While ISD  has a max plan at $1,588, a firefighter informed me their district caps them at $1,380 and the employee is responsible for the rest while ECCFPD also does not offer vision.

There is something backwards going on with the excessive benefits given to part-time ISD Directors who attends a few meetings a month while our firefighters work full-time and serve more people? Meanwhile, while I am at it with fire, the 9 Directors on the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District which his also a special district remain unpaid for their time.

But lets deal in real figures for Director Doug Hardcastle turned Oakley City Council Candidate along with Mike Painter who is up for re-election. It should be noted, Hardcaslte did not take medical this year, but took medical benefits the previous five years.

In 2011, Director Doug Hardcastle earned $16,029 in dental, vision, and medical plus his $7,310 for attending some meetings. In 2011, he totaled $23,339.

Between 2007 to 2011, Hardcastle racked up a total of:

  • Dental: $8,759.64
  • Vision: $1,249
  • Medical: $51,720.96
  • Meetings: $33,159
  • Total = $94,888.60

Meanwhile, Director Mike Painter is an even bigger abuser of ratepayer money. In 2011 alone, he racked up $21,378.60 in benefits plus his $8,840 in meetings for a whopping $30,218.60.

Between 2007 to 2011, Painter racked up a total of:

  • Dental: $15,274.44
  • Vision: $2,113.21
  • Medical: $74,957.52
  • Meetings: $32,470
  • Total = $124,815.17

Congratulations, we as ratepayers have been overpaying for Mr. Hardcastle and Mr. Painter services for far too long and it needs to end. In the last five years, these two have cost ratepayers a total of $219,704.

Now lets look at the entire board and what was reported to the State of California Controllers Office in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the Board was compensated a total of $93,087.  In 2010 the total compensation was $95,248. It should be noted, for whatever reason, the figures Tom Williams gave me on Board compensation did not match up with what was reported to the State.

Now that you know what you are paying to the Board in perks, lets take a look at the scam Chris Lauritzen is proposing. Again, this information was obtained via Susan Morgans report to the City Council via information request.

Under Director Lauritzen’s Proposal, the Board freezes the amount the District will pay for current Board member benefits (medical, dental, vision). This of course, grandfathers in the current and past board to keep their generous benefits–in some cases, this is lifetime benefits.

Director Lauritzen’s Proposal:

  • Freeze the amount District will pay for current Board member benefits (medical, dental, vision).
  • Moving forward, District only pays for Board member, not the entire family, while board member is serving on the board.  If Board member chooses to add other family members, Board member pays full freight for that.
  • When Directors leave the Board, the benefits END (regardless of time of service on the Board).   If Board member wants to continue benefits (for self or family, if previously added family), Board member will need to pay full freight for that.
  • These changes will ONLY apply to new Directors going forward (current/past Directors will be “grandfathered” in at the current benefit levels/policies).
  • Going forward – expect to cut costs to ratepayers.
    • Comment by Guest Doug Sheer – he agrees with this direction/change.
    • District Counsel suggested that Board designate an “ad hoc” subcommittee, to put details of this plan/change together consistent with any CalPers requirements/rules.  As to changes in retirement benefits, this can be accomplished with a Retirement Policy.
      • Will not reduce existing directors contributions/benefits, but can freeze going forward.
      • Sub-committee to work with Counsel, to come back with a Plan, to address freezing current rates, and any increases imposed by insurance company going forward will be borne by the Directors.
      • Sub-committee to consist of:  Michael Painter and Chris Lauritzen.  Present Plan and costs for next Board meeting.

For the record, this little ad-hoc committee that was created, this allows Mike Painter and Chris Lauritzen to charge the District $170 each for the meetings they hold to discuss this–the time sheets are real educational and I will get to those in the next few days. For now, lets stick to the benefits reform.

With all due respect to Mr. Lauritzen, this plan stinks all the way to high heaven because its nothing more than a self-serving cockamamie proposal.  Medical, dental and vision shouldn’t be frozen, they should be eliminated completely for any new director–the current board should act in good faith and eliminate their own monthly benefits starting Nov. 6 and going forward.

It’s pretty asinine that ratepayers are on the hook for roughly $8,000 in Director compensation each month–some  include their family on their benefits plan.

For those of you interested in how self-serving my opponent Doug Scheer is, he agrees with the Lauritzen plan.  I don’t because I do not believe it goes far enough to protect the ratepayers. If elected, my first promise will be that I will not accept any medical, dental, or vision because I consider that “real reform” while  simply doing the right thing by the ratepayers.

Timing of Proposal is Suspect

What I want voters who are serviced by Ironhouse to remember is this is only a proposal put out right before an election for their own political coverage and to protect their board as they did with the reduction in fees. Proposals are not always accepted and implemented as stated prior to an election.

But what is most comical about this change in attitude to tweak benefits is that it comes just a few weeks after I submitted a formal public records request specifically targeting pay, benefits, reimbursements, and many other items. To make this proposal now of all times is essentially trying to pull a fast one on voters and I know voters are smarter than Ironhouse is giving them credit for.

You see, Ironhouse has had plenty of time to tweak their benefits and come up with a plan over the years, but they chose arrogance and knew no one was paying attention—they were right up until I became a steward of the peoples money and began watching them.

A change in policy never came up after the Grand Jury nailed them last spring for excessive pay and benefits which exceeds $94,000 while Oakley City Council makes just $28,000 combined.  They blew off the Grand Jury with a very weak response while providing little explanation.

The current Board even ignored Councilman Randy Pope who I do not agree with most of the time but he got this one right when on June 7, 2011 he addressed the board stating the following:

Before considering any fee increase to review that salaries are 62% of the operating budget and ask the Board to also consider the grand jury report for Board members and stated it is not fair or ethical that we have the “Golden Goose” and asked the Board to reduce their benefits since their positions are for public service.

Kudos to Councilman Pope, I just wished he would have stayed on it and followed up each meeting requesting the change.

Although I provided the link to the Grand Jury Report Response above, what is scary is their discussion of the Grand Jury Report and how they felt entitled to excessive benefits at their July 5, 2011 meeting.

Director Huerta stated the Grand Jury itself was not included in their own report and that the methodology of the report compared “apples to oranges,” and, therefore, skewed the results unfairly. The Board stated that the report should consider some Districts are more complex and need more Board involvement in conducting business.

Director Lauritzen stated he is happy to be on the Board and believes he works hard for the rate payers. He works at his business five days a week, and is always “on-call” to serve the rate payer. While he as an elected official in this case, he is not a volunteer. As a Director on the ISD Board, he is often called away from his business to conduct ISD Business and feels some compensation is appropriate. Also, Mr. Lauritzen mentioned he did not take medical compensation for 6 years and just recently did.

Director Hardcastle stated that he was in the Army and has served on many volunteer Boards, but that the ISD position is more than volunteer. He stated that he has not missed a meeting since elected in 2000 to the ISD Board of Directors. He stated that he is the ISD representative at the City Council meetings and feels that ISD and the City should be on the same team, and should honor each other. He feels very dedicated to the people of Bethel Island and the people of Oakley and works hard to represent them well.

Director Contreras directed staff to include in the District’s response to Grand Jury Report No. 1104 the statement that the Directors of sanitary districts, such as Ironhouse, which are experiencing and anticipating growth. As such, the ISD Board in their service areas, and are accordingly substantially upgrading their facilities to accommodate this growth, must devote significant time, attention and oversight to ensure that these facility upgrades are accomplished in a cost-effective manner which complies with state water quality standards, which are becoming increasingly more stringent to comply with.

Pay attention to Mr. Contreras who was never elected, but rather appointed due to his friendship with Tom Williams. He is basically using the new facility as justification for pay and benefits because of the amount of time required.

My response to Mr. Contereras and the rest of the board… SO WHAT! This is what you were elected/appointed to do.  You signed up for this board, the ratepayers didn’t sign up for you to take advantage of us! If this board is as slick as they claim they are,  over the last six years rates wouldn’t have increased from a 2005 fee of just $300 to $618 today.

So when and if the Contra Costa Times or Brentwood Press ever pick up this story on the scam of the Ironhouse Board, just remember there is a reason they picked now of all times to call on a self-interest reform plan.

It is because in May I asked some questions and was blown off by Tom Williams. I agan asked Mr. Williams in June some questions at the Los Vaqueros Reservoir opening, I was blown off. I finally had to become a candidate and issue a formal public information request not once, but twice before it was acknowledged–two prominent figures in the community were CC’d on this request.  30 days later, items have still not been responded to.

The point is of all this is they issued the “Chris Lauritzen Cockamamie Plan” because they knew I was coming after them and were not going to blow me off like they did to everyone else.  They needed this plan to save face as they were able to ignore Councilman Pope and the Grand Jury.

What this Board needs to understand  is I don’t need to be elected to make a positive change, I am already doing it. By Mr. Lauritzen proposing his plan the way he did, I already won—now rate payers need to demand he goes farther with it in October by eliminating medical, dental, vision altogether. If not, voters can always elect me and I will work hard to make sure Mr. Lauritzen actually works for the ratepayers and not himself.

It’s really not that hard to do the right thing by the ratepayer, it just takes some courage and common sense.  At the end of the day, it also feels good to do the right thing.

Ratepayers must demand better of our board instead of allowing the board to demand more from the ratepayers.

I am a candidate running for Ironhouse Sanitary District and you can learn more about me at MikeBurkholder.com where you will find many Ironhouse Documents posted per my public information requests.

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13 Responses »

  1. Doing simple math, we pay 5 guys to sit on a board nearly $1 million dollars every 10-years??? Not cool. Burk is right, eliminate it, this freezing benefits is a scam!

  2. This is offensive and I can’t believe the papers have failed to report this abuse. Benefits like this for a Board that is supposed to meet once per month? Give me a break!

  3. I am really glad I do not fall under Ironhouse. These Directors are crooks. I was looking at the Time Sheets you have posted on your website, talk about criminal. Where is Dan Borenstein when you need him?

  4. Burke, I don’t agree with you often, but this one is a slam dunk to ratepayers and I hope they are paying attention. The timing of this proposal needs to be questioned by the news media because it looks awfully suspect and I think Burke is hinting on something very powerful here that they are only doing this after being exposed for abusing the ratepayer.

    As you would say, “kudos” on the promise to not take any of the medical, dental, or vision. I will hold you to it.

    How convenient of Mr. Hardcastle not to take benefits this year when he is running for City Council, but he did take them the last five years. Mr. Painter should be ashamed of himself.

    Aside from the media, where is the Contra Costa County Taxpayers Associaton on this one?

  5. Why would anyone want to run for City Council in Oakley when they can just run for Ironhouse and make more money? I would think the City Council is more deserving of these benefits than Ironhouse as they make decisions for our city, not decisions on poop!

  6. People wont approve $197 for fire services… but they allow Ironhouse to get away with this crap for medical and benefits? Wake up East County!

  7. The people of Oakley and Bethel Island should demand a refund and payback from the directors. The fact this has been gonig on is crazy! Of course they want to freeze rates, it means this plan wont effect them, just new members. Knowing that, why would anyone re-elect Mike Painter or David Contreras?

    • Ben, you can’t demand a payback because the benefits are what they earned under the rules and law. You can’t go back to former directors and change the rules either. I applaud Mr. Lauritzen’s initiative to start the process to begin talking about the benefits, but where we disagree is he is proposing a freeze while I am proposing an elimination of the benefit.

      • Many city councils etc pay you cash if you don’t take the benefit. Actually many companies do this also. Not to lowly staff but the upper echelon. How does this affect the groups covered in this election?

      • Fair enough, at least Lauritzen started the process.

  8. Ironhouse gets away with this because they can, not enough people care to make a difference. Burk can continue to write about Ironhouse all he wants, until the Times or Press pick it up, nothing will change. Burk, your information is solid, unfortunatly, voters are not engaged.

  9. Mr. Burkholder,

    I understand your frustration with Ironhouse medical, dental, vision benefits for directors and while I agree with you in principal to attack a director for proposing something you do not feel goes far enough is childish and not good form. Its a good start, but far from perfect. and I will leave it at that.

  10. Lori,

    What I think is not good form is for elected directors to be acting in their own interest while “representing” the taxpayers of this community.

    The disparity between the compensation and benefits these directors are getting and what other similar elected officials get is truly outrageous.

    During these economic times when local governments and agencies are cutting back on services & staff, forcing furloughs and putting more burdens on the taxpayers I think the directors showed an obvious disconnect between their duties of serving their constituents and making sure they have lifetime medical coverage and get compensated for fulfilling duties they volunteered for and got elected for.

    Personally, I think these directors look at serving on the Ironhouse Board as a financial opportunity rather than a privilege to serve their community. I think Mr Burkholder by exposing the facts in an environment that is less than cooperative and by stepping up to serve his community is exactly the type of person we want on the Ironhouse Board. Further, I challenge ALL other candidates to follow Mr Burkholder’s example by pledging not to accept medical benefits & to limit the amount of compensation they will receive serving on the board if elected. There is nothing childish about what he is doing. Matter of fact, I think this is the most adult thing one could be doing in this situation.

    I suspect that with these facts coming out, there will be more to expose. I am beyond angry that no one else in the media is stepping up to help bring these things to light. The silence on the part of the Press makes me suspicious of their neutrality and commitment to informing the community. The Contra Costa Times and the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association are all over the pension and liability issues and yet are not touching this, why??

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