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Friday, August 24, 2007

Saving Grace

Thank goodness vacation time is here. Twelve wonderful days in our little "cabin" in the woods. Expect nothing from this blog until after Labor Day. The one exception is that if any major newsworthy event breaks, my little cabin has wireless and I can still post. But trust me, when I vacation, I vacation. It is my saving grace in life. I can put down the keyboard and completely forget about it while I'm in my hidey hole in Central Oregon. Aside from getting the crap beaten out of me by Curtis on the tennis court, my contact with PERS and PERS retirees will be totally by accident. I wish you all a wonderful end of summer. The silly season starts for real after Labor Day; until then, let's all take a break and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine while it they are still with us. Adios, Au revoir, shalom, peace.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Warning

For the past 5+ years, Representative Greg Macpherson has represented my district in the Oregon House. Now he's announced that he's planning to run for statewide office, running for the position that Attorney General Hardy Myers plans to vacate at the end of this term. I don't normally use this forum to endorse or savage candidates, but I'll make an exception for Mr. Macpherson. I urge PERS retirees to remember that Mr. Macpherson was Governor Kulongoski's hand-picked water boy to carry out the PERS reforms in 2003. Macpherson voted against PERS members and retirees on EVERY measure that came before the House. He also worked together (along with Rep Tim Knopp) with Senator Tony Corcoran on the compromises needed to get HB 2001, HB 2003, HB 2004, HB 2005, HB 2020, and HB 3020 passed in the 2003 Legislature. Mr. Macpherson is no friend of mine and I hope not yours. We have the opportunity to use our influence to prevent Mr. Macpherson from having another turn in the Oregon House and preventing him from serving as Oregon's Attorney General. I'm glad John Kroger (Lewis & Clark Law School) will be announcing his candidacy in mid-September. Perhaps others will pile on soon. The bottom line is that if ALL PERS members and PERS retirees work together, we will succeed in throwing out Mr. Macpherson from a future term in the Legislature and preventing him from being the nominee for the State Attorney General's position. Frankly, I don't think we could do much worse than Mr. Macpherson. He may be a nice guy - I've met him a few times - but I don't want him as the State's chief law enforcement guy and, ironically, the lawyer to whom PERS directs its legal questions. You want to send a warning shot across the bow in a statewide election. Here's your chance. Defeat Mr. Macpherson and let him know that PERS retirees have memories like elephants. He doesn't have the safe cover of a district that has long-been a Democratic stronghold. Whatever your party, help defeat this potential scourge on the landscape. With friends like Mr. Macpherson, we don't need any enemies.

Liar Liar (Pants on Fire)

I've been reporting since last Thursday the discrepancies between what went on in the Courtroom and PERS' absolutely misleading and, perhaps, dishonest representation of it. This morning Greg Hartman issued a letter sent to all members of the PERS Coalition describing his concern for this situation. I repeat it here because it says what I've been saying in a much clearer way. Hartman's words follow in quotes.

"Attached is a copy of PERS's website posting which reports on the recent hearing with Judge Kantor. I am disappointed because the posting is so incomplete and one-sided that it paints an absolutely incorrect picture of what happened before Judge Kantor. Unfortunately many retirees [have] no other source of information and will find this posting to be very troubling. The PERS attorneys argued very vigorously that Judge Kantor's opinion was not broad enough to restrict their ability to continue to go through the Strunk/Eugene reconciliation process with the remaining 70% of retirees who have not, as yet, had their accounts adjusted. I don't think their argument was well received by Judge Kantor but he acknowledged that there was apparently some ambiguity about his prior order and promised that he would decide the specific issue of whether his decision permitted PERS to continue with the Strunk/Eugene reconciliation process. In addition the judge indicated that he would be deciding the Arken contract issue and if he decides that in favor of the window retirees, it should stop the reconciliation process in its tracks. Again I am disappointed that PERS has decided to post something so clearly biased.

As I said above, I know that many members will find this distressing and find it difficult to understand why this process can go forward despite Judge Kantor's previous opinion. PERS represented to Judge Kantor that for the vast majority of the people who are still subject to the reconciliation process, that process will most likely result in a small increase in their monthly benefit. In response to the judge's question PERS acknowledged that this will not be the increase which we would argue that they are entitled to, but nonetheless pointed out that a small increase is the most likely outcome of that process at this point. Please share this general information with your members in whatever format you think most acceptable as I would like to see some information that is more accurate disseminated to the retiree community."

For those of you who haven't read the PERS posting to which Mr. Hartman is referring, you can find it here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Body and Soul

Just a quick note to let all readers know that I am going on one of those vacations designed to replenish my body and soul. We leave 8/24 and return 9/3. During that period my posting frequency will diminish - in fact, unless there is something of importance, I won't post at all. My participation in OPDG will decrease at the same time. I'll be biking, hiking, playing tennis (see ya there Curtis), and generally spending some badly needed downtime with my family. Enjoy the rest of summer. I'll chime in occasionally, but I don't expect me to participate regularly in any discussion during my vacation. Family time is sacred time for me.

Nobody Told Me

That I'd still be writing about PERS since 2002. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would offering commentary, sarcasm, and trenchant observations about the Oregon Public Employees retirement system 5 years after I retired. Most of the time it remains fun; other times it is a real drag. I've set myself up for this. I spent the better part of two years prior to my retirement getting to know as much as I could about PERS, the retirement options, and the issues that confronted the agency going forward. I was prescient about the car-swallowing potholes that would arise from the City of Eugene case, and the Legislature's attempt at "fixing" those problems. I started warning my PSU colleagues in 2002, when things started to blow up. They forwarded my emails to friends and pretty soon I had a mailing list with 1750 people on it. PSU generously upped my email quota as will as my file storage capability. There are many people responsible for the success of my blog. Some of them must remain anonymous for obvious reasons. I do thank all the attorneys representing PERS retirees and actives - Greg Hartman, Aruna Masih, Mike Morris, Scott Jonnson, Jim Coon, Gene Mechanic. I thank the many working reporters in the MSM - Jim Mayer and Steve Law, in particular, for their willingness to share information, and I thank Jim Voytko, Tim Knopp, Greg MacPherson, and Tony Corcoran for their willingness to hear me out during the 2003 deliberations. Ultimately, I had a small, but significant, impact on the outcome of one bill (HB 2004) that ultimately benefited a small number of PERS retirees. I've been relentless in my pursuit of fairness in the Break-in-Service legislation, having helped convinced the various entities that the originally passed format would prove to be unworkable. Indeed, that was prophetic, and the 2007 Legislature altered the bill at PERS' request.

Why the history and why the expressions of gratitude and thanks? To reduce the suspense, the answer is NOT that I'm cashing in and stopping my service. On the contrary, I'm more determined than ever to keep at this until all the litigation is formally and completely resolved. I'm expecting another five years.

I have received literally thousands of emails thanking me for what I'm doing. It is gratifying to know that people trust me and follow my writings avidly. I've also had various offers for dinner, offers to take payment for help, and other things I have politely declined. I've shared lunch with a number of grateful readers. I've shared a beer or two with other grateful readers. From here on out, I would ask that instead of you making these generous, but unnecessary, offers, you instead help me with a hobby of mine. I collect shot glasses - the more bizarre the better. I have them from all over the world. If you are travelling - to anywhere - and you want to thank me, pick up a shot-glass or two. I'm more than happy to reimburse for the shotglass and the cost of mailing, but I won't object if you choose that for yourself. If this is something you'd like to do, just do it. When you're ready, you can email me and I'll provide my home address.

I do all this work as a labor of 'love' (I use the word in a very loose sense). I do this because *I* have skin in the game and have lost lots of money just like most of my readers. My family puts up with this because they know it is important. I plan to follow through on my plan to help place nails, one at a time, into the PERB coffin. I will not shed a single tear if any of these folks resign, are fired, or die. They've done more harm to all of us than any group of 5 people I've ever encountered. The Legislature gave PERB carte blanche, and PERB took their offer with reckless abandon. Retirees aren't people to them; they are numbers on an Excel spreadhseet. It is far easier to stomp on a number than a person. Yet the PERB is completely oblivious to people. It doesn't matter one bit to them whether 500 or 5 people show up at a Board meeting. And for me - as a people person afflicted with a numbers mentality - I'm deeply offended. My writing converts that offense into umbrage and I plan to keep after these bozos until we win.

Thanks again for all your positive comments, your thanks, and your readership. Tell your friends and family about this blog. Increase its reach and its readership. While it has a great audience, many more people reading and acting out will be far more effective. I figure that between here and OPDG, less than 5% of all retirees are being reached. Help me reach another 5 - 10%. Our strength lies in numbers of people aware that there is a problem. So far, I'm convinced that not enough of the affected members are aware of the problem, much less speak out about it. Let's get some movement here. Let's double the daily readership here and double the membership over at OPDG (it is free). Power lies in numbers. We've already got great attorneys, but having more people interested and active can only help our cause. Tell the PERB you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it any more. A faint voice in the wind doesn't have much effect, but a Category 5 hurricane of objections will not go unnoticed. Let's seize control here folks. Get active.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Parallel Universe

I've decided that PERS and its paid henchmen from California must live in a parallel universe. In their universe, they get to make and interpret all the rules. They get to decide what a Judge means even when he doesn't say anything. Let's take a recent case. You've read my commentary about the Arken/Robinson Status Conference held yesterday. If you want more first-person accounts, you can go to the OPDG (see left for link) where you'll find a variety of perspectives, none terribly different than mine. Imagine my surprise today while walking through my local Pet Smart looking for supplies for our soon-to-be new puppy "Emma" ( a yellow lab for those who are interested). My cell phone starts ringing, I look at the number, I don't recognize it, but it is a 503 prefix. I figure it's a wrong number, but instead it turns out to be Steve Law from the Salem-Statesman Journal. He wants information on the status conference, which he didn't bother or have time to attend. I give him a brief synopsis, he asks me questions for "on the record" (I don't care), and then I suggest to him that he do what I've told others to do - read my blog, and go to OPDG - to get first hand accounts of the proceedings. His tone is argumentative; my responses fairly neutral. He asks me who I "represent". I explain that I am a "free agent", acting out of my own self-interest. He then asks about OPRI. I explain that no OPRI rep was at the hearings, as far as I can tell, and comment that I think OPRI is pretty much "out of it" except for paying dues in the PERS Coalition. I'm busy and so I blow him off so I can concentrate on getting stuff for "Emma", our not-yet-home Golden Lab.

While I'm in Costco shopping for something else, probably unnecessary and in the 55 gallon drum size, my phone at home rings. I don't get the call because I'm not home. But when I listen to the message, Steve Law is there telling me that he's talking with Paul Cleary of PERS and they have plans. Steve Law wants my comments. It is now 6 pm on Friday night. No Steve, no comments. Based on the fact that Judge Kantor did not explicitly tell them NO, PERS is planning to start up the recalculation of benefits again. This time they will ignore the overpayments and focus only on the recalculation of 1999 earnings at 11.33% and the revised benefit it results in. The PERS slimebag lawyers told Judge Kantor that for all but a few PERS members, this will result in a slight increase in benefits while the rest of the issue of repayment for past overages continues to play out in the Courts. Now, I sat through the entire hearing, listening closely, had more than 31 witnesses to what Judge Kantor said and didn't say. While it is true that Judge Kantor did not comment directly on PERS statement that they will do this, because it does not constitute getting into PERS members accounts, Judge Kantor also said, and conveniently forgotten by Mr. Malkin (Kreacher), that he would be issuing his final order so that PERS would have no trouble understanding what he meant. This does not sound like the solid support PERS would have you believe they have going into this next phase. They are clearly living in a Parallel Universe where the laws of gravity, physics, finance, and general law apply to everyone else but them.

The betting line holds that PERS is going to try for a "severability" approach to getting rid of opposition to this plan. Bets are being taken that by virtue of the Strunk Court's ruling that the COLA freeze in section 10 was unconstitutional, that the rest of the clause makes no legal sense. If that argument holds sway, the "fixed" and the "revised benefit" language, which the Supreme Court held to be controlling goes away. They have to convince the court that by severing the COLA from section 10, there is nothing left to implement. On that groud, PERS can argue that the "revised" benefit is correct for all members and retirees and that adjustments CAN be made under ORS 238.715.

I love Parallel Universes. They let you imagine anything, do anything, screw anyone, and all without any consequences. Let's hope that PERS Parallel universe collapses like the 1986 Challenger - perhaps taking a few California lawyers with them.

P.S. (note added 8/20). A fellow member of OPDG has raised a fascinating question. If PERS goes for severability (ORS 174.040) on Section 10 of HB 2003, not only will they kill the fixed vs revised benefit, but they will also kill the 11.33% rate for 1999. Since the City of Eugene case is now vacated and has no legal effect on anyone, what will be PERS' argument for the "correct" rate for 1999? It seems to me that if PERS chooses that route, it will be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Poor souls. I feel their pain.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tennessee Stud

Ok, the Guv is from Missouri but Tennessee isn't far away. Just thought I'd add a little twisted detail from yesterday that I find amusing and informative in my own perverse way. A number of my PSU retiree colleagues were at yesterday's status conference in Portland. These people are followers of my blog and took me seriously when I suggested they write to the Governor and a bunch of other people about Judge Kantor's ruling and pressuring the PERB to stop pursuing retirees. So, while we're all sitting in Judge Kantor's court yesterday, breathlessly awaiting some morsel of information about how is final ruling will play out, guess where our Governor was? According to a source who walked back to PSU after the hearings, he bumped (literally) into Kulongoski and his guards coming out of Columbia Sportswear with some new gear (presumably for the Gov). I guess this says just about everything possible about the Governor's priorities and his interest in the extant PERS litigation. Our Tennessee stud is out rehabbing his wardrobe while we're all in sweating bullets over the outcome of this hearing. Guess we know how much he cares. To me, that was the equivalent of him saying to us: "Here's a quarter sonny. Go call some one who gives a damn." I'm sure he didn't even know that these hearings were going on about 5 blocks away. To him it was just another shopping day as Governor. I guess we can stop pestering him. He's too busy becoming a tennessee (or Oregon) stud, to care.

Soul Suckers

During yesterday's status conference, it became abundantly clear that the legal parsing done by the PERB's high California wideboys (and widegirls) has taken a turn for the worse. PERS just doesn't want to obey the Supreme Court and the fatcats from California have convinced them to behave like children who require exact and precise instructions before they might choose to understand. Case in point: PERS claims it doesn't understand Judge Kantor's injunction. PERS has interpreted it correctly that they can't collect money via invoicing, so they've stopped that. They were supposed to return money already deducted or paid in lump sum, which they're refusing to do. My reading said they were supposed to restore us to the condition we were in when the Legislature adjourned, which to me means that we should be getting large checks and vastly increased benefits due to the COLAs that were illegally withheld. PERS paid uninvoiced retirees a COLA on 8/1/07, but it was for 2007, not retroactive to 2003 as it is supposed to be.

In an incredible piece of parsing, PERS has decided that the injunction ONLY refers to collections of overpayments made after the Notice of Entitlement was issue. They believe that collecting overpayments and correcting benefits to their "right" (11.33% for 1999) amount is still within their purview. Thus, they told the judge that they were planning to continue the calculations of correct benefits and establishing the current level of benefit members should be at. It wasn't clear from this shaggy dog tale that PERS actually plans to notify the 70% whose benefit hasn't changed (except for the 2007 COLA) that their benefits are being reduced, or whether PERS is simply continuing with the calculations awaiting for an OK from the Court to send these out en masse.

The Court's reaction to this was interesting. Judge Kantor did not tell PERS they couldn't do this. He merely reminded them that his order wasn't final and that he would make double-dog sure that his final order would be crystal clear so that even the children at PERS could understand. My only question is whether anything a Judge writes that disagrees with PERS' take on the situation will ever be understood. I'm beginning to be convinced that PERS needs a Doctor Seuss-like picture book and rhyme to make judicial orders clear.

I can't begin to tell how how tiresome these California lawyers have become. Mr. Malkin is a caricature of a house elf in Harry Potter - he personally reminds me of Kreatcher. These guys are in it for the money and the longer they can string PERS along, the more money they make. Soul suckers of retirees' money coming and going.

I believe that out of all the decisions the 2003 legislature made, the absolute worst one was to permit the PERS Board to retain independent counsel and not rely on the DOJ in matters involving financial issues. This decision has already put nearly $3 million of members/retirees money into the hands of Orrick in San Francisco, and promises at least as much in additional billing if they persuade the PERB to pursue appeals of Arken and/or Robinson all the way to the Supreme Court. It isn't that other lawyers are profiting handsomely from all this litigation. At least Jim Coon and Hartman's firm get their money more-or-less voluntarily from members of the PERS Coalition. Orrick's money to fight retirees comes from accounts that would, under ordinary circumstances, be used to improve the reserves or be paid out to PER active members. It all gets written off under the category of "administrative expenses", which are those paid out of investment earnings BEFORE earnings are distributed to members.

Smile. It only hurts if you think about it. Ignorance is bliss on this detail, but what I can't figure out is why there aren't more happy people.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Instant Karma

I attended this morning's status conference in Judge Kantor's courtroom on issues arising from Judge Kantor's preliminary judgement in the Arken and Robinson cases. The proceedings started late and ended much earlier than the schedule planned. There were about 30 retirees, 2 PERS Officials (Rodeman and Crosley), Jim Coon (attorney for Robinson plaintiffs), Greg Hartman and Aruna Masih (Attorneys for the PERS Coalition), 2 California wideboys (Joseph Malkin and some unknown woman), Bill Gary and Sharon Rudnick (Attorney's for the non-State defendants in Arken), and an attorney from the DOJ (representing the State of Oregon). After getting to preview the PERS cases by listening in on two pathetic hearings from women in trouble and trying to game the system, the PERS cases finally got started about 9:35. The first surprise of the morning came when Bill Gary, Sharon Rudnick and the unknown DOJ rep were permitted to join the Robinson case as intervenors. This caught me by surprise since none of those parties have any stake in the outcome of Robinson. It occurs to me that they want in because they expect to be involved in appeals of Robinson (they as much said so). At first it wasn't obvious why they cared, but then it occurred to me that the outcome they need to prevent is a ruling in which all of section 14b is invalidated, a result that would leave employers with maximum financial exposure in a statute deliberately constructed to insulate employers from any responsibility. Judge Kantor allowed them intervenor status without any objections from any other attorney.

From there, Joseph Malkin launched into this tedious, incoherent, and pedantic lecture to the Judge about why he (the Judge) should stay the order for PERS to stop collection. The Judge called Malkin up short when he asked whether the summary of what PERS was asking for was based on "convenience" without any other judicial basis. Malkin didn't directly answer the question, but they explained what PERS *was* doing in regards to Kantor's order, and what it wasn't doing. (I'll come back to that later). The short form is that Judge Kantor denied PERB's request for a stay on the grounds that there is no final order entered; therefore the motion for a stay is premature.

Malkin admitted that PERB didn't fully understand the scope of Judge Kantor's order. Therefore, until they received clarification, they intended to continue the freeze on invoicing retirees for "overpayments", continue to withhold money from retirees already invoiced, but they anticipated continuing to recalculate benefits for all retirees not yet invoiced. This means, that PERS is planning to continue to adjust benefits for the 1999 "overpayment", but will not include an invoice for amounts due PERS. Judge Kantor reminded them that he hadn't finalized his order, but that he intended to make very clear in his final ruling what he considered permissible and what he considers impermissible. So, until Judge Kantor issues his final order, PERS isn't planning to do anything differently than it is doing now. Members already invoiced will continue to receive adjusted benefits and actuarial reductions; it isn't clear what those 70% of window retirees will get or not get from PERS until the Judge issues final orders.

Hartman's motion to have the judge change his ruling on the "breach of contract" was accepted without argument from any party. After receiving the motion, Judge Kantor reviewed his notes on the cases, reread all the original motions and briefs and concluded that his original order did not accurately portray the status of the "breach of contract" claim. Now, the claim is open and Judge Kantor will issue a clear ruling (we hope) on that claim on its own merits.

There was a curious monologue by Malkin (PERB attorney) about the apparent logical contradiction between Kantor's decision to rule on the "breach of contract" claim (arising from the language in HB 2003 and the Supreme Court's Strunk ruling in the Sartain case), and his ruling on Robinson. Malkin claims that by ruling in favor of the Robinson plaintiffs, Kantor had already tipped his hand in ruling on Arken's breach (in short, how can you claim a breach of contract for benefit said to be fixed and computed without error, and then simultaneously saying that the only way PERS can collect for the error is via 14b1b) Malkin's point was that since 14b refers to recovering "erroneous payments" from the City of Eugene case, it isn't possible to have both "erroneous payments" collected from administrative expenses, while at the same time ruling that there was a "breach of contract" in which retirees are said to be receiving fixed benefits computed without error. Both Jim Coon (Robinson attorney) and Hartman (Arken attorney) and Judge Kantor all reminded Malkin that the Robinson class included more than the Arken class and so there was no necessary preconceived bias or contradiction from the Robinson ruling and a potential ruling in the Arken breach.

That was pretty much it. The schedule for the whole day was totally unnecessary; the conference was done by about 10:50 a.m. On the whole, I'm optimistic that Kantor will get his act together and write a clear and unambiguous ruling. I'm reluctant to predict the outcome, although I sense that Kantor wants to do the right thing and that he is not terribly impressed by the legal skills offered by the California hotshots. I lost count of the number of times Malkin mentioned the City of Eugene or Lipscomb decision, as though it had any legal relevance anymore. Similarly, watching the body language of the plaintiffs' attorneys (Hartman, Masih, and Coon) as well as Judge Kantor revealed a clear "oh god, are they still babbling about the vacated City of Eugene case", and "get a clue, Malkin".

One point that I hope Judge Kantor grasps -- although it isn't anything on the table -- is how PERS retirees are paying for both sides of the legal questions. The PERB people always manage to get in a dig about how we're receiving excess benefits, but they never talk about who's paying their salaries -- under duress.

I'm hoping that this time through, Judge Kantor will take less time to issue his final ruling, that he has fewer complicated cases on his docket, and that we can get this party rolling to the appelate or Supreme Court level before the start of the New Year. That would be instant karma.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Soul Shakedown Party

Hope you're all getting ready to attend the Soul Shakedown Party in Judge Kantor's Courtroom on Thursday August 16, 2007. The status conference on the Arken and Robinson rulings begin at 9 a.m. and are expected to run most of the day. Judge Kantor's courtroom is at the Multnomah County Courthouse at 1021 SW 4th Avenue in Portland. There are quite a number of carpools already being formed to ferry interested observers from Eugene, from Salem, from Central Oregon, and from other points further south. If you need or want a ride, please contact me and I'll do my best to put you in touch with people I know who are coming. I can't promise rides for everyone, but I'll try to put the word out. For those of you driving to Portland, please do be aware that downtown Portland is an absolute mess, with construction going on about every 3 feet between the south and north ends of town. On street parking is nearly impossible, and lot parking is available but expensive. For those of you who don't mind walking a bit, getting yourself to a MAX station in Beaverton, the Zoo, or Gresham and taking light rail into downtown, you will end up only a few blocks away from the Courthouse. For those who want to park and walk to the Courthouse, PSU is your best bet (6th Avenue exit from I-405, with summer session about over. Parking isn't free, but it is cheaper than more central downtown lots. And there are long term meters in and around PSU. The walk from PSU to the Courthouse is about 7 blocks. For those unfamiliar with Courthouse protocol, be prepared for airport-like security. Don't forget to remove all knives off keychains and anything that remotely looks like a weapon should be left at home. Plan to arrive in the downtown area and allow yourself 30 minutes to get to the courthouse and another 30 minutes to get through courthouse security. Those looking for a quick caffeine fix will find at least 8 Starbucks within 5 minutes' walk of the courthouse. For those unable to climb stairs (Judge Kantor's courtroom is on the 5th or 6th floor, I can't remember), elevators are available.

This is one party no retiree should miss. There should be plenty of fireworks and you'll get to see all the key players in the soap opera up close and personal. The hearings are rarely boring, and Judge Kantor usually has probing and interesting questions for the lawyers. Don't come expecting any kind of a decision. This is a conference only. However, it has been my long experience that seeing and hearing the parties first hand gives you a much better feel and understanding of what is going on that relying on the biased media to pick out small nuggets for you to feast on. Remember, they're only going to tell you what THEY want you to read. And if history is a guide, the last thing they want you to read is what really happened. Come and see for yourself.

Hope to see lots of retirees on Thursday August 16, 2007. It should be one hell of a soul shakedown party.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

California Uber Alles

Those wideboys from California representing the PERS Board (PERB) have put together a humdinger of an appeal to Judge Kantor to stay his injunction on the Strunk/Eugene remediation. They have marshalled all their talent, all their brainpower, and all PERS members' money, to appeal to the good Judge that if they were compelled to stop recalculating benefits, to give money back, before all the appeals play out, this would be an awful lot of work and wasted time. And it would somehow come out of PERS members and retirees hide anyway. There were tears streaming down my face as I read this appeal and Paul Cleary's affidavit along with it. But they weren't tears of pity; they were tears of maniacal laughter as I couldn't help myself thinking what fools they will be in front of Judge Kantor if this is the best they can do. Like he didn't think of this himself when he issued his original injunction. You can read this masterpiece for yourself here. Be sure to notice what I missed on first reading. As several have pointed out, these California genuises manage to cite the City of Eugene case in their opening salvo. They're apparently forgotten that the City of Eugene case was vacated by the Oregon Supreme Court more than a year ago and has offers nothing in support of or against any current litigation. The Oregon Supreme Court rendered the case meaningless and superceded by the Legislation in 2003. We're paying an awful lot to this awful lot of California morons to act against our interests. Payback time!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Buzzbomb from Pasadena

Not quite that far away, but from Tigard, which has been sending buzzbombs from every direction. It is hard for me to imagine that an agency can be as stupid as PERS. Just when you think they might be starting to get it, they do something that defies rational explanation. What, ask you, did they do? Well, as they are required to do, they sent out the August PERSpectives with the check stub detailing the COLA that many of us have seen for the first time. Great, say you. But then your curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to read PERSpectives. After all, it is one of the few sources of reasonably current information from PERS, aside from PERS' website. The grey box on the first page begins the systematic sizzle factor. PERS announces in this box that PERSpectives will be reduced from quarterly to thrice yearly. The February issue will be deleted, and new publication dates will be December, April, and August. The corollary to this follows on the second page, where they announce the real capper - that the Quarterly stubs we've been used to getting will now come only once annually, in December. Of course, PERS qualifies this by noting that "if your retirement benefit amount changes, due to a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or for any reason, you will also receive a check stub in the mail for the month the change is effective. So, you will probably get a statement in August, possibly in February (if you have a variable account after retirement), but no other time of the year. Now, there is an exception. If you have your checks MAILED to you, PERS will have to include a check stub, but PERS employs the big scare tactic about "IDENTIFY THEFT" and lost checks and uses that as the lever to encourage EFT deposit of your monthly benefit check. If you do that, you suddenly cease getting monthly statements.

What makes this so aggravating is that PERS further insults retirees, by providing an updated "PERS: By the Numbers" on the second page, that shows that PERS is not in any financial difficulty - in fact, PERS has rejoined the very upper tier of public employee retirement funds in funding ratios. We have no unfunded actuarial liability, we are at 104% funding and employer rates have stabilized at 15% (before side accounts), when they were predicted to go to 27% back in 2003. Moreover, Tier 1/Tier 2 rates for many large employers are significantly less than the systemwide average. After PERS adjusts for the employer side accounts, the Tier 1/ Tier 2 rate is 8.1% and 6.03% for members in OPSRP.

So, the takehome message here is much like that of Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" routine. The parrot (PERS problem) is dead, kaput, kicked the bucket, pushed up daisies, and so on. And so, this raises the question of why PERS feels compelled to cut down the frequency of our statements to once yearly. No longer will we know how tax changes affect monthly take home benefits because once the new year flips over, we'll get no notification of the new takehome amount because there is no change in the gross benefit.

Why is PERS doing this? Your guess is as good as mine? My guess is that they are being penny wise and pound foolish. They're going to end up with more people requesting a changeover to monthly check rather than EFT, the customer support lights will shine brightly on the first of every month, especially on February 1st. This is about saving a piddling amount of money, but mostly it is to save staff time so they can be deployed in other malignant ways to try to steal back money from us. There is not a single retiree benefit in this. People are already pissed about this. If you don't believe me, take a look over at the Oregon PERS Discussion Group.

Oh, and I'm at a loss for a good word to describe the chutzpah that PERS has to put the back page as a Customer Service Survey. Be sure to fill it out and mail it back it. PERS needs to hear from you about this. Acquiesce at your own peril. Customer service at PERS is defined by how deeply the knife is buried in your back.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Child and His Lawnmower

Ah. Ninety one degree days on August 1. It reminds me of the time when I was a child and had my lawnmower going door to door mowing lawns on the cheap. I remember how elated I was when I made $10 for mowing 5 lawns in a single day. I felt rich. I didn't feel that way today when my credit union posted my PERS check after receiving my first COLA in 5 years of retirement. After taxes, my net went up $125 per month. Let me count the ways in which this helps. I reviewed my monthly gasoline bills from 2003 and they were less than half what they are today. Pretty much the same with my electricity and gas bills. To further the comparison, I owned two less energy efficient vehicles in 2003. My house today is larger, but it has top of the line energy efficient gas and electric heating and cooling, about 30% more efficient that the ones in my old house built in 1990. In 2003, my wife, daughter and I paid nothing for our health care. Today we still pay nothing for health care, but we do now have copays for office visits and prescriptions (my wife is a physician). It is hard to calculate the percentage increase going from no copay to a $5 and $10 copay. Needless to say, while every little bit helps, I truly felt like PERS threw me a bone in hopes of toning down all the criticism they've received for withholding the COLA far longer than they were entitled, and now illegally so. It simply makes me angrier and reminds me of how much more they owe me - about 6.27% compounded from 2003 - 2007. For most people, this is a non-trivial monthly increase, not to mention a 5 figure balance that PERS owes me for illegally withholding those COLAs since 2003.

Don't be fooled. Don't be complacent. And worst of all, don't be that child and his lawnmower. You didn't just make $10 for mowing 5 lawns. You got $1 for mowing 50 lawns and a bunch of IOU's that the deadbeats are still unwilling to pay.

Sorry to rain on the lawn. I'm not even close to being mollified.