Some extra pension benefits enjoyed by some of San Diego's top-paid city retirees are raising eyebrows at a time when a lot of political heat is coming down on public employee pensions.
Former chief deputy city attorney Eugene Gordon, the city's highest-paid retiree, receives nearly $300,000 a year in retirement. Nearly a quarter of that is in the form of what's known as "preservation of benefits paid."
Former city attorney Mike Aguirre said that benefit was created in 2001 by the mayor and City Council without fanfare or extensive public discussion.
Known as a "qualified excess benefit arrangement" under IRS rules, the benefit pays retirees -- whose pensions would exceed 90 percent of their highest salary (or other IRS limits) -- money from the city's general fund to make up the difference.
While Gordon's annual retirement in 2009 was $114,693, he also received a $113,900 annuity payout from the city's deferred retirement option plan, plus $70,510 in preservation of benefits payments, for a total of $299,103.
Douglas McCalla, a former investment officer for the city retirement system and the city's second-highest-paid retiree, received a preservation of benefits payment of $104,376, along with $68,358 in retirement allowance and $74,578 in deferred retirement annuity payments.
On Thursday, Aguirre released a list of the city's 2,000 highest-paid pensioners. He obtained the list under a Public Records Act request from the San Diego City Employees Retirement System (SDCERS). He said the high amounts and generous nature of the various benefit perks reflect excesses of a system that's running at least $2 billion short.
"What's true about reservation of benefits is true about all of the free pension credits that were given away to the City Council to the employees, to the upper echelon," Aguirre remarked in an interview. "How could any pension system that's a public system create this kind of debt without the voters having an opportunity to vote?"
According to SDCERS, 39 city retirees received preservation of benefits payments, which totaled about $1,0570,000, in 2009.