"The Republicans were doing it too." That was Fair Political Practices Commission chairman Ann Ravel's surprising defense in a recent LA Times article that made Ravel out to be the latest poster child for government pension abuse. The 62-year-old Ravel is one of those "double-dipping" public employees who retire with government pensions and then pick up other jobs in government. It's a bonanza that - in Ravel's case - costs taxpayers $304,564-a-year.
The Times angle was that Gov. Jerry Brown was breaking his promise to put an end to pension outrages by creating more double-dippers, like Ravel. Pensioned off from her day-job of 33 years in the county counsel's office in Santa Clara at $172,385-a-year, Brown appointed Ravel to the FPPC where she's now making a cool $132,179-a-year. (To be fair, Ravel is not entitled to earn additional pension credits for working at her second, post-retirement job).
As the Times pointed out, state rules prohibit most government retirees from the CalPers system from drawing both a pension from CalPers and getting paid to work more than 960 hours a year (i.e. 24 weeks) at another job that's also part of the CalPers system.
But there are exceptions, neatly summarized in CalPers Publication 33, entitled "A Guide to CalPers Employment After Retirement." This guide - unearthed by LA Observed - outlines the pitfalls and loopholes for CalPers retirees who want to simultaneously draw their pensions and work at a 2nd job. On page 5 is the exception that applies to Ravel:
Positions Not Subject to the Fiscal Year Limit of 960 Hours
• Member of a Board, Commission, or Advisory Committee: You can serve as a member of an advisory committee, board, or commission if you are appointed to that position by the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, director of a State department, or governing board of the public agency.
In short, Ravel is part of an elite class of CalPers retirees who can double-dip because Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez or Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg have appointed them to about a dozen plum commissions and boards across the state - notably the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (UIAB) and the Parole Hearings Board. (Some of these boards -UIAB among them - were slated for elimination under Brown's May revise budget).
Brown's office told the Times Ravel's FPPC appointment was actually a good thing because Californians were getting an experienced former public servant in a sensitive job. "Our position is that it's critical to bring the best and most experienced people onto boards and commissions," said Brown spokesperson Elizabeth Ashford.
That brings us back to Ravel's defense of her situation: "The Republicans were doing it too." True, her reference to former FPPC chairman Ross Johnson, also a double-dipper, was spot on.
But is Ravel acting like one of the "best and most experienced" public servants when she asks to be excused from criticism because Republicans also double-dipped. That's the the kind of sloppy ethical logic teenage kids use to justify staying out past midnight.
Californians might also cringe when they hear that excuse coming from an FPPC commissioner. The FPPC is supposed to be a bi-partisan - and in practice a non-partisan - watchdog of government ethics. The next time Ravel, sitting as the FPPC's chairman, has a case before her that calls for the FPPC to discipline a Democratic elected official - and someone complains that the recommended penalty is just a slap on the wrist - will Ravel's reply be: Well, it's the same punishment we meted out to Republicans? Maybe that's even-handed. But others might call it a cop-out that can justify all sorts of chicanery and nonsense.