Top Vernon attorneys get generous public safety pensions
Vernon's top city attorneys, already among the highest-paid public employees in the state, have received an unusual pension deal under which they would get the same enhanced benefits as police officers and firefighters.
Typically, the people who receive the higher pensions given to "safety employees" are workers whose jobs put them in harm's way. Attorneys in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, who prosecute major crimes, receive no such pensions. It is rare for city attorneys to get such a benefit, pension experts said.
Among the beneficiaries is Eric T. Fresch, Vernon's former city administrator and city attorney, who was paid $1.65 million by the well-heeled industrial city in 2008 (although only about $340,000 of that sum was counted toward retirement benefits). Fresch now works for Vernon as a $525-an-hour legal consultant.
His classification as a safety employee could raise his annual retirement payout by about 11%, said Marcia Fritz, a pension expert who reviewed Vernon's retirement formulas.
A Vernon official said Fresch was unavailable for comment.
Both the Vernon City Council and CalPERS, the state's public employee pension fund, approved the unusual pension arrangement in 2004, according to documents reviewed by The Times.
Disclosure of the attorneys' generous pensions comes amid growing scrutiny of retirement benefits for highly paid city officials, such as former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo. Rizzo's contract with the small, working-class city called for him to receive more than $1.5 million in annual compensation. Even after he stepped down, experts told The Times he would probably receive $600,000 a year in retirement pay.
Vernon's pension arrangement covers the positions of city attorney, deputy city attorney and assistant city attorney.
-- Sam Allen and Kim Christensen