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Villaraigosa blocks L.A. official from taking top pension post

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

In the latest sign of friction between Los Angeles City Hall and its pension systems, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday blocked a high-level city official from becoming the newest head of the city’s public safety retirement fund.

The nine-member Fire and Police Pensions board, which oversees a $14.2-billion system that delivers benefits to retired officers and firefighters, selected William Raggio as the system’s newest executive director last month. But on Friday, with the City Council scheduled to confirm Raggio’s nomination, the mayor forwarded a letter saying he had used his authority to “disapprove” the new hire and wanted a new pool of candidates.

“Given the increasingly significant responsibilities of this position … I believe a more thorough and extensive search should be conducted,” he wrote.

L.A.’s pension costs have been steadily growing in recent years, taking up a larger share of the budget that pays for basic services. With that financial crisis as a backdrop, Villaraigosa has repeatedly attempted to intervene in decisions at two city pension boards.

Last fall, he tried to persuade the city’s civilian pension board to delay a plan to lower its long-term investment return projections -- a step being taken by retirement systems across the country. He removed the president of that board -- a woman he himself appointed -- after she informed the mayor’s office that she could not ignore an actuary’s conclusion that the retirement system could no longer expect a yearly 8% return on its investment.

Fire and Police Pensions board member George Aliano, a retired police officer, said his agency had already conducted a nationwide search, with five of Villaraigosa’s appointees voting for Raggio, who had been an assistant general manager of the system before being named interim general manager last month. The board made its selection after the candidates were identified by the city’s own Personnel Department -- whose general manager reports to Villaraigosa.

“It’s odd that [Villaraigosa] would go against a unanimous vote after a process that was handled by his own Personnel Department,” Aliano said. “What information does he have that this is not the right selection? It was pretty obvious that this is the guy” for the job.

The Fire and Police Pensions board has five members who are selected by Villaraigosa. The other four represent police officers and firefighters.

Raggio would not discuss Villaraigosa’s decision. He said he met with the mayor’s high-level staff on May 8, after the board voted to select him. He would not discuss the conversation that occurred during that meeting.

Villaraigosa has been pushing for an increase in the retirement age of civilian city employees to 67. He has threatened to take that proposal to the ballot if the City Council declines to act.

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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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