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Ex-Vernon official: Cutting my large pension is 'elder abuse'

June 2, 2012 |  8:51 am

Former Vernon city administrator Bruce Malkenhorst.

A former top Vernon city official said he will fight an effort to dramatically slash his public pension.

Bruce Malkenhorst, who had the biggest public pension in California -- paying him $545,000 a year -- will see his yearly benefit drop to about $115,000.

In an interview with the Orange County Register, Malkenhorst said the cut was unfair.

“This is clearly a case of elder abuse,” said Malkenhorst, 77. “I’m from an era where you made as much as you could for as long as you could.”

The actions come after a lengthy audit by the California Public Employees Retirement System, which found Vernon improperly boosted the retirement benefits of nearly two dozen top employees. The agency also ruled that Vernon had erroneously awarded “public safety” pensions to former city administrator Eric T. Fresch and other staff attorneys. The Times first reported on the safety pensions in 2010.

State Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), who has been leading a reform effort in the industrial city, said the CalPERS decision to cut Malkenhorst and Fresch’s pensions was a victory for taxpayers.

“For decades, these grifters scammed the system and today the system finally struck back,” he said.

A Vernon spokesman said Thursday that the city was still reviewing CalPERS' determinations and declined to comment on the possibility of an appeal. Fresch and Malkenhorst could not be reached for comment.

In Malkenhorst’s case, CalPERS concluded that Vernon had failed to substantiate the total pay rate he received. Malkenhorst held as many as 10 different positions during his 29-year tenure in the city government, including city administrator, clerk, finance director and executive director of the Vernon Historic Preservation society. Through those titles, he was able to earn as much as $911,000 in total salary.

CalPERS, however, determined that only Malkenhorst’s pay as city clerk was properly reported for purposes of his pension.

Fresch, will have his pension stripped completely. Fresch, who made as much as $1.6 million in 2008, has yet to formally retire but one expert estimated his pension’s value at about $300,000 a year.


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Photo: Former Vernon city administrator Bruce Malkenhorst. Credit: City of Vernon