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March 1, 2009

DA Robert Kochly, threatening dire public safety consequences if forced to cut staff, was earlier found to be "double dipping."

So, it’s not just Wall Street executives, like those at Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, who have enjoyed lucrative job perks while our national economy sinks into crisis. So have top public sector executives in Contra Costa County. And that includes Robert Kochly, who was much quoted in the past two days saying his office would have to stop prosecuting DUIs, petty thefts, and other misdemeanors if he had to slash his budget by $4.1 million.


Kochly said he would have to lay off 33 attorneys—a third of his staff. “If this is how much of a cut I have to take, I will no longer be able to prosecute misdemeanors — that's firm," Kochly said, according to the Contra Costa Times. "Something has to be done so the whole criminal justice system doesn't disintegrate."


That’s a pretty alarming thing to be saying, and it sure got him lots of attention by news organizations and blogs, like this one.


Yes, I think it would be very unfortunate if our current state budget crisis forced Kochly to lay off so many attorneys. I don’t disagree with some readers who say these attorneys work hard and do important work. I also think it’s unfortunate that the Sheriff’s Department might have to eliminate the jobs of 75 deputies, or that the county had to cut the positions of social service workers who handle elder and child abuse cases. And the list goes on...


Outside of Contra Costa County’s government, school districts in the area are desperately scrambling to deal with state budget cuts and ways to protect the jobs of teachers. Outside the public sector, companies big and small in our area are fighting for survival. The San Francisco Chronicle might close. The rolls of the unemployed are growing, here in the East Bay, in the Bay Area, in the state, around the country.

Mr. Kochly, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in a national emergency. And even though people in your office perform a valuable public service, it doesn’t serve your cause well when you effectively stamp your foot and make headline-grabbing threats. Your statements tell the public that you and your office are hurting the most of everyone and that you and your office provide the most vital services of any government agency.

I would have expected more honorable behavior from our local government leaders right now, at all government levels, and that includes you. It would renew the public's sense of faith in our ability to get through this crisis if our leaders showed a willingness to work together to find solutions that cause the least disruption to public services across the board.

Silly me. Expecting more noble, honorable behavior from our county's top prosecutor, our District Attorney--instead of him and the District Attorney’s Association crying mine, mine, mine.

This is all even more unseemly coming from Kochly, considering this November 2008 Contra Costa Times report that a reader alerted me to.

In this report, columnist Daniel Borenstein revealed the fact that Kochly was one of three elected Contra Costa officials who are “double-dipping.” That is “drawing six-figure retirement checks,” on top of the salaries and health benefits they earn from their elected positions. The others are Sheriff Warren Rupf and Auditor Steven Ybarra.

Borenstein said the practice is legal, but “it shouldn’t be. The large compensations highlight the problems with the state rules that allow the simultaneous payments.”

Kochly earned $239,000 in salary and benefits “last year,” which would be 2007, if Borenstein was writing this in November 2008. That $239,000 doesn’t include his annual pension of $165,000, which he earned from working for the county for much of his professional career and then retiring before seeking the elected office of District Attorney. His DA’s salary, plus his pension, made for a yearly total of at least $404,000.


According to Borenstein, Rupf earned $265,000 in salary and benefits. With $198,000 in annual pension, that brought his yearly earnings to a total of at least $454,000. Auditor Stephen Ybarra earned $208,000 in salary and benefits. Adding in his annual pension, currently about $132,000, that makes for a yearly total of at least $340,000.


Borenstein added: “Once elected to their current positions, they had the option to keep contributing to their pensions like other county employees or start receiving payments. The pensions are based on three factors: years of service, average of the 12 months of the highest salary, and age when the pension payments began.”

Borenstein noted that most retirement plans in the private sector require the worker to terminate employment before drawing a pension. But not in the public sector. Here's Borenstein’s solution, which makes sense to me and probably to a lot of other people: “Public-sector employees, whether or not they are elected officials, should choose between retirement and working. Put another way, pensions should be for people who are really retired.”


So, unless Kochly has stopped his albeit legal double-dipping practices since Borenstein’s column appeared, he might want to tone down his whining. And, as a couple readers suggested, why couldn't he and his top-paid attorneys agree to a temporary pay cut in order to save the jobs of some of their co-workers. Kochly looks like he could afford it.

12 comments:

faithful reader said...

You are a great writer Soccer Mom! Kochley's behavior is so true of so many higher ups.

faithful reader said...

Answer to very last question on your article:

Because they just don't care. Money is their happiness, why sacrifice when they are the one's not being forced to?

Anonymous said...

This practice of "double dipping" is incredibly common at the management level of government; in all agencies from universities to law enforcement. For a few it may be innocent, they retired young then unexpectedly found a new job they really wanted, and were qualified for. But for many more, it's an orchestrated, "public service" con-job; they know they're retiring to a another well-paid government tax-payer job.
What happened to spread the wealth; sacrificing in tough times, and stepping back so new energy and ideas can have a chance?

Soccer Mom said...

Thanks for your comments, and thanks Mom's Exhausted for once again coming to my copyediting aid.

Soccer Mom said...

To Anon 12 p.m.
Yes, I'm aware of other examples of double-dipping. I'm sure if any of us searched stories about University of California and UC Berkeley executives and faculty, you'd find plenty of examples. I believe the "con job" aspect of it might refer to a couple of recently highly publicized cases at UC.
I know someone who gave up an executive's job in the Cal State system to go into the private sector, in an industry that's now threatened. He regrets it, mainly for the life-long pension and perks we're seeing in Kochly's case. And, like many of us, he's seen his 401K shrink to half what it was worth...

Anonymous said...

Its true that there are good, hard working prosecutors in the DA's office, who could have cashed in long ago and gone into private practice, but who have dedicated themselves to going after crooks.
But I agree that these are tough times for everyone. Nonprofits who serve the neediest people are hurting too! We need to come together to find ways to get through this.

Anonymous said...

I have real faith in this blog. Thanks for following up on my comment.

The Rat Pack said...

So now people have to be responsable for themselves instead of depending on the government!

We're OK with that!

And if anyone gives us any trouble we'll be around to break your knee-caps!

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anon 6:34 p.m. March 1:
You're very welcome. It was a very good comment, and one that shed an interesting perspective on this whole issue.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that someone whose annual earnings are in excess of $400,000 has "cashed in." It will be difficult to persuade me to vote for new taxes unless there is a real move to bring state and local employees' salaries and benefits into line with what those in the private sector now receive. Ten or twelve holidays a year, health insurance after retirement, guaranteed pensions??????

The Rat Pack said...

Anon 9:22 We'll be lookin for ya! Whats with the "Bring the salaries more in line?"

Chew mean to reduce the pay of good state "union" jobs?

Hows bout we bring up the pay of the average legal (private sector) worker in this country back to something everyone can live on?

Let's not aim low - Let's aim high!

It's time the workin class gained back some loses. We did it the corporations way and look what it got us. Now it's our turn.

Got a problem with that?

Anonymous said...

I don't see the problem. One works for a company or gov't agency and earns a pension. At some point in time you qualify to collect that pension, and retire from that job. If you still want to work, and are qualified enough to get hired at a 2nd job, then good for you! And if you stay long enough at that 2nd job and earn a 2nd pension, then double good for you!

This isn't "double dipping", this is earning what one one is worth. Your beefs should be with the lawmakers who allowed these generous pension benefits in the first place, not those who take advantage of them.