By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The most pathetic continuing character in mystery fiction was created by the late, great Georges Simenon. She was Mme. Maigret, the virtually invisible wife of the great Parisian sleuth, Inspector Maigret of the French gendarmerie.
And she was always getting those late phone calls from the great inspector telling her he‘d miss dinner because he had to rush off to catch a suspect.
I thought of the long-suffering and fictional Mme. Maigret and many police spouses when I read the rankles regarding the $232,900 pension granted to the very real Alyce Block, who could probably tell her own stories as to how her husband Sherman Block’s career affected their lives together.
Now that he‘s gone, his widow collects no more than what he would have earned in his retirement -- had he lived to retire. That’s okay with me, but to some, all that money seems too much. The Daily News even front-paged a “public outcry,” which turns out to mean that some guy from Lancaster wrote them a really nasty letter about the matter.
In consequence of all this hoo-hah, the Board of Supervisors moved to raise a “task force” -- that‘s a fleet of destroyers and aircraft carriers to folks in my age bracket -- to vanquish whatever ungodly force was sloshing the county’s treasury into the coffers of greedy county retirees. The members responsible for this latest inquisition -- Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina -- are now patting themselves on the back hard enough to bust their rotator cuffs.
They‘ll stop this outrage, just wait and see!
No, they won’t. And there isn‘t a single employee at County Hall who doesn’t know what bullshit all this is. Just as it was when last the issue rolled around six years ago. When Supervisor Gloria Molina promised “pension spiking” reforms that would save the county hundreds of millions. We‘re still waiting for those savings.
There are, actually, two issues here: The first has to do with how the county got to paying some whopping pensions, and the second with how such pensions can -- very rarely -- carry over to survivors at their full amount when the intended recipient dies on the job. (Let us also remember that the taxpayers don’t pay the lion‘s share of pension expenditures -- that’s what the employees‘ payroll deductions and investment plans are for.)
Like many veteran county employees, Block was enrolled in the notoriously opulent pension “Plan A.” This plan, trumpeted decades ago as a negotiation triumph by the county unions, was meant to lighten the golden years of low-level employees with a pension equal to their slavish career salaries. But then the plan was also (quite lawfully) embraced by the county’s top wage earners and gilded by a court decision that allowed retirees to collect additional benefits -- giving those in the plan pensions larger than their original salaries. Plan A was junked in 1977, but its aftershocks will keep on irking the bean counters until the last of the young hirees to grab its gold ring retire around 2030.
That Block died on the job isn‘t in doubt, but that’s not -- as the supervisors stress -- the same thing as having died in the course of his duties. The 74-year-old Block -- who‘d long been in bad health -- had a stroke and fell in his bathtub or vice versa. Either way, the official nine-member pension board of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association ruled that Block died on the job -- as far as I can determine, becoming the only sheriff to do so in this century. Had he retired the week before and died, Mme. Block would have been eligible only for some $150,000 a year. Now she earns what he would have in retirement. But the idea that inflating on-job death claims is a major factor in county pension outlays is absurd.
Block was well over twice the average age of most sheriff’s employees who die in the county‘s employ -- and the others’ on-job demises are usually far less peaceful than Block‘s.
A better reason that Alyce Block’s widow‘s pension is high is because Block’s salary was high -- nearly $230,000 per year. For the board to bitch about Mme. Block‘s remittance after authorizing myriad automatic boosts to the sheriff’s salary during his almost 17 years in office is pure, morbid opportunism, and probably sexist to boot.
That high salary is a tradition, however. The oldest record I can find of the Los Angeles County sheriff‘s salary is the $5,000 per year offered in the late 1850s, which was close enough to what a typical railroad president made then, and nearly $150,000 in today’s money.
But even so, the job mightn‘t have been your first-choice career move: The L.A. County sheriff was then the sole law west of the Colorado River, north of San Diego and south of Santa Barbara -- for Los Angeles County then included what are now Orange and San Bernardino counties. The risk was higher: No fatal tub falls, but at least two of the 1850s’ sheriffs were gunned down on the job.