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BLOG: One Job, Two Checks: Double Dipping in Weho

The city's second-ranking administrator got a paycheck and a pension check for the same job at the same time, and Weho is still paying for both.

On Dec. 31, 2010, Assistant City Manager Joan English retired from her job at West Hollywood City Hall and started collecting her pension as a retired government employee. On the very next workday – January 3, 2011 – West Hollywood's new assistant city manager reported to work. Her name:

Joan English.

The contract that English signed to work as the city's part-time assistant city manager defined her job as a temporary one. But it was also renewed, carrying her through June 30, 2012 as a temp. When that latter date passed, English signed a new contract for temporary employment. Her new temporary employer? You'll never guess. See for yourself: Here's her new employment contract. As this month began, English was no longer the assistant city manager, but now instead works only as the manager of the city's 25th Anniversary Capital Project.

What this means is that for the last year and a half, English collected a pension as West Hollywood's assistant city manager, and also simultaneously collected a paycheck as West Hollywood's assistant city manager. She got paid twice for the same job. She clearly planned to do so, and took her double dip with the agreement of City Manager Paul Arevalo, who had the same job waiting for her the very workday after she left it.

This doubling up on public funds by working while "retired" is common behavior all over California, and Jerry Brown – very much to his credit – wants the legislature to put an end to it. You might consider writing to your state legislators to urge them to stop the double-dipping.

English is a minor leaguer in comparison to some double-dippers, by the way. In April of 2008, the chief of the UC Berkeley Police Department retired, took $2.1 million in pension benefits as a lump sum payment, and went back to work the next day. Four years later, it's still possible to game the system like that.

Someone is sure to argue that post-retirement employment is a way for government administrators to jump back in and help the public, temporarily putting their skills to work now and then when they're in a position to make a difference for their old employers.

But note what didn't happen here. It's not that English retired, and then a while later her old employer realized that they had a task for which her skills would be well-suited. They didn't bring back an old hand for her unique expertise. Rather, they planned and approved a retire-on-Friday, go-back-to-work-on-Monday deal in which she kept on doing the same job with no break in employment. And now her "temporary" post-retirement employment is in its second year.

You'll notice, if you look at the contract I've linked to above, that English is paid $109.34 an hour. That means she can make up to $104,966.40 a year as a temporary employee with part-time duties, in addition to collecting her city-funded pension from CalPERS. And she's on her third contract as a temporary employee.

But earlier contracts required the city to pay English a higher hourly rate: $143.00 per hour, again for up to 960 hours a year. Here's one of those contracts. That's annual pay of up to $137,280.00, in addition to her pension.

I've asked Joan English, by email and voice mail, to discuss her double-dipping deal with me. She didn't respond, but has another chance to do so here. Paul Arevalo also didn't respond to several questions sent by email, but did respond to another email message this week to say that English is staying on as capital projects manager but no longer working as assistant city manager. The city will recruit for that position this summer, he said.

Also, I'm still waiting for public records from CalPERS. I hope to be able to show you English's pension benefits, with documents as evidence, in a few days. But her contracts with the city acknowledge that she has retired and is receiving a CalPERS pension, so only the amount is unknown.

Remember deals like this when the city raises fees and says they need more revenue.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Weho Patch contacted the city for a response. Below is the statement the city released.

At the request of the City of West Hollywood, after retiring from full-time employment, Joan English continued to work on a part-time basis as the Assistant City Manager. Her breadth of experience was desired to oversee the completion of Phase I of the West Hollywood Park Master Plan.

During the course of the year, the City saved more than $125,000 with Joan working in a part-time capacity. Prior to Joan’s initiating the part-time contract, the City consulted with our labor attorney to ensure compliance with both PERS and IRS regulations for temporary workers.

This agreement was effective through June 30, 2012. Ms. English no longer holds the position of Assistant City Manager. However, the City has three vacant positions on the executive management team. Joan will continue to work part-time for the City to help us during this transition period and assist with development agreements and large-scale development projects. The City will begin recruitment for the Assistant City Manager position this summer.

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Chris Bray July 09, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I want one of the city's reflexive defenders to explain to me why it makes sense for the assistant city manager to be a part-time employee, and for the city to choose not to recruit an assistant city manager for more than a year and a half while the position was officially vacant but "temporarily" staffed by a temp. Read the city's description of her job: http://www.weho.org/index.aspx?page=640 "Ms. English currently serves as the Assistant City Manager and her work involves oversight of the day to day operations of the City Additionally, Ms. English is leading the City’s 25th Anniversary Capital Project, the largest capital project in the City’s history." Is it your position, Manny and "scott ferguson," that the "day to day operations of the city" and "the largest capital project in the City’s history" were, together, best overseen by a single part-time temp?
Manny July 09, 2012 at 11:59 PM
No I don't see it that way......The day to day operations and the capital project were overseen by a full time city manager, support staff, city council and a part time assistant city manager. Her role overseeing phase 1 of the West Hollywood Park master plan, considering her 20 years of experience, seems like a manageable task in a part-time capacity.
Chris Bray July 10, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Manny, your comments are becoming an embarrassment. You "don't see it that way," as if it's a viewpoint, an opinion. It's not -- it's fact. The city announced plainly that Joan English is the manager of their capital project, and your response is to say that you don't see her as the manager their capital project. The city said that she was in charge of operations, but you don't see her as having been in charge of operations. "Oh, no, I don't choose to see the sun as a hot ball of gas. In my opinion, it's a giant glowing cupcake." Alan Sokol said that gravity was a social construct, but he was kidding. You've moved beyond self parody.
Manny July 10, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I've never disrespected you in this discussion. Especially since we don't know each other. I'm sorry you choose to be that way with me.
Chris Bray July 10, 2012 at 12:35 AM
For crying out loud, dude.
Rudolf Martin July 10, 2012 at 12:43 AM
manny, i believe that chris was referring to your argument, not to you personally. you've made some good points here though i'm not sure that the status quo can possibly defended with rational argument. but I'm glad you're giving it a shot.
Sheila Lightfoot July 10, 2012 at 01:07 AM
I found a Todd Bianco comment very interesting: “Does that suggest that the ACM position could be handled by a part-time person or that Ms. English was "so good" at the job that she was able to do it with shorter working hours.” I hadn’t considered that. Can a part time employee manage the Assistant City Manager’s responsibilities? I looked at the list of City employees in the new supplemental pages released for the budget and there are no changes in the number of employees under the Executive Team Positions in the 2010 – 2011 timeframe. This leads me to believe the City ran fine with a part time Assistant City Manager. So, why did the position require Joan English to work full time in 2010 if part time was sufficient in 2011? If she had more responsibilities in 2010, who handled them in 2011? Why is the position shown for 2011 as 1 employee instead of 0.50, which would reflect her contracted 20 hours vs. 40 hours per week for a fulltime employee? There are many employee slots listed as fractions. The “Administrative Specialist I” spot, for example, has been listed as 0.75 for the last 5 years, presumably meaning that it is a part time position requiring 75% of the hours of a fulltime employee.
Sheila Lightfoot July 10, 2012 at 01:08 AM
One last question. Since the Assistant City Manager position for 2012 is slated to have a full time employee again - after over a year of being managed part time - why is the City also adding a new, additional position for 2012 of Assistant to the City Manager? Does that mean that Joan English was so efficient that what she managed to do part time in 2011 takes 2 employees to do in 2012? Will she still be working under contract without being listed in one of the employee slots along with those 2 employees? I know it’s a little complicated, but I think I have this right according to the 2012 fiscal year budget.
jimmy palmieri July 10, 2012 at 05:42 AM
MS. ENGLISH, DON'T GO AWAY SAD.......DON'T GO AWAY MAD........JUST GO AWAY... RESPECTFULLY, JIMMY PALMIERI
Richard Maggio July 10, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Jimmy said it well,Joan, just go away and take Fran Solomon with you!
Chris Bray July 10, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I hope and expect this will be my last comment on Joan English's lifestyle enhancement plan: Over the weekend, I emailed city officials to ask them why they had chosen not to recruit a new assistant city manager for more than a year and a half after English's retirement. City Manager Paul Arevalo responded with an email message directing the city's director of public affairs, Helen Goss, to have her office respond on Monday. Goss responded with a message saying that she would work with Tamara White, the city's public information officer, to prepare that response. And then: no response. So I emailed White on Monday evening to ask if she was going to provide the response that the city manager directed her office to provide. Her response was that she only works with credentialed journalists, so I shouldn't contact her again. I assume Tamara White reports for work in clown shoes, but whatever. The bottom line is that the city structured the departure of its second-highest administrator in a way that put an extra $120,000 into her pocket, meanwhile leaving its capital projects and daily operations overseen by a part-time temp. They have not still explained why they made that choice, and I gather at this point that they have decided not to explain. In the face of that refusal to explain, I assert the simplest explanation as the most likely: Joan English got a six-figure going away present from the City of West Hollywood.
Chloe Ross July 10, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Somewhere there is an answer to your inquiry- at either state or county level. Even the civil service union may have a position on this matter. Don't you think when any public entity - like a city government - stonewalls in the way in which you have been stonnewalled there is something not kosher and to admit this is detrimental to the officials in charge? Thou shalt cover thine ass is one cornerstone of politics. This bothers me because it simply doesn't have a ring of truth to it. Now that you have opened the discussion - maybe someone will come up with the truth and share it.
Rudolf Martin July 11, 2012 at 06:15 AM
this sort of arrogance in responding to a legitimate question does not reflect well on the city. it is ironic that tamara white, whose title is 'public information officer' does either not seem to be fit for that task or has been ordered not to respond in regards to this inquiry. the attempt to cover-up embarrassing information often draws more attention to the issue. maybe the highly credentialed james mills would be kind enough to ask the same question? since the city now seems keen on getting journalists to cover this story maybe some of us can help them get more exposure. In today's news San Bernardino is about to declare bankruptcy. Luxurious retirement benefits for city employees may have to be slashed. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-bankruptcy-20120628,0,6615646.story
Chloe Ross July 11, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Rudolph - I read the story just now. It speaks for itself and is saddening and seems to be the more rather than the less when it comes to financial pictures of municipalities, states, counties - the world in general. The public info officer was not a graduate of the Acme School of Career Diplomacy and having been in the public info business I can tell you that her answer could have been couched in much pleasanter terms. Which gets back to the old saw: A public office is a public trust". When did that change and why are we across the planet so willing to go along with rhetoric custom made to spin like a top?
Sheila Lightfoot July 11, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Well, Chris, once again a citizen gets a back handed slap from City Hall. What a surprise, huh? This is exactly the kind of obnoxious, arrogant attitude that flows from the top down. Does anyone think for one minute that Ms. White is stonewalling a citizen in contradiction to the direction of her superiors? Helen Goss, the department director, presumably knows that Tamar White is the individual in “her” department who handles media relations, and, she presumably knows what restrictions she set for Ms. White’s “relations.” Helen Goss purposely led you into that dead end. That’s how our unaccountable City Hall stays unaccountable… passing citizens along until they reach the inevitable dead end where there is no one left to be held accountable. By the way, that department isn’t called the “Press Information” Department; it’s called the “Public Information” Department. And, Tamara White’s title isn’t “Press Information Officer,” it’s “Public Information Officer.” http://www.weho.org/index.aspx?page=283 I’m sending your comment to Council member D’Amico. He’s the only one who seems in anyway interested in the public’s right to know what goes on at City Hall. Let’s see if he asks and if Ms. Goss or Ms. White answer. I wonder if he needs press credentials?
Chris Bray July 11, 2012 at 06:22 PM
"Helen Goss purposely led you into that dead end." Yep.
Chloe Ross July 11, 2012 at 06:29 PM
What exactly are "press credentials"? Those little signs tucked into the hatband of a fedora? Check stubs from your publisher or magazine. Photocopied articles you have been paid to write? Not every writer has a degree in Journalism. I have a really good bud who was a Time Life cover photographer for decades - he didn't have a HS diploma. So what is she referring to - I may have them and will be happy to call.
GoodGriefCharlieBrown July 11, 2012 at 07:37 PM
It is really a sad commentary when the taxpayer paid employees of such a small city can impose such a snow job on the people who simply ask for honesty & truth from them on a matter that is easily understood when properly explained. They are having a harder time to sweep their dirt under the rug as the pile gets bigger. This little city government is seriously infested with internal corruption, truth twisting, deceit & devious people. Helen Goss is another lifer who has been around too long, over paid & underworked, spoon fed by the likes of Heilman to repeat & support his propaganda Goss seems to have developed the snide, condescending "who are you?" attitude that accompanies any attempt to communicate with the servants at city hall. I think she is one of the original bad seeds that has grown to help consume the weed patch. It is a very sad statement indeed that this situation has occurred in this once personal & neighborhood government and everyone top to bottom is complicit in the schemes to hide their devious schemes & avoid responsibility to the people. This situation is just another one in the people's city hall that should get blood boiling. If people are alive & awake, they will start the process of cleaning up this corrupt mess in the next election.
jimmy palmieri July 12, 2012 at 06:40 PM
James Mills, You have press credentials. Please request an answer.
Rudolf Martin July 12, 2012 at 06:54 PM
yes, it would be a shame to let the creative city off that easily. they can do better than this.
Chris Bray July 12, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I had a good conversation with Jeff Prang on Wednesday that I thought helped to make sense of what the city is doing with regard to the assistant city manager position. I think they have some reasonable explanations, and I hope they'll bother to offer them. It's fascinating that they have to be pushed to do it. This is not a city government that explains itself well, or that appears to value the job of explaining itself to people outside of city hall. A first step would be to develop a smarter and sharper public affairs staff.
jimmy palmieri July 12, 2012 at 07:09 PM
well chris you wrote the blog, and you say there are answers. how about sharing them.
Chris Bray July 12, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I want the city to step up and do its job. I asked for two weeks without getting a good answer from staff, before Jeff Prang intervened and did a job city staff should have been able to do. They have a professional public affairs staff that sits in city hall forty hours a week. They can type up a blog comment. If they can't be bothered, I don't feel the need to speak for them.
Rudolf Martin July 12, 2012 at 07:46 PM
In San Bernardino residents were repeatedly being told that the city budget was 'in the black.' their city attorney Jim Penman claims former city staff falsified past budget documents going back 15 years to make it appear that San Bernardino was in the black when it was running deficits. He declined to elaborate when asked by reporters. Mayor Patrick Morris described the city’s situation as in ‘free fall’ and blames the budget crisis on 1) soaring salary and benefit obligations, 2) plunging property tax returns and 3) the loss of an estimated $30 million in state redevelopment funds. We do share points 1 and 3 with San Bernardino, so scrutinizing of the city's spending by residents should not be treated as a nuisance by City Hall. They are still talking about building the $16 million dollar robo-parking facility for City Hall employees although there are no more state redevelopment funds and a new plan to move City Hall to San Vincente is in the works. This is was insanity looks like. The Oversight Board of the Successor Agency (featuring our City Manager who amazingly is part of both entities!) will meet on Thursday July 26th at 2pm in Plummer Park. The meeting is all about the bond monies from the State and open to the public but seemingly scheduled to ensure minimal public participation. I would encourage anyone who can make it to attend this meeting.
Sheila Lightfoot July 12, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Rudolph, I ready that article on San Bernardino… at the very least, lessons to be heeded. We may also share point 2. Although our property values are still high, they have fallen tremendously since the height of the housing boom – I’ll bet a lot of assessments have gone down since then as well as new assessments reflecting current sales prices that are still lower. We’ve had more foreclosures in WeHo than one might think. It makes the braggadocio about our City’s magnificent fiscal condition and use of that as the reasoning for not “needing to” more closely scrutinize our current expenditures seem even more cavalier on the part of our City Manager and Council members. I’m making plans to attend that Oversight Board Meeting.
Chloe Ross July 12, 2012 at 10:13 PM
I drove past the Aaron Bros parking building at about 1:45 today. It was not full. It was not half full. It had some cars in it. I also noticed vis a vis code and exceptions - there is also a sit down burger restaurant a door or two away from Laurel Hardware. No clue.Parking?
Riley July 12, 2012 at 11:40 PM
My question is, why can the citizens NOT get a straight answer? Is it a) They do not want us to have the information b) they do not know the answer c) they do not want us to have the answer or d) all of the above.
Riley July 12, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Maybe this is partly true in all corporation i.e. small town contract cities... In a survey of 500 senior executives in the United States and the UK, 26 percent of respondents said they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace, while 24 percent said they believed financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful. Sixteen percent of respondents said they would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to Labaton Sucharow. And 30 percent said their compensation plans created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.
GoodGriefCharlieBrown July 13, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Finally an intelligent question with some substance. With all the meaningless back-and-forth, a question that asks for accountability is finally asked. WHO is hiding public information from the public? WHY? WHAT are they hiding? WHO are they accountable to besides themselves? WHO in city hall is being called out by name to face the public and do their job by explaining to the people how their business is being done? WHY does a member of the public need a press pass or media credentials to get a simple question answered by the people who work fo them? WHO do these city employees think they are and WHAT gives them immunity from public accountability? WHO is ultimatley answerable to the people if not the city council? WHY do people go to city council meetings and to speak & say nothing? WHY does not someone with some gumption demand answers from the city council instead of driving around reviewing parking lots & wondering who has a friend in the media who might qualify to get an answer to a question from city hall? No wonder this city council & city staff are running roughshod over those who claim to be city "leaders", who ask questions of the city council and get treated like dirt on their shoes, and leave with their tail between their legs? WHO will ask some meaningful questions in the upcoming campaign and stand their ground for answers? WHO will be the next of the mess on this council & in city hall to go?
Stephanie July 13, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Well, HOPEFULLY, GoodGriefCharlieBrown, that person standing up and speaking, will be Y-O-U. Collect your gumption and come to the City Council meeting this Mon., July 16, 6:30pm. Many people would love to hear from you live and in person as you have made some salient comments on this blog. So, will YOU be the one to stand up for us and leave with your tail wagging? I hope so. I hope you will not shirk your responsibility as a citizen to get involved on an active basis instead of just sniping from your computer. There has been a NEED to "review parking lots" as you put it. Why? Because the City is telling us we "need" more parking; over 10 million dollars worth at Plummer Park, even though the lots are rarely full, and 18 million dollars worth of parking behind City Hall even though they are spending $212,000 to study moving City Hall to San Vicente and the Kings Rd. lot is rarely full. When you do get up, be sure and have your facts ready, because they will call you out on it if you do not. I look forward to you taking a stand, "speaking and saying something" and "demanding answers." When you do, I, along with many others, will stand up and cheer for you. I look forward to it.

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