Former Atascadero worker violated retirement rules

December 2, 2021

BY JOSH FRIEDMAN

A former local government employee on post-retirement duties for the city of Atascadero is one of five people found to have circumvented the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) rules by acting under the guise of Advising a municipality on drawing a pension. [Tribune]

Every year, CalPERS cites retirees who break a law that restricts employment after they stop working and start receiving a pension. In 2017, the pension system began investigating retirees who were getting consultant jobs with local governments affiliated with CalPERS through the third-party Regional Government Services Authority (RGS).

After a lengthy investigation, CalPERS board members discovered in November that five retirees hired by RGS had violated retirement rules. The five people were asked to repay a total of more than $ 400,000 in retirement benefits.

One of the five retirees, CalPERS retiree Douglas Breeze, was a consultant for the city of Atascadero. Breeze died earlier this year.

In 2007, Breeze retired from Ojai City, where he served as a public works director. In 2014, after Atascadero’s public works director retired, Breeze stepped in and took on some of the duties for that position with the City of North County, an administrative magistrate found.

Although Breeze held senior public works positions, he was hired by RGS to provide consulting services to Atascadero. Breeze was paid at $ 70 an hour for a job with a maximum salary of $ 62.04 an hour, according to CalPERS records.

Since Breeze passed away, his widow may have to make a payment of approximately $ 9,500.

In the largest case among the five people believed to owe CalPERS money, Margaret Souza was hired as the interim financial director for the city of Hughson during a community crisis in 2012. A year later, after new post-retirement CalPERS rules went into effect, he switched to the role of advisor and was hired by RGS but was still working for Hughson. Until 2015, Souza worked one or two days a week as interim finance director.

Hughson paid Souza $ 45 an hour and an estimated $ 100,000 total during her four-year tenure. CalPERS has ordered Souza not to repay the money she made working for Hughson, but rather all of the retirement benefits she earned during that period, totaling more than $ 235,000.

An administrative judge found that RGS served as a conduit through which cities paid workers, suggesting the retirees were indeed white-collar workers.

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