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Members of the City Council will often say they relied on the advice of the professionals within the city administration to educate them on the employees’ retirement system, saying they deferred judgment to the lawyers and the managers when approving the 2002 pension deals.
One former council member, George Stevens, told the consultants from Kroll that someone else was his “go to guy” on pension issues: Ron Saathoff, president of the City Firefighters Local 145 union.
Here’s how the summary of Stevens’ interview reads on this topic:
He said he thought he Saathoff was an “honest individual” and someone upon whom he relied. He relied on Saathoff in part because Saathoff was a fireman and he felt that the police and fire were there for “public protection” and would look out for the public interest.
Mr. Stevens responded that Saathoff “ran things” at the [retirement] Board and was the most vocal person. He said “it’s obvious” that Saathoff “ran things” and that Saathoff met with Council members and told them about the pension system.
Other officials interviewed by audit committee made similar comments, according to the documents that accompanied the Kroll report.
Former City Manager Jack McGrory, who was the head administrator when the 1996 pension benefits-for-underfunding deal was approved, said Saathoff “acted like an expert on a lot of issues and ‘drove’ the [labor negotiation] sessions.” McGrory said that he only supported the 1996 agreement when the underfunding proposal became tied to a benefit increase.
Frederick Pierce, the pension board president who chaired the board when the 2002 deal was struck, said Saathoff was a “tenacious advocate,” according to the interview summary.
Mr. Pierce recalled that Saathoff “loved to stick it to the City,” and so he was not surprised when Saathoff used his “brilliance to get the best proposal for [the retirement system].
Former Assistant City Attorney John Kaheny told Kroll that said he knew of a side deal that Saathoff worked out with the Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring that allowed him to work full time as a union leader, relieving him of his captain duties at the fire station. Saathoff was “one smart cookie” but “went a bridge too far,” Kaheny said.
According to the Kroll documents, Stevens, the former councilman, agreed:
He really thought Saathoff would be truthful. He found out later this was not the case. Mr. Stevens said he should have realized that people change. In this context, Mr. Stevens stated that he made some other mistakes while serving on the Council, including the creation of the Chargers’ ticket guarantee, which caused the City to subsidize the private sector.
Saathoff declined Kroll’s interview request, the report said. He was a frequent topic for the Kroll investigators, as some interview summaries have entire “Ron Saathoff” sections.