With retirement benefits sure to be a hot-button issue again this year, here’s some information about the system that might be of interest: lists showing the erstwhile city workers and elected officials who receive the largest annual payments.

A list of 100 people who drew the largest retirement payments includes figures involved with the pension scandal, such as former Deputy City Manager Patricia Frazier. Of all city employees, Frazier received the largest retirement allowance — $165,870 — last year. She’s among the ex-employees facing civil securities fraud charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Frazier is one of 86 former employees who received $100,000 or more in retirement payments last year, according to the data. Second on the list is former personnel director Richard Snapper, who received $164,962 last year.

The documents, provided by an anonymous source with access to pension figures, also includes a list of the payouts that elected officials received in 2008. Tops on that list are two officials who were embroiled in the pension scandal, ex-City Attorney Casey Gwinn, who received $94,988 in pension payments last year, and former Mayor Dick Murphy, who received $52,441.

A quick note on those numbers: The figures listed for the top 100 employees don’t include money from a legal settlement or from an annual payout known as the 13th check, which would tack on a relatively minor amount for the officials who made it on this list. However, the payouts for elected officials do include the 13th check and settlement payments. So they’re not an apples-to-apples comparison, though they are close. The figures on both lists don’t include retiree health care.

Also included in this packet are the largest account balances that have accrued under the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, which Mayor Jerry Sanders and ex-City Attorney Mike Aguirre have tried to eliminate. The program allows employees who are nearing retirement to earn a monthly pension payment while they are still working that accrues in accounts controlled by the pension system at a guaranteed rate, which was recently lowered to 7.75 percent. (My colleague David Washburn explained the program more fully in this November story.)

The data shows the 20 largest DROP account balances since the program was put in place in 1997. Five of the accounts have topped $1 million, including Snapper’s. Those figures reflect the high-water marks of those accounts, not their current balance.

Earlier today, Sanders cited the DROP program as an example of the need for pension reform when speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Urban League Institute of San Diego/Tijuana. Councilwoman Donna Frye has also tried to introduce an ordinance requiring the program to be cost-neutral to the city.

You can read the documents here, and charts illustrating the findings are below:

I admit that I had limited time to peruse the lists, so if you find something interesting, please shoot me an e-mail at rani.gupta@voiceofsandiego.org.


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