I originally wrote this in 2007, but it is as relevant today as it was then, if only for a few of us.
After working in public service as a law enforcement officer for over 30 years, I retired from County of Sonoma employment in 2003. In the ensuing 4 years, I’ve not received a cost of living increase in my pension despite the fact that my cost of living has gone up a tad. You know, gasoline costs more, groceries cost more, clothing costs more……Cost of living. Like I said, though, no increase for me. The County of Sonoma uses what is called an “ad hoc” system of granting COLA increases to their retirees—“ad hoc” being defined as “if we feel the urge”. I can only surmise that the urge has not been felt. I recall reading in a separate mailing to not expect a COLA increase for five years, but I digress. What I have received each and every year was an increase in my cost for medical benefits. So, the cost of living goes up and my actual income (after the increase in medical premiums) goes down. Now I’ve been notified of major changes in health benefits for retirees. “Changes” being defined as a massive increase in the retiree’s premiums. So massive that I’ll have to decide whether to eat or have medical coverage for my family. Or get a spanking new job. With benefits. At my age. Another "change" is the utter discontinuance of medical benefits for some dependents.
So far so good, right? Well, except that the County Representatives, at every contract negotiation (and I was involved as a principal in at least 20 years worth), brought up the fact that, while pay raises may not actually meet the cost of living increases (see a pattern here?), county employees (when retired) receive LIFETIME MEDICAL BENEFITS!! True, the emphasis and punctuation are mine, but the essential facts are just the essential facts. The county promised to provide medical benefits for the retirees and their dependents. It was such a draw that it was a major factor in my personal decision to leave employment with the City of Santa Rosa and test for a position with theCounty of Sonoma
Here’s the punch line. I’ve been notified by the county (by a series of mailings in early April, 2007) that the promise is being reneged upon. They made it clear that state law allows the county to provide, or not provide, medical insurance for retirees at their discretion. Their SOLE discretion.
The County representatives claim, essentially, that they’re broke and can’t financially afford to keep their word. So, I guess, the old promise was at best hollow and at worst fraud. In truth, the County has ALWAYS claimed financial destitution when dealing with its employees. They’ve always claimed it, and it’s always been a lie. The county of Sonoma is still in the business of purchasing real estate as a “green belt”, building buildings, and wasting money in unique ways (the cost of designing a new logo for the Human Services Department, for example, was a cool $25,000.00) — on the backs, apparently, of the retired folks.
I thought I’d try to see who’s responsible for what by perusing the County of Sonoma web site at http://sonoma-county.org. The retirement section demurred and laid it off on Risk Management. The Risk Management section talked at length about “wellness” and other happy-speak, but never addressed retiree health care at all. My union was the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association located at http://sclea.org. Their web site does not address the issue in any manner. Not that they care either. I no longer pay dues to them. I’m retired. Gone. I can’t even get them to send me a newsletter.
Contacting the individual members of the Board of Supervisors is useless. Even if they cared, which they do not, they are politicians, and those of us who retired from county law enforcement employment have mostly fled from the area—Sonoma County had turned into something we no longer recognized and the cost of living there outstripped our pensions by quite a margin—we live far and wide—Oregon, Washington, Montana, Ohio, Bakersfield, Chico, Redding…………and are, therefore, no longer “constituents” of the members of the Board Of Supervisors. And, as naturally follows, might as well be dead. If we can’t vote for them, we are invisible.
Most of us were 20 to 30 year employees. That’s a long time in a law enforcement job. We did our duty and held up our end of the bargain. For those decades, when someone pushed 9-1-1 on their phone, we came running to fix things. Not that the public has ever really cared about the well-being of their sworn protectors anyway.
Nevertheless, we did our duty. Every time. Like we agreed. We kept our word.
Promises were made. Hollow promises. Fraudulent promises.
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