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How the Road to Bell Was Paved by William Voegeli, City Journal Autumn 2010

Stashed in: California, Economics

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For evidence of the racket, look to the documented cases of battered-taxpayer syndrome on the rise in places far from Bell. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, whose website declares that it has “one, constant focus—putting children at the center of education,” sued the city’s school district this year, demanding that it make erectile-dysfunction drugs like Viagra available through the teachers’ health insurance. The school board estimates that complying with the demand would cost as much as hiring a dozen entry-level teachers.

In Illinois, local officials are virtuosos in the art of “pension spiking.” The Chicago Tribune reports that the 55-year-old administrator of Bellwood, a predominantly black, working-class suburb just outside Chicago, retired this year with a pension of $252,689—based on a salary of $472,255 in 2009, boosted from $168,593 in 2005. In his final year of employment, this frantic go-getter was paid under ten different job titles. At the same time, one of the state’s most affluent cities, Highland Park, paid three park officials bonuses worth almost $700,000 as they got ready to retire. One 58-year-old official will receive a pension of $166,000—more than he ever made as an executive with the parks district until his final months on the job.

Back in California, the struggles of two public-administration students interning with a city council candidate in Orange County suggest the existence of related abuses in the state, less extreme but more common than Bell’s. According to Fred Smoller, the Brandman University professor directing the students’ program, it took them “nearly four months and hundreds of hours of work” to complete what should have been a simple project: gathering data on how much local city managers were paid. “While several cities cooperated, many others gave the students the runaround,” says Smoller. “Two cities charged for access to this information. Two others said that the public was not entitled to know the details of city-official compensation packages.” Several local officials, according to Smoller and the city council candidate, threatened the professor and his students, saying that publicizing the salary information would be a bad career move.

I don't even know where to begin. This is outrageous. 

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