FINAL NOTE - Effective December 2, 2016 Mr. Weil retired from the Board of MOFD.
In October 2015, the Orinda Emergency Services Task Force published a public opinion poll asking MOFD Director Fred Weil to offer his resignation from the MOFD Board because of his part in the Board effectively “giving away” $4 million of pension funds to a favored employee.
The summary of the $4 million “giveaway” are as follows: In 2008 Mr. Weil was a member (the last active member) of the MOFD Board which granted retiring Chief Pete Nowicki retroactive contract changes resulting in him receiving $110,000 in additional salary for his last year of employment. In turn, this resulted in his pension being increased by $94,000. Seeing as Mr. Nowicki was only 50 and would likely live for another 30 years and seeing as the additional $94,000 would increase annually with inflation adjusted cost of living increases; it is likely that over Mr. Nowicki’s lifetime the result of the Director’s decision to grant him an extra $110,000 in salary in his final year of employment would eventually cost the District a total of $4 million.
At the time the Board’s action made local and national news. Many in the District believed this to be outrageous as the $110,000 increase was not part of the Chief’s contract but a retroactive change requested by the Chief in the months and days prior to his retirement and granted by the Board.
The reason for the timing of the public opinion poll in late 2015, seven years after the Chief’s retirement, is that the county retirement system (CCCERA) board recently reviewed the decision to convert the $110,000 of additional salary into $94,000 of pension benefits and reversed two thirds of the applicable amount. In the presentation of facts to the CCCERA Board a couple of disclosures were made:
1) At the time the contract revisions were made, the MOFD Board knew that Nowicki was planning to retire. This was not a point of contention at the time. No one on the MOFD Board claimed otherwise.
2) At the time the contract revisions were made, the MOFD Board was fully aware that the salary grants would lead to a substantial increase in pension benefits which would ultimately pay Mr. Nowicki many times the initial $110,000.
This disclosure was never made in public session of the MOFD Board. However, Contra Costa Times columnist Dan Borenstein reported at the time the fact of the retroactive salary adjustments and the impacts on Nowicki’s pension and reported statements by members of the Board. Director Frank Sperling stated: “Did I fully understand the full impact to his pension? I did not fully understand the impact.” Director John Wyro was reported as saying “the directors never saw the calculations of the financial impacts they were approving.” Borenstein’s article (August 9, 2009) stated that “Director Fred Weil (a lawyer) did not respond to telephone and e-mail inquiries.” However, Borenstein reported that “Director Pete Wilson said the board members deliberately made the changes to help Nowicki increase his pension and that the chief presented them with calculations documenting the effect.” None of the other directors ever directly refuted this statement attributed to Wilson and at the 2015 CCCERA hearing Nowicki made the same claim (that he had given the directors all of the facts).
It appears that the Directors knowingly gave Nowicki an additional $110,000 in salary for 2008 which was not in his contract and they knew that this would increase his life-long pension substantially.
Because of these actions by the MOFD Board, the Orinda Emergency Services Task Force believe that the 2008 Board should be reprimanded. To date, no such reprimand by the community has occurred. In 2010 Mr. Wilson retired for health reasons; Mr. Wyro was re-elected for another term with various community leaders endorsing him; and Mr. Sperling ran for another term unopposed. In 2012 Mr. Weil ran unopposed for his third four year term. And so the Task Force published the petition.
The result of the petition was 146 signatures with 19 specific comments ranging from “A significant break in public trust and responsibility” to “bad management is costing and has been costing the people of the Lamorinda area for too long and too much.”
What was Mr. Weil’s response to the petition? As a lawyer, and a very persuasive one, he shifted the discussion (in an article in the Lamorinda Weekly – October 21, 2015) from the topic of the petition (a break in the public trust by those elected to uphold it) to an attack on the head of the Task Force which published the petition, Steve Cohn. Weil called the petition a “malicious smear campaign” and a “personal attack”.
Weil claimed that the attack was the result of Cohn’s objection to Weil’s desire to rebuild MOFD’s Station 43 as opposed to pushing for the construction of a joint station with ConFire which would save the two districts over $1 million each per year. Recently retired long time Director John Wyro called that decision to not form a joint station “his biggest public service frustration” after 17 years on the Board. Cohn’s response to Weil’s claim is that the rejection of a combined station by ConFire and the acquiescence by the MOFD Board is just another example of bad fiscal management by both districts; not a personal attack on Mr. Weil.
145 petition signers in addition to Mr. Cohn seemed to believe that the public trust had, in fact, been violated by Mr. Weil and his 2008 Board comrades. (Brook Mancinelli was elected to the board in November of 2008 and should not be included in the board actions.) There was nothing personal about the petition being directed at Director Weil. Why the Task Force chose Weil and only Weil is that he is the “last man standing”. Wryo, Sperling and Wilson are equally culpable, and the public comments directed at Weil are equally applicable, but they no longer hold public office.