State

Retirement overseer steps down

Tom Watson, the administrator for the Stanislaus County Employees' Retirement Association, has submitted his resignation, saying in a letter that he had made mistakes and caused embarrassment to the retirement board and association members.

Gordon Ford, the chairman of the retirement board, informed board members of Watson's resignation Tuesday. According to the letter of resignation, it would become effective upon the board's acceptance at its June 10 meeting.

In a letter to the board dated Monday, Watson apologized for "my mistakes of judgment, work efforts or lack thereof that have caused the Board of Retirement and StanCERA members embarrassment, displeasure and anger."

His separate letter of resignation said it was for the reasons stated in the written apology.

Watson's sudden move comes during a tumultuous time for the local government employee retirement system, which has suffered from major investment losses in the past 17 months and mistakes made by a previous actuary that threatened a sharp increase in the county's cost burden for next fiscal year.

The retirement association provides pension benefits for retirees of the county, Superior Courts, city of Ceres and five special districts.

"I can't talk or speak to the issue yet," Watson said Tuesday. " ... I'm not prepared to make a statement."

Watson has served as StanCERA's administrator since early 2005. He served for 10 years as county treasurer-tax collector and resigned that elected position to take the job with StanCERA.

Watson came under criticism for advice he recently gave to StanCERA's employer agencies for reducing their retirement benefit costs. His recommendations, including ideas such as putting tighter controls on vacation cash-outs and other perks that serve to boost employee pension benefits, never were approved by the board.

He has a vocal critic in Jim DeMartini, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and a member of the retirement board.

DeMartini has charged that Watson held inappropriate meetings with retiree representatives, dragged his feet on investing certain association funds and refused a request for pension payout information from a watchdog group without permission.

"There has been a lack of communication to the board," DeMartini said Tuesday. "Our last board meeting was on the tense side."

As the administrator, Watson was charged with serving the groups that make up the retirement system, including retirees, employers and active employees.

Some board members defended him.

"I feel Tom has done a good job when it's been difficult for all retirement systems across the country," said Clarence Willmon, a board member chosen by miscellaneous employees. "It is definitely a bad time to go through management changes. We are losing a lot of knowledge with Tom."

Wes Hall, a board member elected by retirees, said he believed Watson was sensitive to DeMartini's criticism and suggested that Watson could be persuaded to reconsider.

"I feel strongly that Tom, over the years, has done an outstanding job," Hall said. "I really think that if Tom knew the majority of the board supports him and has confidence in him that he would stay."

Dennis Nasrawi, a county retiree, said Tuesday that Watson should have taken a stronger stand against recent board decisions to cut certain benefits. "But to be honest, I don't think Tom is the problem," he said.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

    
Supervisors Watch

By unanimous vote, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday:

  • Opted to continue picking up bulky items from people in unincorporated areas at a cost of 55 cents per month for each residence. Since August 2007, crews have hauled 408 tons from 1,485 participants.
  • Agreed to operate a teen pregnancy prevention program at junior high and high schools through July 2011 with $56,200 per year in state money
  • Paid $492,575 to reserve three beds at state psychiatric prisons for the coming year
  • Approved replacing the Sheriff Department's outdated telephone system for $924,700, including five years of vendor support
  • Agreed to pay $2,000 per year for prisoner transport throughout California.
  • Awarded Child Support Services employees Joseph Powers and Ramin Tamraz $1,145 each for saving the department more than $16,000. They came up with a method of extracting and saving data without paying a vendor to convert the information.
  • Received $51,615 from the state for resident physician training
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