Dr. Don Gill, Antioch Unified School District Superintendent administers the oath of office to Antioch’s new mayor, Wade Harper.
Council to reconsider more expensive 3% at 50 pension plan
By James Ott
Antioch’s first African-American Mayor Wade Harper was sworn in during last Tuesday’s special council meeting.
In another first for the city – newcomer Monica Wilson became Antioch’s first female African-American council member as well, when she was sworn in during the same ceremony.
Harper won a decisive victory to become mayor, beating out competitors by garnering over 40 percent of the vote. The runner-up was current council member Gary Agopian who managed to pull in over 32 percent of the mayoral vote.
The council voted for long-time council member Mary Rocha as Mayor Pro-Tem – a position Harper held under former Mayor Jim Davis, since she was the top vote-getter in the council election.
During his speech at the swearing in ceremony, Harper thanked his supporters and his family and went directly to listing some of his plans for Antioch.
“I’ll forego the usual victory lap speech,” Harper said. “We can do the victory lap as a council when we reduce crime and improve economic development in this city.”
The first thing Harper asked for was a Mayor’s office so that he and the council have a place to meet and discuss plans for Antioch.
He also said he plans to create subcommittees to help deal with crime and beautify the city, particularly in well-known crime hot spots such as L Street and A Street and the infamous Sycamore area.
Harper also announced that he would be retiring from his job as a police officer effective January 4. The announcement perhaps lends some weight behind his goal to become “the best mayor in East County” over his upcoming tenure as mayor.
Harper has his work cut out for him. Antioch’s crime has skyrocketed over the last few years as its property values and city revenues have fallen.
Monica Wilson takes her seat on the council, as the rest of the council applauds.
Council will make appointment to fill Harper’s vacant council seat
With Wade Harper elected mayor, his former council seat – with two years left – is now vacant and there is some controversy over how that position is to be filled.
During last Tuesday’s special meeting the council voted three to one to choose the new council member themselves after allowing people to apply for the vacant council seat through an application process. New Mayor Wade Harper and council members Mary Rocha and Monica Wilson voted for the application/selection process to fill the empty council seat. Council member Gary Agopian was the lone dissenter.
This “application process” was selected over two other options that the city could have chosen in order to fill the available council seat.
One of those options would have been to hold a special election to allow Antioch voters to decide who should fill the vacant position. But this option was ultimately rejected by all of the council members because City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said that such a special election could cost the city over $200,000.
The third option considered was to allow Mayor Harper to appoint someone to fill the vacant council seat.
Although this option at first seems undemocratic, in the past Antioch has used this process to fill the vacant seat with the runner-up from the recent election for city council. In this case that person would have been former Mayor Jim Davis, who decided only to run for city council this time around.
In fact, Davis was only narrowly defeated by Monica Wilson and Mary Rocha in what was a very close race for council.
There were two council seats available during the election; the first was won by Mary Rocha who received 24.75 percent of the vote, or 11,795 votes. Wilson won the last remaining council seat with the second most votes, but she did so by getting 11,190 votes to runner-up Jim Davis’s 10,524. The two candidates were separated by just 1.4 percent or 666 votes.
Supporters of this option say that by appointing Davis to the newly vacant council seat, the Mayor and other council members would effectively be appointing someone who was “voted” in by Antioch citizens.
Gary Agopian made it clear that he believed this option to be the most ethical and democratic option available to the council. He said that regardless of the application process, council would still be choosing who they believed should be on the city council rather than Antioch voters, who should be the only ones to select their leaders.
“Government is instituted by the people,” said Agopian. “The people reserve the right to choose their leaders. It is an American tradition that many have fought and died to protect: The right of the people to choose – not a council – the people.”
Agopian said that he would be inclined to support the option to hold a special election so voters could officially elect someone but that the cost would be too great considering the poor financial state of Antioch.
The next most democratic solution, Agopian argued, was to appoint whoever received the third-most votes to the newly available third council seat.
Harper – the only other council member to make comments of any notable length on the subject, – said that he thought a special election was too expensive and so allowing people to apply and then selecting from that pool who council thinks is the best candidate is the preferred, and most democratic option available.
“I believe this is a fair process,” said Harper. “It had its flaws in the past but it can be done better.”
Those interested in applying for the vacant council seat must live in Antioch and be a registered voter.
Applicants must write a statement s to why they should be considered for council and it must not exceed 400 words or exceed three minutes when the statement is read allowed during interviews.
Aspiring council members must also fill out an official application, Conflict of Interest 700 form, (available at city hall), and have a minimum of 20 and maximum of 30 signatures from registered Antioch voters who support their bid for a council seat.
All of these items must be completed and turned in to the city by Thursday, Dec. 13 at 4:30 p.m.
Interviews will be held by the city council on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 6:00 p.m.
Also At the Meeting
The council voted unanimously to consider increasing the retirement plans of future police hires as well as other miscellaneous hires the city might make. The city feels it would be unfair to increase retirement rates for new police but not for other new employees.
Currently, new police hires would receive a 3 percent at age 55 retirement plan.. This means that a police officer could start collecting their pension at age 55 that is equal to 3 percent of their top salary for every year on the job.
If the city votes to make the increase, new police hired will instead be able to start that same collection five years earlier, which will inevitably cost the city more money.
If miscellaneous employees receive an increase as well, they will go from the current two percent at age 55 formula to a new 2.7 percent at age 55 retirement plan, which would also cost the city more money.
Human Resources Director Michelle Fitzer gave a presentation at the council meeting to try and determine how much the new pensions would cost the city, but the answer is a little tricky.
Her best estimate was that the city would be paying roughly 4.4 percent more per new police hire if the city goes with the new 3 percent at 50 formula. That rate, like all CalPERS rates, will go up over time.
Fitzer estimated that if the city were to hire one experienced officer on July 1 of next year it would cost the city about $4,502 more with the old retirement plan versus the proposed 3 percent at 50. The city currently needs 15 officers and expects that number to double over the next month or so.
If the city hires 15 new experienced officers under the proposed pension increase, it will cost the city about $67,530 extra per year. That number will also climb roughly every year.