- Voice of San Diego - https://www.voiceofsandiego.org -

Ex-SDCERA Head Is Collecting Unemployment

The former head of the county’s $10 billion employee pension fund is now collecting $450 a week in unemployment benefits.

Brian White served as CEO of the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association for the last 18 years before abruptly resigning in March and taking home a $250,000 severance payout [1], worth about a year’s pay.

An unemployment claim notification form [2] obtained from the county shows White submitted a claim for benefits May 10, writing, “I served at the pleasure of the board. The board expressed they no longer had confidence in me.”

White did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Unemployment benefits are calculated based on salary history, but are capped at $450 a week [3]for 26 weeks. That means White will only be eligible for up to $11,700 before taxes, and as little as $7,600 after taxes – or less than two weeks of the compensation he once received from SDCERA.

To be eligible, employees must be out of work by no fault of their own, physically able to work, actively seeking work and ready to accept work, according to the California Employment Development Department [4]. State law does allow for people who were fired to collect unemployment in certain instances.

The unemployment notice was processed by a clerk in the county’s risk management department, who reported to state officials, “Mr. White resigned his position effective 3/31/2015.”

County officials did not contest the benefits.

“It’s outrageous that SDCERA’s former CEO milked the state unemployment system after he unfortunately received a hefty severance package due to a poorly written contract. Shame on him and shame on the state,” said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, a member of the county pension board, in a statement.

“Under the circumstances I don’t have a comment. The actions speak for themselves,” said County Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister, the only other elected official on the board.

“SDCERA’s relationship was mutually severed by both parties approximately six months ago. The issue of unemployment benefits is an issue between Mr. White and the state of California,” SDCERA board Chairman Skip Murphy said in an email. “SDCERA is not a party to the matter and unemployment benefit payments are not paid by SDCERA but rather through a state agency. Any decision to pursue such benefits is solely in the discretion of Mr. White, and I will not speculate or opine as to his decision to do so.”

Vice Chairman Dave Myers and board member Richard Vortmann declined to comment. The remaining four SDCERA board members [5] did not respond to requests for comment.

White’s departure occurred amid a house-cleaning by the board following criticism over the compensation and investment risks [6] taken by the fund’s outsourced chief investment officer, Lee Partridge of Texas firm Salient Partners. White was an ardent Partridge supporter.

The agency has since begun filling its ranks with new faces [7], and recently selected David Wescoe as CEO. Wescoe, who’s credited with reforming the city of San Diego’s pension fund from 2006 to 2009, has been serving as SDCERA’s interim CEO under a $25,000 monthly consultant contract since White’s resignation.

Wescoe will now earn an annual $249,745 salary [8], plus an $8,100 yearly car allowance. He’ll oversee about 80 staff members at the $10 billion retirement fund, which covers 39,000 county employees and retirees.

White isn’t the first six-figure ousted government CEO in the county to obtain unemployment benefits in recent years.

Larry Anderson [9], former CEO of Oceanside’s Tri-City Hospital, fought to get the same benefits and won over a judge at the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The hospital tried to prove Anderson was at fault for his firing, but Anderson said the outcome vindicated him.