Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Former Vernon official fights city and CalPers to keep his $500k annual pension

City of Vernon

Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC

Vernon is a small town in L.A. County with a lot of industry and few residents. Former city manager Bruce Malkenhorst was paid more than $900,000 annually.

The man who became famous for collecting the highest public employee pension in California is now suing his former bosses in the city of Vernon.

Bruce Malkenhorst Sr. retired in 2005 as city manager of the small industrial city with fewer than 100 residents. His final salary was more than $900,000 annually. He was convicted the following year of using city money to pay for personal expenses.

After an audit, CalPers decided last year to cut Malkenhorst's annual payments to $115,000. CalPers said Vernon failed to properly document Malkenhorst's jobs and income to justify the half-million dollar annual payout.

Attorney Steven Berliner, who represents the city, says Malkenhorst is now suing Vernon claiming, "If he doesn't get his entire benefit through CalPers, the city should make up the difference. And that difference is approximately $30,000 a month."

Dan Feldman, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, says Malkenhorst's chances of winning his lawsuit are slim. That's because the city has a higher obligation to follow laws than to fulfill a pension promise.

"If he's relying on the fact that the city said to him, 'Oh, yeah, we're going to give you all this pension money,' unless he can show some statutory requirement that they do so, he's very likely to lose," Feldman said.

Malkenhorst still has an appeal pending in one of two lawsuits against the pension agency. He's also challenging the pension cut in an upcoming CalPers administrative hearing. Until that process is resolved, Malkenhorst can continue to collect his record pension of nearly $46,000 a month.

Amy Norris, spokeswoman for CalPers, said in an email that "CalPERS will seek to collect from Mr. Malkenhorst all overpayments it can recoup pursuant to statute."

 

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