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Oakdale City Attorney CalPERS Questioned

POSTED August 21, 2012 10:28 p.m.

In 2004, Thomas P. Hallinan accepted a contract with Oakdale officials that effectively made him city attorney and included retirement benefits, as well as other benefits given to all employees of the city’s management and confidential unit. Some in the city have taken issue with that arrangement.

At the heart of the controversy is if Hallinan, who took over for his father who left the position in July 2004 with the same benefits, is lawfully entitled to those benefits by city rules and CalPERS regulations and whether the Oakdale city attorney is effectively a “city employee” or “independent contractor.”

Now, some city officials are asking why with Hallinan’s contract being the focus of closed session agenda items over the last few meetings.

According to documents received by The Leader, the only “contract” for the city attorney position is a 2004 city council resolution appointing Thomas P. Hallinan as city attorney due to the resignation of his father Thomas N. Hallinan on July 1, 2004. As part of the resolution, the council gave the younger Hallinan the same agreement including, “…shall receive the same benefits allowed the Management and Confidential Employees, as set forth in Sections 2.02, 2.03, and 2.04 of the Management and Confidential Employees MOU.”

At a July 2 city council meeting Hallinan confirmed he receives CalPERS retirement benefits from the city of Oakdale.

Hallinan, who also represents the cities of Patterson, Riverbank and Newman as well as the communities of Grayson and Denair, receives $4,464 per month from Oakdale for basic legal services to the city. He also bills the city for additional work on projects involving litigation or large improvements at $150 per hour.

The other cities Hallinan serves do not contribute to Hallinan under CalPERS or provide additional employment benefits to him other than their contracted pay and per hour rate.

“Why is it we’re the only city that contributes to his retirement and other benefits?” asked Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul when contacted. “The prior contract is so vague. ‘Same as my dad.’ What’s up with that?”

CalPERS defines persons contracted to render professional legal service to a city such as city attorney, deputy city attorney, or assistant city attorney to be exempt from PERS retirement benefits in their Notice of Exclusion form. Full time city attorneys, also defined as a “common law employee” usually with cities larger than Oakdale, are eligible for the CalPERS retirement.

Under the terms of Hallinan’s contract agreement, it is doubtful he could be considered a common law employee of Oakdale and would be afoul of CalPERS regulations which have excluded contracted city attorneys from benefits since 1994.

Additionally, if deemed a city employee, Hallinan’s service with other cities would likely clash with city regulations governing outside employment.

In September of last year, Hallinan was among other city employees brought into question regarding possible conflicts of interest of a private consulting company operated by Oakdale Human Resources Analyst Michelle Vinzina-McKinsey, former City Manager Steve Hallam, and then-Police Chief Marty West, who has since retired. The investigation into that matter is being withheld by the city as confidential.

Hallinan, who has a private law practice with the DL White Law Group of Sacramento where he focuses on representation of California cities and special districts, said he thought of himself as “part-time employee of the city.”

He said the CalPERS payment of contracted city attorneys dates back to the 1960s and was phased out over time. He said at one time he also received CalPERS benefits from his service with the City of Riverbank. He anticipated CalPERS to be removed with the current contract negotiation now under way in Oakdale.

Oakdale Interim City Manager Stan Feathers said he has been in the process of negotiating an actual city attorney contract with Hallinan and it is in draft form. He anticipates completion in the near future.

Regardless, Hallinan, 51, became vested with CalPERS for benefits after five years in the system. He is part of the city’s original more profitable PERS tier where he will receive two-and-a-half percent of his salary for every year of service in the system. Currently, with his Oakdale and Riverbank contributions to date, he is eligible to receive between $1,500 and $1,700 monthly as a CalPERS pension if retiring at the eligible age of 55.

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