Information related to two contracts awarded by the Board of Trustees’ for the San Bernardino County Employees’ Association (SBCERA) is raising red flags as to why the contracts were awarded, and what was the motivation behind the expenditures.

A well-placed reliable source within the retirement board says the contracts awarded to Orange County-based Delta Partners, LLC and the Sacramento office of lobbying firm Platinum Advisors were of questionable need and ushered through at the behest of former Treasurer-Tax Collector Richard Larsen. Larsen was a statutory member of the pension fund board during his entire tenure as the county’s elected Treasurer.

Delta Partners, LLC is owned by political consultant David Ellis. Platinum Advisors, owned by Darius Anderson, is the employing firm of former State Assemblyman Brett J. Granlund.

Another firm of Anderson’s, Gold Bridge Capital is under scrutiny by the California and New York Attorney’s General in connection with an investigation into the use of so-called “Placement Agents”. Placement agents are individuals and firms who are paid by investment funds to act as middle men who then use their political ties to secure pension assets for various investment funds. In-turn the placement agents receive handsome fees for their services, usually in the millions of dollars.

It is unknown at this time whether or not Gold Bridge has had dealings with SBCERA.

Both Ellis and Granlund have close ties to Larsen and San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos going back more than a decade. Ellis was Larsen’s paid political consultant, and is also currently employed in the same capacity by Ramos.

The Delta Partners contract was awarded in 2007 and Platinum’s contract commenced in 2008.

Interestingly, Delta Partners was being paid $60,000.00 per year for increasing the visibility of the SBCERA within the investment community and public.

In other words, drafting press releases.

The website for SBCERA indicates five press releases were issued in 2007, two in 2008, and three in 2009.

Prior to the emergence of Delta Partners, SBCERA already produced a high quality quarterly communications newsletter to members that hasn’t been significantly modified.

Information released yesterday to InlandPolitics by SBCERA indicates the Delta Partners contract scope was amended on February 4, 2010 to pay Delta Partners to represent the SBCERA Board of Directors in among other things “legislative advocacy”, a scope of work assigned to Platinum Advisors. State records also indicate Delta Partners is not currently a registered lobbyist in California. The lack of registration would indicate Delta can only advocate at the local agency or municipal level.

Other duties assigned to Delta Partners include “create and participate in the implementation of marketing strategy for OPEB trust, including strategic partnerships, product branding, focus groups, survey research, market research, collateral material development, media development, and crisis media management.”

OPEB stands for “Other Post Employment Benefits”. OPEB benefits are commonly health benefits guaranteed to public retirees that in most cases haven’t been fully-funded by the employing government agency. Apparently, SBCERA obtained legislative approval to setup a separate trust fund in the hopes of going out and marketing itself as an investment manager of OPEB designated funds to other municipalities, even though nearly all California cities, counties and agencies are members of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

SBCERA has no OPEB obligations since none of its members is guaranteed any post-retirement medical or dental benefit. So the legislation or the creation of the fund did not serve SBCERA participants, unles the County of San Bernardino plans on granting retiree health benefits anytme soon.

According to records on file with the Secretary of State, Platinum was paid $71,571.78 in 2008, and $74,000.00 in 2009, for lobbying activities related to various pieces of legislation.

However, SBCERA is also a dues paying member of the State Association of County Retirement Systems (SACRS).

SACRS, is the legislative arm of the state’s twenty independent county employee retirement systems.

Of interest, official state records also show that in 2009, SACRS employed the lobbying firm Strategic Local Government Services, LLC and later in the year changed to Edelstein, Gilbet, Robson & Smith.

In 2009, Strategic Local Government Service was paid $94,142.75 and Edelstein, Gilbert, Robson & Smith was also paid $3,500.00 by SACRS.

Why the SBCERA local lobbying contract with Platinum Advisors?

The only other retirement system in the state other than CalPERS and California State Teachers’s Retirement System (CalSTRS) found to be employing it’s own lobbying firm was Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA), the largest county system in the state.

Why the public relations contract with Delta Partners, LLC?

Does SBCERA really need to spend plan money on lobbyists, when funds used to pay the general subsidy are being depleted?

Are the contracts more sweetheart deals?

Were the contracts in question put out for bid or sole sourced?