10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 31, 2010

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

The politics of pension reform took center stage among Riverside County supervisors Tuesday.

An invitation mailed last week to raise money to oppose the Riverside Sheriff’s Association-backed Measure L on the November ballot included the names and signatures of all five supervisors.

But Supervisors Marion Ashley, Jeff Stone and John Tavaglione said Tuesday they didn’t authorize the use of their names and called language in the mailer derogatory and embarrassing.

“I think the invitation was an embarrassment and a step backward,” Stone said. “To those that received it, I apologize.”

Voters will choose between two competing questions about Riverside County pensions on Nov. 2.

Measure L, backed by the sheriff’s union, would prohibit the Riverside County Board of Supervisors from changing pension benefits without a vote of the electorate and would require the county to keep the current retirement formula for public-safety employees.

It also would safeguard the benefits for family members of officers who die in the line of duty.

Measure M, the competing initiative supervisors placed on the ballot, would require a public vote only to increase pension benefits. It also protects survivor benefits.

Stone, Ashley and Supervisors Bob Buster and John Benoit voted to put Measure M on the ballot and have publicly voiced support for pension reform.

Tavaglione was absent from the vote and said he doesn’t like either measure and hopes both are defeated.

The invitation to the Sept. 16 fundraiser at the Riverside Marriott included the official ballot arguments and signatures against Measure L and in favor of Measure M.

It was sent out by the Michael Williams Co., a Riverside-based fundraiser that works for many of the area’s elected officials. Williams did not return a message seeking comment.

The mailer contained language such as “Fighting Greedy Pensions” and included a short letter with supervisors’ signatures.

“One Measure, L, will lock-in gold-plated pension benefits and will make it nearly impossible for Riverside County to ever reform pension benefits,” it reads. “The second Measure, M, will put an end to public employee pension abuse.”

Tavaglione said he has never used negative campaign language.

“It sickened me,” he said of the mailer.

Tavaglione said several signers of the ballot arguments also receive pensions of more than $100,000 annually, and Buster himself would receive a six-figure retirement if he were to leave the board.

“That is the way the system works,” Tavaglione said.

He said the county has to change the county’s pension system to make it more affordable but must do so by working with labor unions.

Benoit said he worked with Buster to craft language for the invitation.

“I apologize to my colleagues for a tone that perhaps went too far,” he said.

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