By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Shirlee Zane and David Rabbitt are set to take part in a public forum Thursday focused on the rising cost of pensions for government workers.
Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, is also scheduled to participate in the event, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa.
Four other panelists will represent business, organized labor, taxpayer and pension overhaul interests.
Both Zane and Allen are up for re-election this year, and the event has prompted some grumbling from opponents who say its timing appears to be politically motivated.
Zane’s opponent in her re-election bid, former Rohnert Park Councilman Tim Smith, called the forum an “exercise in political cover.”
Smith has made pension reform a priority issue in his campaign, taking aim at county overhaul efforts that he says have shown few if any results.
“I’m glad this is being discussed, but I’m tired of this only being discussed,” Smith said.
Zane and Allen have enjoyed strong backing from public sector unions and have been active on committees studying options for pension reform, Zane at the county level and Allen at the state level.
Zane said the forum was an outgrowth of the county’s work on the issue, including a package of proposed benefit and pension system changes she has defended in the past. Rabbitt is set to discuss that overhaul plan Thursday.
Zane disputed claims that election-year politics figured in the forum’s timing, saying it had been planned, if not scheduled, since last fall.
“It’s not a campaign event,” she said. “It’s an educational forum given the fact there is so much interest on this issue.”
Staff aides for Zane and Rabbitt helped organize the forum. Comcast is covering a discounted $150 building rental fee.
Attendance is limited to 300, and written questions from the audience will be considered for a question-and-answer period after a round of 10-minute presentations from each of the panelists.
Zane is set to moderate the discussion.
The other four panelists are Jack Atkins, president of Sonoma County Taxpayers Association; Sonoma State University Economics professor Robert Eyler; Cynthia Murray, a former Marin County supervisor and head of the North Bay Leadership Council; and Bill Steck, former director of Service Employees International Union Local 1021.