Pension rules stymie retiree's Modesto Irrigation District candidacy

gstapley@modbee.comJune 3, 2013 

Ted Donham

Ted Donham candidate for Modesto Irrigation District board


    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government

— New pension reform rules could narrow a race this year for the Modesto Irrigation District board.

MID retiree Ted Donham, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Paul Warda four years ago for the District 4 seat, draws an MID pension after 33 years as an employee. With Warda stepping aside in the Nov. 5 election, Donham would like to join at least two other declared candidates hoping to represent northwest Modesto and Salida.

But provisions of California's Public Employee Pension Reform Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, could force Donham to forfeit retirement pay if he's elected.

"I do live on my pension. I have to have it, so it's a little frustrating for me," Donham said Monday.

Intriguingly, MID board member Larry Byrd is in the same boat, except Byrd won office in 2011 and the new rules apply only to those elected after Jan. 1.

"I'm grandfathered in," Byrd said.

The pension reform act is better known for reducing benefits for newly hired government workers, raising retirement ages and barring pension spiking.

Jake Wenger and Jim Mortensen have said they will run for the seat held by Warda, who was appointed in 1994 and elected several times since. The filing period opens July 15.

Also up for grabs are seats held by board members Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild, who respectively represent northeast Modesto and central Modesto. John Mensinger will run for the latter.

Warda received more than twice the number of votes cast for Donham in 2009, and Donham was gracious in defeat. He regularly attends MID board meetings, speaking from time to time from the audience.

Elections this year could capture more attention than in the past because of increased scrutiny of water and electricity rates, proposals to sell water, and accusations of board dysfunction.

Board members are paid $1,000 per month. Donham said he would be willing to give up that pay to retain his pension if elected, and is waiting to hear if that's acceptable to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or (209) 578-2390.

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