Mark Danaj Cleared After CalPERS Ethics Complaint

Fremont City Manager and former Santa Clara Assistant City Manager Mark Danaj will keep his full CalPERS benefits after an investigation by the pension fund concluded that he was properly enrolled according to agency requirements.

Danaj and the City of Santa Clara were the subjects of a recent ethics complaint filed with CalPERS, according to the Silicon Valley Voice. At the center of the complaint and subsequent probe: Danaj’s 8.5-week stint as assistant city manager of Santa Clara.

Mark Danaj held the part-time position from May 30 until July 25 of this year. He had previously served as city manager for Manhattan Beach.

According to the Voice, the complaint CalPERS received expressed concerns about Danaj’s brief layover in Santa Clara. The pension fund carried out a review to determine whether that stint was a ploy to keep him in the more preferable CalPERS “classic” pension plan.

Public pension benefit calculations changed significantly when the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) went into effect Jan. 2013. The new law was intended to put the brakes on California’s escalating pension costs.

Those employed before 2013 remained under “CalPERS classic,” but new hires were subject to PEPRA. The law defined new employees as those first hired starting in 2013 and those hired after Jan. 1, 2013 “by a different CalPERS employer following a break in service of more than six months.”

Danaj worked for a CalPERS participating agency before 2013: Fremont (2011- 2014). Manhattan Beach, where he worked from 2014 to 2018, is also a participating agency. But without his eight-week engagement as a regular employee by Santa Clara, Danaj’s “classic” pension status for any new public job would have expired on July 3, 2018.

The Voice described Danaj’s employment in Santa Clara as highly “unusual” and questioned his longstanding relationship with the city’s manager and assistant manager. Some media sources have said they don’t recall seeing Danaj at City Hall and “public records contain no description of Danaj’s responsibilities and his hiring can’t be found in Council agendas or consent calendars,” according to the publication.

CalPERS spokeswoman Amy Morgan has since said it looked into the matter and was “not able to substantiate the claim that he didn’t perform any service for the city.”

“We did determine he was enrolled correctly. We did not find any issues,” she said, as quoted by Easy Reader News. She added that questions about his time there, how he got the job, and the pay he received are all beyond the scope of the agency and its investigation.

Those questions are not beyond the scope of Easy Reader’s Mark McDermott, however. In an article published last week, he delves into Danaj’s rocky past and his unbelievably lucky career in public service.

Danaj’s career in municipal government is marked by his intersection with a handful of colleagues who have worked in various combinations in the same California cities, at times hiring each other. There is nothing improper about working side-by-side with colleagues who are known quantities, in government or the private sector. But following Danaj’s career is a bit like watching a modern professional sport, as teammates split up and rejoin each other as municipal free agents. Three of those teammates came together briefly in Santa Clara.

You can read the full article here