Should The Supes Get A Pay Raise?

by Mark Scaramella, April 15, 2009

Of course not.

They got a huge raise less than two years ago. That one boosted their pay from $48,000 to $68,000 a year, three times the average private sector wage in Mendocino County.

But they want more.

Even with the County facing a record-setting budget deficit of at least $8 million, the supervisors, at the behest of their $170,000 a year CEO, last week talked about reviving a nine-member Salary Review Committee whose mission it would be to make another raise publicly palatable.

Fortunately for taxpayers the $170,000 CEO didn't get around to locating the 9 stooges who'd ratify the raise in October of 2007.

Do the Supervisors cite a record of success to justify a raise?

No, not unless you count staff-driven hour reductions and layoffs as success. They muddle from meeting to meeting accomplishing absolutely nothing.

But CEO Tom Mitchell and at least two of the Supervisors — Kendall Smith and David Colfax — are claiming that they deserve a raise on the basis of "fairness" and "equity" — words which were invoked time and time again at last Tuesday's Board meeting.

According to Mitchell, Colfax and Smith, the Supervisors deserve a pay raise of almost $11,000 a year from $68,000 to $79,000 — 16% in cash added to their already overly generous perk package.

The reasoning?

Five other elected Mendocino County officials got cost of living and "below market adjustment" raises last year, so why not the Supervisors? Never mind that these elected officials got their raises from these same Supervisors who now want their pay raised in the name of "fairness" and "equity."

Five people stood up last week during public expression to suggest not that the Supes deserve no raise but, considering the mutinous state of public opinion, it is unwise for wealthy people to ask for more.

County employee Dolly Riley told the board she understood that they "work hard" but "the County is in crisis." Riley said she was a family dependency drug court counselor who, like her fellow employees, was now under a 10% cut in hours; some of her fellow employees had been laid off.

"We can't do the job in that time," said Riley. "Many people in this County are earning under $30,000 a year. I understand the situation [that the Supes allegedly make less than the average of some other counties], but our county is not in the same socio-economic status as other counties. We are public servants." Ms. Riley concluded her remarks with a typically Mendo sign off, "I honor what you do."

Supervisor Smith complimented Ms. Riley on her "good and succinct presentation," then asked Ms. Riley, "Should [our pay] be equitable?"

Riley caved.

"Yes. It should be uniform with other elected officials, but with greater oversight."

Smith rubbed it in.

"I'm glad you think we need to treat all elected officials the same."

This was to become the mantra for the rest of the two hour grasp-fest orchestrated by arch-graspers Smith and Colfax.

Linda McClure, representing County employees even though she retired last month, told the Supervisors, "I understand your wages are below other counties, just like other employees. I understand you work full-time. You have committee assignments. I know you work hard."

In fact, no one knows how hard the Supervisors work. All we have in the way of evidence is Smith and Colfax's constant whining that they do.

McClure also said she was "disappointed" that a salary review committee was not formed two years ago and that this was a "very inopportune time for anyone to get a considerable wage increase. ... A wage increase at this point would affect the morale of the county workforce. They're already sensitive from the last raise. Without a review committee a raise is not recommended."

Smith insisted that the pay review committee, which still lingers undone, specifically factor in the excessive pay of the other County elected officials, and that it note the pay of other NorCal county supervisors with an unwavering eye fixed on "equity."

Richard "One True Green" Johnson told the Supervisors he represented the one-person "voters union." Johnson said that he'd opposed the Supes last pay increase, and compared the Supervisors to the AIG directors who took huge bonuses while running their company into bankruptcy — which, minus a few zeroes, is not a joke.

Employers Council Republican John Graf told the board, "It's interesting that Richard Johnson and I are on the same page. We got over 5,000 signatures in eight days [in opposition to the 2007 pay raise]. We are concerned about the process. The agenda was modified so the public would not recognize the matter you were discussing. One supervisor called us [the key raise opponents] the insignificant group of six. It was not handled in the right manner. This has shades of that. There should be a public hearing, not under a CEO report."

Graf suggested that the Supes get a base pay plus a bonus if they balance their own budget.

An elderly woman named Valentini said, "With the current financial situation, nobody deserves a pay raise. People are leaving because every time you're short of money you do a property tax increase. People have left for Oregon, Washington and Nevada. You are driving people away from Mendocino County."

The Supes do not establish property tax rates, but Mendocino County is not an inexpensive place to live.

CEO Tom Mitchell cited the salary ordinance the Supes passed two years ago just before he was hired, remarking that Supervisor salary has to be revisited (i.e., raised) every two years.

Based on a survey conducted by former Human Resources Director Linda Clouser late last year, Mitchell concluded that the Supervisors were 13% — or $883 per month, or $10,500 per year — underpaid. Clouser's rigged survey included Sonoma County where Supervisors are paid $134k per year. Take SoCo out of the "survey" and the Supes are about average with the other counties.

Mitchell, in full nuzzlebum mode as he lobbied for more money for his bosses, also called the supervisors alleged $10.5k per year pay shortfall an "equity issue."

Why hadn't Mitchell established the salary review fig leaf committee he had been directed to set up when he was hired in October of 2007?

No need, he said. The previous board had given themselves a $20k per year pay hike "appropriately" without one, "so there's no purpose for a review committee. It would be like reviewing what a department head did and reviewing if it was right," added Mitchell, unintentionally revealing his own (non-) management strategy.

"Everybody else enjoys the benefits [of bargaining units], but the Board can only fall behind in arrears," said Mitchell, in a neat triple redundancy. "That's the unfortunate part of the way the system works. It's an equity issue."

Noting "the fiscal shortfall in our budget" as casually as if it were only a few bucks and not an ever greater chasm of millions, Mitchell, for the sake of appearances, recommended that the Supes delay their increase until January 2010. "There would be no increase for 08 and 09 — the board didn't get the raises that they should have received in the interest of fairness," he said. "We should treat the Board equally."

Without so much as a pause to refresh his lip gloss, Mitchell took bum-nuzzling to new heights.

"I've been in this business for 30 years and these are some of the hardest working supervisors I've known in my career," gushed Mitchell. "They're on more committees, they put in more hours... I get emails and phone calls, sometimes at 2am, so I know supervisors are working. The public is well served by their elected officials. Fairness requires we pay our Supes the same as anyone else."

Any supervisor e-mailing at 2am is probably drunk, and so is Mitchell if he's awake to reply to them.

Supervisors Carre Brown, John McCowen and John Pinches seemed to find the pay raise question at this point in the County's budget process hard to swallow.

"Supervisors are not same as others," said McCowen, "for a variety of reasons. We have the authority to set our own pay and benefits. Yes, we are below market rate. But the last time this was discussed there was supposed to be a review committee. That should be respected. It's not the right time to do this."

Brown said she opposed any raise at all at this time, but agreed that a review committee should be formed.

Supervisor John Pinches reminded the group that the October 2007 board meeting had directed the CEO to form a review committee, "but there was no follow up. It's nobody's fault," continued Pinches, letting Mitchell, who was directed to form the committee, off the hook. "It's water under the bridge. I support the motion [to form a committee]. But this is no time to be giving anybody raises." Pinches then reminded his colleagues that he had taken twelve mandatory time off (MTO) days like the rest of the county employees "which is a considerable reduction in my existing salary." (About $3,100 out of $68,000.)

Supervisor Smith reminded Pinches that former Supervisors Mike Delbar and Jim Wattenburger had voted against the raise but took it when it was approved 3-2. Supervisor Pinches then noted, "That's called eating your cake and having it too."

But Smith and Colfax piled it on.

"The CEO did a professional analysis of salary as required," said Smith, confusing Mitchell's spectacular ass-kissing with some vague notion she has of bureaucratic professionalism.

Smith then rambled on about how the Supes are paid less than all the other elected officials in the County.

"Everyone should be the same; that would be equitable," she said. Smith then tried proposing what she said one of her constituents had suggested: giving the Supes their big raise, but then have the Supes give it back. (Thus preserving their lush pensions.)

But Smith and Colfax haven't given back the 5% our other elected officials have so there's not much chance of that. Nor have they reimbursed the County for the money the Grand Jury complained that they had chiseled from the taxpayers on their travel budgets. Smith even billed the taxpayers for pet care.

Supervisor Colfax really comes alive when his personal interest is on the line, and last Tuesday the acquisitive, and only marginally coherent, former pot farmer outdid himself.

"This is awkward because we end up having these kinds of conversations," said Colfax. "When I came on the board the salary was $32k per year. I figured I could manage with that. It turned out I couldn't. I took a few consulting responsibilities, passed them on to my wife... We've had two citizens advisory committees. I remember Mark Scaramella recommending no supervisor salary increases anytime anywhere should get any kind of raise. Others said something should be done and walked away and the Supes stuck their heads in the sand again. We take pretty good care of the five elected officials accountable to the public [sic]. They make twice what we do. I don't know that they work harder than us. We have the unhappy burden of having to vote on our own salary. I'd like to see the other elected officials sit up here and make the case for their $6k raise in the last few years on COLAs and minor adjustments. Actually, more like $12k or $15k. Nobody took notice of it. That was something they bargained for. We have to bargain publicly sounding like a bunch of paupers making our own case and be embarrassed about it and be castigated about it. Mr. Graf says people behaved badly, agendas, etc. But the history has been to allow Supervisors to fall behind. This [$10.5k per year increase] is a relatively minor [sic] adjustment. It's less than other elected officers ($12k) without anyone taking notice of it. Come on people! If you're going to get angry at people, get angry at people who get handed bunches of money on a regular basis and then are not even being called to be accountable for it! You're mad at the wrong people! Equity! That's all. We are the worst paid of comparable supervisors in the group we used to calculate other people in this organization. Guess who out of 1500 employees? Which five didn't get raises everybody else got? Hello suckers! You don't even know where your own self-interest is. You don't even keep up with people making a lot more than you! Then you proceed to allow yourself to be castigated by it. ... If it was me or bozo the clown, [Mr. Graf and Mr. Johnson] wouldn't like what I was saying about salary because they don't like to see government function effectively. 35 hours a week. Wow! Only 35. People say nobody made you run. Well, nobody says we have to humor the cranks. And the so-called public interest people who are not paying attention at all with regard to the structure of salaries in Mendocino County... The Supervisors have to act like adults on this. We make about the salary of the average worker in County government. Somewhere between $60 and $70k. We control our own work hours. If we don't take the CEO suggestion... Look at the amount of guff the Supervisors took on the last round. Now it's two years later. The CEO is just a messenger for Human Resources. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. The other top five elected officials... I don't support the motion [for a review committee]. That's just deferring the pain. It's irresponsible and inconsistent. It just draws more and more attention to five supervisors. We have an opportunity to be evaluated every four years. Is it a major issue? If we're not worth what we're paid, then fire us! Okay? This is an attempt to make the Supes the five scapegoats for the problems of the County. State law makes us responsible. So change the state law. Let's not dilly-dally another year, another song and dance. I think we're being adults. I reject the idea that a public commission is any better. Whatever they come up with, we have to pick. It's just another charade, it's great entertainment. Yes, I'm going on and on, I hope I can bore you out of the room. The Supervisors are the five lowest paid elected officials. Who do you thank? The five of us. Hello suckers!"

Many of the particulars in this Queeg-like rant are simply untrue — department head increases are off, the number of employees is off, department heads have got to bring qualifications and experience to their positions, compensation for Supervisors is much higher than the average employee, getting elected to office is not a guarantee of ever greater compensation. Department head salaries are buried in bargaining agreements that the Supes themselves quietly approved. Etc.

It's true that in 1996 I was appointed to a salary review committee by Supervisor Pinches (before Colfax was on the Board) and I did say that the Supes shouldn't get a pay increase — because they were already compensated well above the average Mendo salary (almost double then) and they got benefits that most Mendolanders could only dream of. As my uncle, the late, great former 5th District Supervisor Joe Scaramella, said: "Being a Supervisor should be done out of a spirit of community service and a give-back of service for one's private financial success, not as a way to make money for oneself."

After another hour of "equity" incantations, the Supes voted to direct CEO Tom 'The Hardest Working Supervisors I've Ever Seen' Mitchell to form a nine-member salary review committee — a Noble Nine — which will bring back a pay recommendation within 90 days.

Colfax wasn't quite finished.

"We need an understanding that this is not just about a bunch of money-grubbing Supervisors. This should not turn into another two or three years of getting further and further behind."

The Supes then retreated to closed session to — surprise! — evaluate CEO Tom "You guys deserve a big raise' Mitchell. On a narrow 3-2 vote, Mitchell kept his job.

Mitchell clearly had Smith and Colfax going in, and it's unlikely the third vote was from Pinches. That leaves McCowen and Brown as the third vote to keep Mitchell on. McCowen has been somewhat critical of Mitchell, but Brown has been the most direct Supervisor pay raise opponent. Could be either one.

* * *

Last Friday, Supervisor John McCowen sent us this note on the subject:

Hi, Everybody, As you know, this item was put on the agenda by the Executive Officer. The Board is required by ordinance to review its compensation in April of every odd numbered year. However, I believe it was premature to do a salary survey, ill-advised to bypass the citizen's committee that had been discussed, and inappropriate to recommend a 13% increase at a time when we have directed staff to re-negotiate salary with the employees. If this item was to be on the agenda at all it should have been as an FYI to the effect that the review called for in the ordinance was due and to ask direction from the Board. Personally, I think we should refer it to a citizen's committee as was discussed previously, but whatever the committee says, we should not take a raise at this time or until such time as the economy and the budget have turned around. Simply having this item on the agenda in the form that it is, even if we unanimously reject a pay increase, will have a negative impact on employee morale and public relations. I am anticipating that a majority of the Board will reject this poorly timed and counterproductive proposal.

—John McCowen

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