WITH SUPERVISOR/BOARD CHAIR DAN HAMBURG calling Mendocino County CEO Carmel Angelo “a bargain,” and Supervisor John McCowen saying she deserves a raise because she’s been underpaid for years and she’s got great contacts and she almost single-handedly got some money from the State for the post fire disaster over-excavation reimbursement of upwards of 100 burned out home-owners (which should have been caught a lot sooner if they’d listened to Lee Howard when he first pointed out what was happening, and was the absolute minimum she could do under the circumstances), the Board of Supervisors unanimously (Supervisor Carre Brown wasn’t in attendance but she certainly would have voted Yes too) approved CEO Carmel Angelo’s huge automatic pay raises over the next four years in four steps to $225,000 a year plus equivalently generous perks, followed by a comparably giant pension for the rest of her life.
THE RICHEST MOMENT CAME when Ms. Angelo’s own hand-picked subordinate, County Human Resources Director Heidi Dunham (also generously compensated), introduced her boss’s raise saying that her boss’s salary was “out of market,” and thus much too low. As if there was some chance that Ms. Dunham might have said otherwise — like, “My boss, the CEO who would fire me for the slightest deviation from script here, not only does not deserve a raise, but her salary should be lowered because of all the important things she’s failed to do. And now, I’ll just go ahead and resign and give my old pal Alan Flora in Lake County a call to see if he’s got any openings in their personnel department because, like him, you won’t be hearing from me ever again.”
TWO SUPES said they really really wanted to increase the line employees’ salaries and they were working on it really really hard and trying to expedite the process and, boy oh boy, if you people only knew our budget situation, etc… But of course line employees can’t have a raise until the budget situation is fully, fully explored. Never mind that the budget situation never comes up when top officials are up for big raises. (And believe us, the budget has taken a big hit with all these top official raises lately that the County clearly can’t afford.)
TWO OTHER TOP OFFICIAL RAISES were rubberstamped also without any discussion to speak of: the Public Defender and Assistant Ag Commissioner, neither of whom were even openly named as they got their positions generously upgraded for no reason, no explanation at all.
THE WHOLE SHOW was presided over by a Board with two Supervisors who won’t even be around next year to wonder how the budget got so out of whack. It’s typical of this current Board which has shown itself not fiscally irresponsible, but totally tone deaf to how things look to their employees or their constituents, straining to find random observations to justify big raises for themselves and their pals on an almost weekly basis without a single objective reason or specific goal met or exceeded — just versions of “other people I know are making more than me.”
Human Resources Director Heidi Dunham said her office had conducted a “benchmark study with comparable counties and determined that the CEO is currently 20% out of market.” Ms. Dunham “looked at other contracts for other CEOs and CAOs and looked at their benefits in El Dorado, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma, Yolo and Sutter Counties.” Of course the inclusion of wealthier counties like Napa and Sonoma in the study skews the results in favor of Ms. Angelo.
Ms. Dunham also revealed that the entire presentation was pre-packaged and pre-arranged “per negotiations with the Chair (Lame Duck Supervisor Dan Hamburg) and the CEO.”
So, of course Ms. Angelo was driving her own pay raise bus with the assistance of her own staff and complicity from Board Chair Hamburg who will be gone at the end of this year.
Why did this come up now? CEO Angelo has somehow been scraping along with her $180k salary and big benefit package for the last few years. Did Ms. Angelo just wake up one morning recently and call Supervisor Hamburg? “Dan… I’ve been thinking that it’s about time I had a raise. I haven’t had one in a while, you know, and you owe me.” Or does our all knowing CEO know something that the Board and the rest of us don’t?
Supervisor John McCowen said, “Although it is a lot of money [sic] it actually is justified. Carmel Angelo was hired by the Board in March of 2010 at $30,000 less than her immediate predecessor.”
Angelo’s immediate predecessor was the grossly OVER-paid Tom Mitchell who spent about two years doing essentially nothing before resigning when faced with the likelihood that his contract would not be extended. So that comparison doesn’t wash. Angelo came in voluntarily at that time, agreeing with the $150k pay because the County was facing a budget crisis in the wake of the Great Recession. So now it’s payback time.
After comparing CEO Angelo with former CEO Tom Mitchell’s pay, McCowen continued: “…I'm willing to say that Carmel Angelo has brought significant economic advantages to the county. Just a couple of the recent things — I believe Carmel Angelo along with Supervisor [Carre] Brown was instrumental in securing funding to rebuild the water system in Redwood Valley. Without Carmel Angelo's personal relationships with our state legislative leaders and our state administration officials I don't think we would have gotten that funding. I also don't think we would have gotten the Cal-OES, who did not create the problem, to step up and take responsibility for remediating the over-excavation that I think nearly 100 individuals benefited from. Cal-OES taking that on. Again that would not have happened without Carmel Angelo’s determination and her relationships which he has developed with our legislative and state administrative leaders. Those are just a couple of recent examples. She works really hard at her job. I believe she is very effective at it. If it were only about the money Carmel Angelo would have been gone a long time ago. I do feel like this raise although very significant is frankly a bit of catch-up for in some ways being insulted by being hired at 17% less than her immediate predecessor. And a bit of catch-up for kind of being frozen for many years.”
WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE, without any evidence, that without CEO Angelo and her oh-so valuable “personal relationships” with unnamed state officials, the remediation of very avoidable over-excavation of dozens of burned out home sites would not have occurred? And therefore a big raise is in order? Couldn’t Angelo have at least supplied the Board with a script with a few better reasons than that?
Lame Duck Supervisor Georgeanne Croskey: “I have not been a part of the historical pay for the CEO coming in much later. But I want to say that we are very lucky to have Ms. Angelo as our CEO. Just evidenced by her recent awards. And her tireless efforts over the last year and a half in really putting this county first. It would cost us a lot more than the numbers we have here on paper to replace her with a CEO of similar caliber. It's nice to receive the awards from CSAC and RCRC but I do think some monetary compensation at some point goes a long way to show our appreciation for her hard work and her dedication to this county.”
Lame Duck Supervisor Dan Hamburg: “I concur with my colleagues. I was not here when Carmel was first hired. But the fact that she was hired at significantly below the salary level that she later achieved of $180,000, $30,000 beneath the salary of her predecessor. So as one of my colleagues said, indeed we are playing catch up and when you look at her ability with other counties and cities, Carmel is actually a bargain. If we were to lose her and she went out on the open market she would -- I don't believe she would have any trouble exceeding the salary that we are going to be voting on today. I agree that we are very lucky to have Carmel Angelo working with the county. She is well worth the salary that we are proposing to pay her.
Lame Duck Croskey tried again: “One last comment. I want to make the statement that in no way does us looking at increasing the CEO salary take away from our desire to increase salaries across the board for all employees. I think that is what we as a board would like to do, see an increase in salary, increase in compensation for all the employees. It is a balance. It's hard to do. I think that increasing manager salaries does not in any way take away from us wanting that it be good morale in the county. And I have worked under plenty of substandard supervisors -- not meaning county supervisors, but bosses of mine -- and I think that you need to be able to pay your management well enough to keep that morale up as well so I do think these are important raises for all of our managers as well.”
McCowen wanted another try too: “I think we are all very aware that every justification except for significantly underpaying her to start with, but other than that every justification that we are stating here applies equally to all of our employees. So we do understand that. But the challenge, as supervisor Gjerde said, when we consider raises not just for a handful of people but for hundreds of people we have to be able to figure out how are we going to be able to pay for it on a sustainable basis. No one ever wants to see a repeat of having to take back compensation that has once been offered. So again, I -- I hope that nothing that we say here, um, in support of the CEO increase takes away from, from the knowledge that we understand what your [the employees] situation is and we do want to -- we would love to give everyone a significant raise today. But again, how do we pay for it? I'm not doing a very good job saying this as I thought I was going to say. So thank you.”
ALTHOUGH MCCOWEN mentioned that “we have to be able to figure out how are we going to be able to pay for [raises] on a sustainable basis,” no one even attempted to put the CEO’s newly increased salary and benefits into a budget context.
NOT ONCE were any particular County operational achievements mentioned. The closest McCowen got was that CEO Angelo had a role in getting some Cal-OES reimbursements (which 1: is her job anyway, and 2: probably would have happened anyway), and that she got some water infrastructure funding for Redwood Valley which is nice, especially for the wine industry in Redwood Valley, but not for the County itself.
NO ONE mentioned any specific achievements (other than “achieving” $180k) relating to County operations — no goals met, no improvements made. In one glaring example, Ms. Angelo let Juvenile Hall go for a year at more than three times what other counties pay before Lake County called up and said they didn’t want to pay Mendo’s high daily rates anymore — allowing an ad-hoc Supes committee work on the problem, a little. Instead of offering an real reasons, the Supes simply said that in their opinion CEO Angelo was historically underpaid.
So indeed, why now? We’re pretty sure that answer will become clear when next year’s budget is presented — suspiciously, there have been no budget reports lately even though they were promised in August. There hasn’t even been a regular issuances of those info-free CEO reports with each Board meeting. Are they hiding the extent of the looming budget problem until after they push through all these big management raises? At which time the Board will have to apologize to their “hundreds” of line workers whose raises will become problematic when the budget problem is revealed? By then, CEO Angelo’s raise — along with all the other top officials — raise will have been wired for four automatic yearly increases, no matter what the budget looks like.
IN SPITE OF several specific promises over recent months, there are a number of things that CEO and Board members have raised or requested that the CEO has obviously failed to address or deliver on (some of which we have enumerated here previously).
REMEMBER, this year’s budget was artificially “balanced” by assuming a ridiculously low level of Sheriff’s department overtime and an arbitrary 10% vacancy rate, neither of which are being tracked or monitored — in fact the County is still hiring and recruiting as usual for the same number of people as before the vacancy declaration, including for the high-deficit, failed pot permit program — so the budget will present a significant problem for next year’s Board.
ADD TO THAT the pointed observation by pot advocate Ron Harris last Tuesday — echoing a widespread public perception — that the collapse of the pot economy is having significant ripple effects on businesses all over the County. Harris urged the Supes and the CEO to examine and quantify that impact and adjust the next year or two’s revenue forecasts with that in mind. The response from the CEO and the Board: The usual blank stares.