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Smash & Grab

Back in 2007 Supervisor Colfax lead the charge to raise the Board of Supervisors pay from an already generous $48,000 per year to $68,000 per year, Colfax justifying the raise.

“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.”

Colfax was right.

When I was on the Citizens Pay Panel that the Supervisors had grudgingly set up in 1998, and even more grudgingly appointed me to sit on it (thanks to Supervisor Pinches), I argued,

“Compensation is not the reason that individuals choose to run for supervisor. The primary motivation for becoming a candidate is ideological. Individuals who run for supervisor are not professionals, require no special skill, training or experience, and are not ‘hired’ competitively, unlike judges and top professional staffers. Nor can supervisors be laid-off, fired, or furloughed like other employees. Most supervisor time is spent in meetings, reading and travel — not in performing specialized tasks. Supervisors have a large administrative structure to turn to for research, analysis, and recommendations. … To properly represent ordinary citizens, the Supervisors should not be paid substantially more than the ordinary citizen. In Mendocino County in 1998 the average individual wage earner takes in about $21.5k without benefits, unless one is a government employee (teachers, public works, social service workers, typically earn more and have a substantial benefits package). The supes already make almost twice the average wage when health insurance is factored in."

”Former Supervisor Joe Scaramella, my uncle, held the view that being a supervisor is a give-back to the community which gave the individual the opportunity to run for public office through financial or other forms of support.

Raising the salary beyond the cost of living would only further separate the supervisors from the economic conditions in which most County residents live.

”Supervisor compensation should not be viewed as a reward for any self-alleged prior accomplishments or vague and the inevitable self-pitying claims of hard work. The compensation should be based on an assessment of fair compensation, recognizing that supervisors, like policemen, building inspectors, or planning department senior staffers and others with potential for corruption and graft, should not be under-compensated to a degree which might tempt an incumbent to supplement his income in order to maintain an ordinary middle-class lifestyle.

“If the Supervisors can give themselves raises as they did in June [of 1998 to $48,000 per year] without even bothering to consult their own sitting pay panel, or the Grand Jury or putting the issue to an advisory vote (as appears to be the law), the entire purpose of the panel is brought into question, and the recommendations become irrelevant, other than as a transparent attempt at political cover for what is clearly unpopular and unjustified.”

* * *

Supervisor Colfax, the prime mover in raising the Supes pay (and we defy you to name one another thing Colfax accomplished in his 12 years in office), said, “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 of the Employers Council] 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… We make about the salary of the average worker in County government. Somewhere between $60 and $70k. We control our own work hours. … 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!”

BOARD MEMBERS base salary today is $68,000 a year plus a generous benefits package some called a Cadillac benefits package. At the moment, all five board members have grudgingly taken a 10% voluntary pay cut which began the year after they imposed a 10% pay cut on their employees, bringing their salaries down to $61,200 per year. But there’s been no comparable reduction in benefits. At that time Supervisors Kendall Smith and David Colfax steadfastly refused to take the same pay cut they had imposed on their employees for budget balancing reasons.

Back in 2009 Supervisor Colfax said, “We waste too damn much time bickering over a crappy salary connected to a not terribly rewarding job. … I don't like having my contribution to workmen's compensation added into the line item about what I get out of this organization. That's not what it's all about at all! It's what I see in my paycheck. It's not terribly, terribly exciting to put it very mildly.”

And Kendall Smith justified not taking a voluntary cut with her typical Smithian blather: “I did a calculation with SEIU's wages as I did with the other elected officials and if I had received the same wages you did over the past four year period as with the average of all the other elected officials and then took a 10% pay I would be looking, making more than I do now. Currently this board of supervisors in a regional equation, which is the best measurement for elected officials in a regional comparative, we are 25% out of market. And I don't think there is any category in the county currently including the attorneys that were I believe before, I mean after the last wage issues that we addressed, I believe they were 20% out, or 25% out of market at the stated salary. So, no, I haven't. I would also like to comment [to a employees union rep at the podium] that I would've liked to have had the offer that you had that I believe your bargaining group did not bring to you for a 30 day period which was a 36 hour [a week] agreement that was in their hands for over 30 days. I would have liked to, I would've, I would have signed on to that in a minute because what it would have meant is that it would have meant instead of a 60 hour week I would have been working 36 hours.”

For this lavish pay (well over two times the average pay for a single working person in Mendocino County) board members primarily attend meetings which are mostly made up of canned presentations from staff, silly self-regarding proclamations, and (lately) ignoring public input. (By their own rules they say they’re not allowed to respond to public comment or questions. Rules they don’t bother to observe when it suits them.) Additionally, given their remarks at meetings, it was clear supervisors Colfax and Smith were unprepared to intelligently discuss the matters before them.

ACCORDING TO the Board of Supervisors Master Calendar there are only 23 Board meetings scheduled for 2015. As recently as 2004 there were 42. By 2007, as pay was going up the number of meetings was down to 36. By 2011 it was down to 33. In 2012 there were 24. And now it’s down to 23, perhaps fewer than that because the budget meetings that used to take three or four days are now nothing more than a boilerplate presentation and a rubberstamp vote.

THE POINT? Only now has law enforcement received part of their 2009 pay cut back, and the rest of County employees are angling for restoration of their pay cut to pre-2009 levels. It probably won’t be long before one of the supervisors proposes that the Board stop taking their “voluntary” 10% pay cut. If they do that with their workload having been cut in half since their last pay raise, it’ll be an even bigger slap in the face than it was when Colfax and Smith refused to take the 10% cut they imposed on everybody else in County government.

CEO Carmel Angelo? The Supes gave her a large pay raise last year to $180k per year, offering no reason for the raise other than she was doing a good job, something most of the other County employees have received no additional compensation for. And need we even mention County Counsel Doug ‘The Midnight Rambler’ Losak who got a big raise to $108k per year this year even though the Sheriff and the District Attorney went so far as to go on record in a public meeting to say he didn’t deserve it?

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