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Supervisors Pay Panel Wraps Up

Do they deserve more money? Should it be put to a vote? Does the law say only the Grand Jury has the authority to raise the pay of the five-person Mendocino County Board of Supervisors?

The Supes presently make $33,656 per year, having given themselves a 4% raise without much notice on June 2, 1998. They also enjoy additional perks such as travel and per diem road stipends, and the same no-deductible health insurance coverage all full-time County employees get. Since no one in government could or would estimate the value of the insurance package apparently because its value varies according to the size of the individual public employee’s family, all we can say is that it is probably worth about the same as the benefits packages enjoyed by public workers laboring in neighboring counties — between $2,600/year to $6,150/year, which brings total compensation to each supervisor at least up to roughly double the income of the typical employed resident of Mendocino County.

The pay panel was denounced immediately in this newspaper as an oblique means of increasing Supes’ pay without their suffering the political fallout from doing it and was the creation of outgoing 5th District Supervisor Charles Peterson. Peterson, and his likely replacement, David Colfax, both of whom seem to possess a faith in their own abilities unshared by the wider public, think the Supervisors should get $64,000 per year, which translates to a $150,000 budget hit, and which, given that there was only a couple hundred thousand in discretionary budget surplus this year (and who knows how much next year) would take a lot of money out of the Supervisors’ discretionary allocations. These discretionary allocations keep a lot of local do-gooder groups happy.

After agreeing that the job is full time and that no aides are appropriate. The Pay Panel’s recommendations ranged from NO MORE up to $50,000/year.

Here are the substantive portions of the recommendations offered by the six individual panel members:

Robert Armanino (of the Savings Bank of Mendocino County): $39,000 per year. “I believe the job is worth closer to $60,000+per year, but we agreed we could not pay supervisors a competitive salary. A 15% increase would only take us to $37,201 which I do not think is enough. $39,000 is a fair compromise. … One of the biggest changes is the regionalization of the position, i.e., the need to not only sit on county committees but regional committees meeting many or most times outside the County. I believe this alone has added a tremendous burden of both time and energy to the job.”

Ernie Banker (former 4th District Supe, realtor): “I have given a lot of thought to the question of County Supervisor salaries. I don’t think we have given enough consideration to the effect such a raise might have on other demands by County employees. It seems to me that a substantial raise would bring about a domino effect, causing difficult budget problems. An increase to $40,000, as previously suggested by me, on reflection seems to be excessive, and as a consequence I have a new suggestion. I now think that a 15-20% raise would be more readily accepted by all concerned. Actually a 17.5% raise would bring about my revised recommendation of $38,000. I also suggest that supervisor salaries be addressed on a more regular basis.”

Jim Hay (President of Coast Chamber of Commerce, Fort Bragg): “The job is now full time. The Supervisors’ responsibilities have increased tremendously. They are now, more than ever, required to do a great deal of study and investigation before making learned decisions. As a resident of the County, I applaud that kind of effort and I want them to continue doing just that. I believe the Supervisors are woefully underpaid for the amount of work and responsibility they must shoulder. I am convinced that raising their salaries is absolutely necessary. Such a raise, I believe, should be considered not only to compensate them for the work they are already doing, but the Supervisors’ salaries should be at a level that will attract men and women to the position or job. I feel that individuals are attracted to the job primarily because of a desire to perform public service, but some highly qualified people, who might ordinarily want to perform public service of this magnitude, may be put off from even considering it because of the extremely low compensation. Increasing that compensation might be enough to sway them in their decision. I personally feel that the Supervisors’ salaries should be even higher than my own recommendation, but the recommendation is made with the understanding that the County is not flush with funds and that the budget would not support more. My recommendation, therefore, is that their salaries should be raised to $50,000.” (Mr. Hay is also the man who seriously suggested that the panel should recommend a very high salary so that the Supes could look good voting themselves nearly as great but less than the panel’s recommendation.)

Vicky Crawford (wife of a Ukiah Valley grape grower): “I feel that the supervisors do indeed deserve a raise in pay. In the assessment of other counties, I feel that a yearly salary of $42,000 is within reason, when compared to other counties. I do believe that the supervisors work over and beyond what is required of them and that the supervisors work at least 40 hours a week. In doing so they should be compensated for their dedication to the county. I have always felt that one takes on a supervisor position to put something back into the county and try to better the community that they live.”

Charles Cliburn (retiring County Assessor): “After studying the supervisors’ jobs and the amount of time required to do a good job, I think the position is definitely a full-time position. I also believe the annual salary should be increased to $50,000 based upon their relationship to other department and elected positions in Mendocino County. I strongly think that a higher salary should be offered to attract the average wage earner. At present, a good portion of the populace could not afford to jeopardize their income to run for supervisor. Consequently, the Board is generally comprised of individuals who are self-employed or work for larger concerns. I want to see the average person of average means be able to leave their job and not take a financial loss while being a full-time supervisor. I want to afford that person an opportunity to bring different approaches and philosophy to this position.”

Mark Scaramella (AVA staffer): “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 as are 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.

“As pointed out by former Supervisor Banker, the present Supes’ pay, if measured as a percentage of the compensation of department heads (an average of 46.67% in the 15 counties surveyed), is already higher than other comparable counties at 49.38%)

“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.

“Applying a frequency analysis to income distribution in the County would put the present supervisor’s salary and benefits in the top 15-20% . Raising the salary beyond the cost of living would only further separate the supervisors from the economic conditions under which most County residents live.

“No rational basis has been offered or raising the Supes’ salary beyond that of other comparable counties (as suggested by Supervisor Peterson and Candidate Colfax). Excluding Sonoma County, which is much more heavily populated and predominantly a suburban (mostly non-rural) county, the highest supervisor salary is Kings County in central California at $49,644. Among rural northern California Counties surveyed, Humboldt pays the highest at $46,177. But both of these salary levels must be viewed as aberrations, since they are almost 3/4 of the average elected official salaries in those counties.

“Additionally, supervisor compensation should not be viewed as a reward for any perceived prior accomplishments or vague and self-pitying claims of hard work. The compensation should be set 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 undercompensated to a degree which might tempt an incumbent to supplement his income in order to maintain an ordinary middle-class lifestyle.

“Increasing the Supervisors’ pay to something like $50,000 a year (assuming benefits are unchanged) would require the Supervisors to take $85,000 in discretionary spending from an already tight discretionary fund balance. (a raise to $40,000 would take $32,000.) If panel members recommend such pay raises, they are thus obligated to examine last year’s budget process and suggest areas of discretionary funding which can suffer an $85,000 cut. In light of the fact that the Supervisors can apparently raise their pay incrementally without a referendum or a panel recommendation, the panel should view their role as a check on unaccountable self-raises and recommend the minimum raise feasible. As explained above, I believe that no additional salary increase is justified. In fact, with the above background in mind, it would be a slap in the face to the public and the panel if the Mendocino County Supervisors raised their pay above ordinary cost of living adjustments.

“In addition, if the Supervisors can give themselves raises as they did in June without even bothering to consult their own sitting pay panel, 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.”

Thus spake the Scaramella.

County Counsel Peter Klein: “I wish to call the Board’s attention to statutory authority whereby the Board of Supervisors can, if it so desires, request the Grand Jury to investigate and report upon the needs for increase or decrease in salaries of elected officials which, of course, includes the supervisors. This is not being sent to you as a recommendation, but merely to advise you this option exists.”

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