Following eight months of negotiations, the County of El Dorado has approved a contract with its largest union, the El Dorado County Employees Association Local 1. Union members had already ratified the proposed settlement, but county supervisors had to vote to approve it on Tuesday. The deal grants a majority of the county’s workforce a 5 percent raise right away, another 5 percent next July and a final 5 percent in July 2015. County staff have not had a raise in more than five years. The same package applies to a number of “unrepresented management” and “confidential” employees.
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Historically, when staff has received an adjustment in compensation, elected officials have shared the largesse in equal proportion. Continuing that tradition, the human resources department recommended that supervisors approve comparable increases for the county’s seven elected department heads. They include the assessor, auditor-controller, recorder-clerk, surveyor, treasurer-tax collector, district attorney and sheriff.
In a near “stop the presses” moment, County Counsel Ed Knapp reminded the board that, according to county ordinance, any raise other elected officials receive also goes to the five elected supervisors. In effect, they were on the brink of voting themselves a 15 percent raise. (Conversely, any reduction in pay for the others is not shared by supervisors.) Softening the blow, Knapp also pointed out that if approved by the board, the other “electeds” would see the first increase after 30 days whereas county supervisors would have to wait 60 days before getting the fatter paycheck.
According to county ordinance, the board as a whole is not permitted to reject an increase, however, individual supervisors can opt not to collect it by completing a document to that effect and filing it with the Auditor-Controller’s Office, Knapp explained.
“Could we change the ordinance for the future?” District 5’s Norma Santiago asked.
Knapp and Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly responded as one with, “Yes, you can eliminate that section of the ordinance.”
Daly also acknowledged that the county’s current compensation structure is “very complicated” and needs to be made more transparent. “All electeds’ salaries are very appropriate,” she said, “but the structure itself is not transparent.”
Salaries and benefits for county officials and employees historically have been established relative to a set of comparison counties that are generally similar in size and makeup such as Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba, but also includes Sacramento County. While compensation for some El Dorado County employees falls far below that of their fellows in some other counties, several elected department heads receive up to 30 percent more than similar officials in the comparator counties. County policies such as longevity pay and differential pay for special licenses or advanced degrees account for some of those differences.
County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn, for example, is an elected department head with nearly 20 years of county service. He also holds a Certified Public Accountant degree and thus receives extra compensation for both of those “add-ons.” In 2012, Harn received approximately $196,300. If he were to reach the maximum in longevity and special pay, he would top out at roughly $212,000 annually, according to the comparison chart from Human Resources Director Pamela Knorr. The same maximum in Placer County would be about $226,000. Harn is one of the officials whose current overall compensation per year, is markedly higher than that of most of his peers in comparator counties. The average of the other counties at maximum benefit is about $148,000, the chart reads.
Likewise, El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini, with many years in law enforcement, ranks higher in salary and benefits than many of his fellow sheriffs in similar counties. D’Agostini’s reported 2012 income was approximately $226,400. The top rate for an El Dorado County Sheriff is currently $273,700 almost exactly the same as Placer County but well above Sacramento, for example, at $178,000.
District Attorney Vern Pierson received $207,000 last year with a maximum shown as $198,800. Like his colleagues, the district attorney also receives other compensation such as cash instead of Management Leave benefits and membership payments, for example.
Board documents include a section of Personnel Policy 6 which states, “compensation for an elected department head is determined periodically in order to attract and retain the most qualified people for county elective office and reduce any barriers to qualified individuals seeking office … keeping pace with market conditions is an attraction to the most qualified, dedicated citizens to run for an Elected Department Head position.”
“I have a problem talking to employees who are 30 to 40 percent below comparison counties,” District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp said, “while some electeds are 30 percent higher than comparison counties.”
Board Chairman Ron Briggs joined the conversation noting, “This is a full-time job. We should be compensated adequately … Some of our officials are appropriately paid but some are a bit higher than comparators. We have some electeds making $150,000 to $200,000 or up to a quarter million or $225,000,” Briggs said. “I’d like to eliminate the differentials for electeds. Elected officials volunteer for it. We (supervisors) make $75,000, and that’s what I signed up for. I’d like $200,000 but I’m good with $75,000.”
Briggs advised sending the recommendations back to staff to do over and urged elimination of the “extras.”
Santiago spoke to one of the extras pointing out that a 10 percent “differential” for the CPA degree was approved by supervisors in 2000. “We’re not going to solve the future now. We need a special meeting to connect the dots from our past.” None of the current board held that position in 2000.
Veerkamp tacked on to Santiago’s comments, “It’s about doing the job for the public, not for ourselves. The system needs fixing, and I’m about setting an example, not ‘being’ the example.”
Veerkamp promised during his campaign for supervisor that he would not accept any salary or benefits for the job as he has a substantial retirement benefit from his career as a firefighter and El Dorado Hills Fire department chief.
Former firefighter and small business owner Wanda Nagle spoke during the public session and described herself as a “representative of the unrepresented taxpayer.” Nagle recommended the board give a 5 percent tax cut to offset the 5 percent increase going to employees. She also suggested that the board “match public employee pay to the average county resident.”
A Placerville resident read a statement charging that “things have gotten out of control. A CPA degree is part of state law (for county auditors) and shouldn’t be paid through a differential. I question previous boards for getting to this point. Around $250,000 to the auditor is 15 percent to 52 percent higher than other counties.” He compared that to the city of Bell where government officials authorized exorbitant compensation packages for themselves.
The board voted 4-0 to send the proposals back to the drawing board. District 2 supervisor Ray Nutting had recused himself from the discussion of the item citing a “perceived conflict of interest,” according to Knapp. Nutting has been publicly critical of District Attorney Vern Pierson and Auditor-Controller Joe Harn for their roles in pending legal actions against the supervisor related to alleged misuse of public funds and alleged improper reporting of income by a public official. Both could have benefited financially from a positive board action.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.