Elected department heads’ pay chopped

By From page A1 | November 22, 2013

What began as a panel of red-faced county supervisors a couple of weeks ago has turned into an all out rout of county ordinances and policies regarding elected official compensation. Monday, during a special board meeting, supervisors voted 3-1 to overhaul a number of special bonus programs that benefited elected department heads for longevity, special degrees or certifications and cash in-lieu of Management Leave time.

One of those policies dictated that if the other elected officials received pay increases, the Board of Supervisors did likewise. County Counsel Ed Knapp called the board’s attention to that edict as supervisors were pondering a 15 percent increase for elected department heads (and therefore themselves) on Nov. 5. Board Chairman Ron Briggs called that event “really embarrassing” and the “joy ride for some electeds is over,” during a phone conversation with the Mountain Democrat Tuesday.

Monday’s action included the “delinking of the Board of Supervisors from other raises,” according to Chief Administrative Office principal analyst Mike Applegarth.

During that earlier meeting, CAO Terri Daly had described a “very complicated” system that was rife with little-known resolutions and their dusty supporting documents that have been implemented by supervisors over many years. “All electeds’ salaries are very appropriate,” she said at the time, “but the structure itself is not transparent.”

Effective with the new policy, the seven elected county department heads will see salary reductions ranging from slight to significant at the end of their current terms of office. Future officials will be paid, in effect, a simple base salary. Thus, should the same individuals be reelected to their current positions, they would be paid the same amount as a newly elected person who had no prior county service and no extra degrees or duties.

El Dorado County draws data from a set of seven “comparator” counties that are generally similar in size, population and make-up. The seven include Amador, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. Sacramento represents the exception. Because of longstanding policies, several positions within El Dorado County are compensated much more generously than similar positions in comparator counties. The new policy will strike an average of all comparators and that will become the base salary for those local officials.

The board resolution based on a motion by Briggs eliminates longevity pay for elected department heads, a 10 percent bonus for CPA or other professional certification, and a 4.6 percent “pay in lieu of Management Leave.” The resolution continues:

“Direct the Human Resources Department to immediately amend the salary schedule to reflect the new compensation structure.

“Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to publish the new elected compensation structure on the county Website and at the Elections Department in advance of Nov. 27, 2013, so candidates filing for office beginning Dec. 27, 2013, are informed of the salary for each office.

“The new elected compensation structure does not affect the salary of those currently holding elected office through their current terms, and that all changes take effect when an individual is elected or reelected to a new term of office beginning in January 2015.”

At that time, the following new compensation rates will apply:

• District Attorney — $184,431

• Sheriff — $177,975

• Auditor-Controller — $148,693

• Treasurer-Tax Collector — $145,540

• Assessor — $144,007

• Recorder-Clerk — $135,575

• Surveyor — $118,238.

While no current, elected department head will see a pay cut through his or her current term of office, Briggs estimated that Sheriff John D’Agostini could expect a cut of up to $60,000 a year if he were to be reelected. Likewise Auditor-Controller Joe Harn would lose about $40,000 from his current annual paycheck. Exact figures were rounded out in the motion and resolution establishing the base salary as the only pay an elected department head will receive with few exceptions such as extra duty. At present, District Attorney Vern Pierson also serves as the interim director of the county’s Information Technology Department. Recorder-Clerk Bill Schultz does extra duty as the temporary head of Veterans Affairs.

Schultz receives a 5 percent stipend for his Veterans work, while Pierson is paid just under $95 per hour for his IT duties, according to the county Human Resources Office. The county is currently recruiting for both positions.

District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting recused himself from the proceedings and voting Monday. Briggs, Supervisors Brian Veerkamp and Norma Santiago supported the actions. Supervisor Ron Mikulaco was the lone opponent. During the meeting Mikulaco expressed concern that  the change to the system could result in a situation wherein the assistant or deputy department head with many years of county service would make a higher salary than the elected department head. In response to a request for additional comment, Mikulaco e-mailed the following to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday:

“The board has advocated investing in our employees, which I have supported. In regards to this group of employees, realizing that elected department heads are, in fact, employees, my colleagues have decided to not just freeze these employees pay but cut salaries and strip away some benefits. This lacks continuity and fairness, in my opinion. It also creates an imbalance in regards to pay and position held over time that may create more problems. This is why I could not support this item because I believe in fairness and continuity regardless of the employee classification.”

Back before the issue first hit the board agenda on Nov. 5,  Harn sent the following to supervisors to coincide with the item:

“Chairman Briggs,” he wrote, “This e-mail confirms our recent conversation. The compensation for the position of Auditor-Controller should not be increased. I will not accept an increase in compensation should your board act on this matter on Nov. 5.”

Asked for comment on this week’s board action, Harn e-mailed the Mountain Democrat Wednesday afternoon.

“My county-approved pay rate was too high, that’s why I have been taking a voluntary pay cut since June 2012. I don’t have a problem with the board’s action to reduce my pay. That’s the board’s job … setting salary rates.”
Treasuer-Tax Collector Cherie Raffety commented indirectly on the impact of a future pay cut by confirming, via e-mail Thursday, that she intends to seek another term as the county’s Treasurer-Tax Collector. She has served in that office since 1985 and receives approximately 16 percent more pay according to current longevity policies. That benefit will cease with the next election.
Sheriff John D’Agostini could not be reached for comment.

Chris Daley

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