Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grand jury recommends reducing Humboldt supervisors' salaries

Supes challenge findings, say there will be detailed response to report

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 04/14/2010 01:27:16 AM PDT

Members of the Board of Supervisors are challenging the accuracy of details presented in the latest Humboldt County Grand Jury report, which recommends they lower their salaries.

The report, released Monday evening, said the grand jury began looking into the salary issue after receiving a complaint and found the supervisors did not appropriately vet their salary raises before approval. The result is salaries much higher than surrounding counties with similar demographics, according to the report.

The grand jury report lists three recommendations for moving forward: supervisors reduce their salaries starting in fiscal year 2011; that any additional monetary salary rewards be based on additional workloads or duties, not longevity in office; and that a third party, such as the grand jury, provide guidance on appropriate salary levels for the Board of Supervisors, along with the methodology for adjusting the levels.

Supervisors voted 3-2 in 2008 to approve an annual 3 percent raise for three years -- fiscal years 2008-2009, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 -- with 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith and then Supervisor Johanna Rodoni dissenting. Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who was an incoming supervisor at the time, and 2nd District Supervisor Clif Clendenen, who was a candidate at the time, also voiced their objections to the raise during the September 2008 meeting.

Current supervisors Bonnie Neely and Jill Duffy voted in favor of the increase, along with then Supervisor John Woolley. Woolley said the 3 percent raise was in line with a cost of living increase and he was following previously set policy that provided guidance on how to set salaries.

Lovelace said the supervisors who initially approved the raise have since declined to take the 3 percent raise for the 2009-2010 year.

With the 3 percent increase in 2008-2009, the supervisors' salary increased to $77,000. The 3 percent raises were less than the staff's recommendation.

Smith said the county is working on a detailed response to the report, which, he said, did not take into consideration some relevant information, such as the supervisors' past voluntary pay cuts.

”We're doing a detailed response to that because the information is inaccurate,” Smith said. He reemphasized his ongoing decision not to take any increases.

Neely and Lovelace made similar statements.

”As best as I can tell, the grand jury deliberately avoided certain information that didn't tell the story they didn't want to tell,” Lovelace said.

A call to the grand jury office was not immediately returned Tuesday.

County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said the board will discuss the issue in its annual response to the grand jury report. The county has 90 days to respond.

The grand jury states it did a review of the salary schedules in response to a complaint that noted a discrepancy between the supervisors' salaries and those of supervisors in more heavily populated Shasta County.

The report found that the current methodology used for setting salaries has resulted in the supervisors receiving a salary that is 78 percent higher than the average salary of surrounding counties with similar economies and governance structures; 29 percent higher than counties within a similar population bracket; and 11 to 24 percent higher than the historic methodologies used. Some of the counties used in comparison included Butte, Shasta, Mendocino, Yolo and Napa.

Woolley said several years prior to the 2008 vote, the board decided not to use a Superior Court judge's salary as a benchmark any longer because it thought a supervisor's duties were not in line with a judge's.

Woolley said he did not want to comment on whether he thought the grand jury's report was a fair assessment, and said the current board will have to debate what to do about the grand jury's opinion.

He said the role of a supervisor is one that needs a sufficient wage to attract quality candidates, especially considering the number of issues that come across a supervisor's plate.

”I feel the work that the supervisors do is all-encompassing. You take it as a 24/7 type of job; you're never quite off,” he said.

The grand jury report recommends the supervisors reduce their salaries starting with fiscal year 2011 and suggests changing the “longevity” increase to an increase based on extra duties or workloads.

The only board member who benefited from the “longevity” increase -- an additional 5 percent raise for supervisors with 10 or more years of service -- was Neely.

Neely wrote in an e-mail that she declined the longevity increase in 2009. She said she also took a voluntary 10 percent reduction in salary in 2003 and 2004. Neely said she felt the salary discussion would be more productive in another setting.

”I think the manner in which the county sets compensation for supervisors is appropriate because it is developed by professional county staff and approved by the board of supervisors, all of whom are accountable directly to the voters. I'm open to additional methods of reviewing compensation,” she wrote. “However, the grand jury is the wrong choice. Determining the salaries of public officials is inconsistent with the grand jury's important role as an investigative body.”

Lovelace agreed, adding that the grand jury showed “a lack of integrity” in its approach on the matter.

”It's pretty clear to me that they took on this issue with a preconceived agenda of how they wanted to portray it,” he said.

Lovelace said he, Clendenen and Smith have filed letters indicating that they have “sworn off” any raises.

”We're the only people who have something contractually on file that says we can't take a raise if we wanted to,” he said.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or

No comments: