Riverside County supervisors today tentatively approved hiking the salaries of five elected officials by an average 16 percent, despite criticism that the salary boosts were “insulting” and “abominable” given the stagnation or loss of wages that many workers experienced during the recent economic downturn.
In a 3-1 vote, with Chairman Jeff Stone absent and Supervisor Kevin Jeffries dissenting, the Board of Supervisors agreed with a Department of Human Resources recommendation that upward adjustments to the salaries of the auditor-controller, assessor-clerk-recorder, district attorney, sheriff and treasurer-tax collector were justified.
“Our pay is far behind our department colleagues,” Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo told the board. “Not paying us appropriately is bad policy. It’s good public policy to pay public officers equitably.”
Angulo was the only one of the five elected officials to speak, though he was joined by former Riverside County Sheriff Cois Byrd, who urged the board to reward current Sheriff Stan Sniff for his “professional leadership” in effectively managing his department.
“I’m seldom interested enough to show up here and speak, but this is
about equity and fairness,” said Byrd, who served as sheriff between 1986 and 1994. “Average the raise out over six years, and it doesn’t look too large.”
Human Resources chief Michael Stock justified the raises by pointing out that without them, the five elected officials would potentially be making less than their most senior staff members.
Union contracts and separate pay schedules ratified by the board for executive-level employees have created salary disparities known as “compaction,” under which the most high-ranking agency official receives total compensation that’s actually less than the managers working for him or her.
According to Stock, the five elected officials in line for salary increases haven’t received any adjustments in pay since 2008. Stock also noted that “a recent external market salary survey” comparing the earnings of similarly placed officials elsewhere supported the increases.
But several speakers expressed dismay over the size of the proposed pay hikes, which are slated to be formally approved after the board returns from its August recess.
“Your constituents have not seen salary increases even close to this,” said Temecula resident Paul Jacobs. “Many people are taking pay cuts just to find a job. It seems insulting and inappropriate to be boosting salaries by this amount. These are positions of public trust and service. The trend of exorbitant executive compensation in government is unsustainable.”
Perris-area resident Brett Holstrom lambasted the notion of awarding pay hikes simply because “someone is aging in space or time.”
“My general impression is, this is wrong,” she told the board. “A lot of people have not regained employment since the recession. People have lost their homes. And you’re giving raises to individuals who are doing absolutely nothing to earn it? It’s abominable.”
Though generally supportive of the adjustments, Supervisor John Benoit felt that pushing compensation levels up too much in one fell swoop was an affront to the “taxpayer’s perspective.”
Under Stock’s recommendation, the assessor-clerk-recorder, auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector would each have received a 20 percent raise, while the district attorney and sheriff would each have gotten a 22 percent pay hike.
Supervisor John Tavaglione argued for the recommended increases, saying the agencies in question are “run by five very, very talented elected individuals.”
Tavaglione highlighted the backgrounds and accomplishments of each incumbent, except for District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, whom the supervisor endorsed. Instead, he summarized the legal education and work of DA-elect Mike Hestrin, who does not take office until Jan. 2.
“Here we are asking whether he deserves a raise. He has served this county damn well,” Tavaglione said.
Jeffries said he was “philosophically” opposed to the pay hikes.
“I don’t fault a department head for wanting to make as much as an executive staffer,” the supervisor said. “But when you jump into politics, you sacrifice a lot of things. There’s a complete change in the rules, and with that comes a change with respect to compensation.”
Benoit put forward a comprise that assured each of the five elected officials would receive base compensation that’s at least $1,000 more than the next highest level staff executive in their respective agencies.
Supervisors Marion Ashley and Tavaglione agreed with the formula, which will increase Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Larry Ward’s, Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo’s and Treasurer-Tax Collector Don Kent’s salaries 16 percent, from $165,727 to $191,000.
District Attorney Paul Zellerbach’s salary will rise 11 percent, from $223,166 to $247,000, and Sheriff Stan Sniff will receive a 20 percent hike, from $223,166 to 268,000.
The tentatively approved changes will put the sheriff’s base compensation well above the pay rates of his counterparts in Orange and San Bernardino counties, whose annual earnings total $207,984 and $231,924, respectively, according to salary schedules provided by those two counties.
The DA, similarly, will be receiving pay that’s roughly one-fifth more than that paid to his counterpart in Orange County, and about 15 percent more than what his counterpart in San Bernardino County takes in.
San Bernardino County shares a population nearly identical in size to Riverside County, while Orange County’s population is 40 percent larger, according to census figures.