Supervisors pass merit raise
In a three to two vote, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to publish a notice of a salary increase for themselves, which would see an added $4,121 to their annual salary, which is currently $90,376. The move came after a heated period of public comments where many voiced their displeasure at the very idea of the Board taking a pay raise because of the state of the economy.
The motion to give the Board of Supervisors a pay raise was passed with yes votes from Chairman Allen Ishida, Supervisor Phillip Cox and Supervisor Mike Ennis. Supervisors Pete Vander Poel and J. Steven Worthley voted no, based on different reasons.
Those who spoke out at the public comments section of the hearing did so for various reasons. A couple of the women who stood wondered what the board has done that would constitute acts that should be awarded a merit increase.
“How many good jobs have been created in our county or brought to our county due to your efforts,” asked Patricia Gallamore, whose voice was broken with emotion. “What have you done to make the lives of the average person in our county better since the crash of 2007?”
Others who stood felt it was simply unethical for the supervisors to have a pay increase when so many others were still suffering because of the economy, and that as the county’s leaders, the supervisors should be willingly taking pay cuts to help others in the wider county community.
“Your planned raise brings you about another 300, 350 a month. For those working poor who are your employees, an extra 10 bucks a pay check means a world of difference to them and to their children,” said Gill Bolsley, of Visalia, who felt the money should still be rightfully diverted to the “Working Poor” of Tulare County employees. He noted that they depended on various types of government assistance, like WIC or getting their children medical insurance through Working Families, and thus needed the money more than the supervisors.
Others questioned the procedure for the raise, saying that it was a conflict of interest for the Board of Supervisors to approve their own raises.
The supervisors spoke up in defense of their actions, citing the relative prosperity of the county in comparison to others. The fact that the county has been able to raise the freezes for its employees, Ishida pointed out, demonstrates that the actions of the board are merit worthy.
“We have been very good stewards of public funds,” Worthley said, putting it succinctly.
However, he and Vander Poel, while they felt the supervisors deserved the raises, still voted it down for two reasons. Worthley was against the pay increase because half of the county’s employees will not see a pay increase this year, because the increases are based on merit, and Worthley said that the most senior of staff members will not be able to benefit from merit increases. Had the increases been for cost of living, that would have been a different story. Vander Poel agreed that the procedure by which the board received its salary increase was flawed, and voted down the motion because of that.
The last time this issue was raised before the board was in a meeting on Sept. 30, 2008, where it appeared as item 17 (“Approve changes for employees in Units 9, 10, 11, 19, 20 and 21”) on the agenda. The passing of it lead to a backlash against the Board, with a sentiment from the public that the Board was trying to cover up the fact that they were receiving pay raises in an economic environment where other county employees were being laid off.
Before the public comment period, Chief Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau stood to defend the supervisors.
“You are the first group to defer and the last group to un-defer,” he said.
The motion was originally placed on the agenda by Rousseau, he said in an article that ran in the Visalia Times-Delta on Monday. Rousseau felt that it was time to give the Board a pay raise, because of the actions they took in 2008 and 2009.
“In Feb. of 2009, the Board decided to defer that increase (4.56% raise) to a point in the future when we were in better financial shape. That time is now,” Rousseau said.
Rousseau added that the county has finished negotiations with all the employee bargaining units but one, which has allowed for the freezes placed on county employee’s salary raises to be lifted.
Rousseau also addressed the scandal of the last attempted increase, noting that Tulare County is the only county in the San Joaquin Valley which makes supervisor salary increases public. In the other seven counties, the process for increasing board member’s salaries is automatic, he said. He then explained the way in which the supervisor’s salaries were calculated, by averaging the last increase made to the salaries of the county’s three elected officials (the sheriff, the district attorney and the auditor controller, in the amount of 2.75%) and the percentage that the count assessor’s salary increase (10%), which, when the math was done, made for a 4.56% increase for the Supervisors.