Government / Politics

Supervisors’ vote themselves 37.5% pay raise, or is it really 55.7%?

After approving a 3.5 percent pay raise for county workers, supervisors announce their own 37.5 percent raise, but the numbers actually add up to 55.7 percent.

After months of closed-door collective bargaining sessions, the board of supervisors approved a 3.5 percent raise, plus signing bonuses and other benefits, for members of several unions, as well as for unrepresented employees. During that same meeting, the supervisors approved the first, and only, reading of an ordinance amendment that if passed during the Nov. 7 meeting, will give them all a raise of 37.5 percent.

Granted, there was a note of contrition and even reluctance among the board, but in the end, four of the five voted for the raise. Even after a lengthy explanation of how he has to work three jobs, including as a supervisor, and that the pay is too low to attract younger residents to run for the office, Supervisor Robert Rivas was the lone holdout in voting for the raise, which he will, however, still receive if the resolution passes during the Nov. 7 meeting.

Before supervisor or public comments, Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, took an inordinate amount of time to justify the raise and explain why it was being discussed in an open public meeting, rather than a closed session, as were all the other raises. He said negotiations with unions normally take place in private, but because of the Brown Act, discussions involving supervisors’ had to be discussed during open sessions.

Espinosa said the supervisors are 49.7 percent underpaid when compared to supervisors in other counties. He said supervisors’ pay in other counties exceed $100,000, with total packages over $200,000. He said the last pay raise for supervisors was 15 years ago, yet their workload has increased dramatically. He commented that Rivas, as a teacher, understood that every hour of school work amounted to three hours of homework and transposed that to a supervisor’s eight-hour day equating to two days of preparation in order to make multi-million dollar decisions.

Espinosa went on to explain how other counties also had large staffs who helped their supervisors, while San Benito County was understaffed and each supervisor “has to do it all.” He said as the state generates legislation or passes its responsibilities, such as jails, to counties, it puts even more work on the supervisors. He even alluded to changes in Obamacare and how it could affect the residents and that the county must be ready to deal with the impacts.

For those who did not have a copy of the 696-page agenda packet handy during the meeting, a 37.5 percent increase of their base pay of $48,193 would, at first, seem to be $18,072, for a total salary of $66,265. However, according to resident Marty Richman, who voiced opposition to the increase and crunched the numbers for BenitoLink, the three proposed increases were actually based on a California superior court judge’s salary of $200,042. The three choices listed in the agenda packet were a 35 percent increase that would amount to $70,015; a 40 percent for $80,017; and a 45 percent for $90,019. Therefore, Richman contends the supervisors had, in fact, voted themselves a 55 percent increase by taking a $26,821 raise.

After Espinosa’s justification for the proposed raise, Jaimie De La Cruz, board chair, opened the discussion up to the public and Richman took the opportunity to censure the board by putting forth his own set of facts taken from 2016 earnings in San Benito County taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He claimed almost 73 percent of full-time workers in the private sector did not clear $48,000 a year, compared to the supervisors’ “part-time jobs.” He went on to say that 82 percent of workers did not make $50,000.

“You want to make $70,000 for a part-time job,” he said. “And a job, as a group, you have not done well. You gave the CAO (Espinosa) a big raise and now he’s returning the favor.”

Then Richman accused the board of a number of failures, from the deal involving the John Smith Landfill, in which he claimed a thousand tons of garbage a day is trucked into the county at one-eighth of the value of what the contract should have been, plus there were no impact fees for the roads most traveled by the trucks. He scolded them for the high turnover of employees at the Resource Management Agency and the Planning Department, as well as the failure to get a college campus established in the county.

“You never filed anything with the state. You never filed anything with the commission of community colleges. You never did anything but grouse about the $25 million they walked away with,” he said. “How about the Tres Pinos Water District, which you guys keep giving a pass because they’re your buddies. And how about the development agreements you’ve screwed up.”

He claimed the reason the county cannot keep staff is because it does not have the revenue, which, in turn, is because the supervisors have done nothing to encourage private industry. As Richman took a seat, Kathy Postigo also questioned the figures in the agenda packet. She suggested 25 percent of what a judge makes might be most acceptable and stated that the supervisors weren’t the only ones to not receive a pay raise since 2002.

“The only raises county employees got was a cost-of-living increases, which was the same you guys got,” she said. “I’m disappointed to see such a high jump in these salaries at this time. We struggled to get that 3.5 percent. When we first went into negotiations you guys wanted to give us one percent and that was kind of a joke. We appreciate we got what we got, but it’s disheartening to county employees.”

Suzy Caston, a SEIU negotiator, said that while she did not disagree with a raise for the supervisors, she had an issue with the numbers and thought the timing was off.

“Right now, on the heels of our MOUs (memorandums of understanding) that we had to fight pretty hard for maybe it’s a timing issue I’m having a problem with,” she said. “If this had come up 10 or 12 months down the road, I wouldn’t have questions about it.”

She questioned comparing San Benito supervisors with those in other counties because those are full-time positions. Supervisor Rivas said he appreciated De La Cruz having put the issue on the agenda because of the difficulty in discussing it in public.

“I appreciate Marty’s candid comments. We have fallen short on several occasions,” Rivas admitted and wondered if that was because of staff shortages or part-time supervisors. He posed the question why younger people do not run for office and said it was because the job is too demanding and the pay is too low to attract them. He said despite the low pay he does the job because he loves the county and wants to serve it. “Perhaps 20 years ago the job of a supervisor may have been less time-consuming. Times have changed and the demands, in my opinion, have grown.”

He disagreed with the belief that being a supervisor in San Benito County was not a full-time job. He said supervisors in other counties do not work any more or less than those in San Benito. He said that while the agenda item for the raise had merit he wanted to see more information and to hear from local residents on their thoughts. He also wanted to see what the implications would be on the budget and declared he would vote against the proposed raise.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said when he became a supervisor the salary was the last thing on his mind. He said he came from a long line of people who believed in serving the community. Botelho took exception with Richman’s claims and said they were loaded with inaccuracies.

“It’s easy to sit in the back row and every couple weeks tear apart the work that this board does,” he said, adding that even though he is fortunate enough to have his own business because of the increased workload with the county he barely has the time to manage it. He said he could understand why most people would not want the job, mainly because it is a thankless one and anyone qualified wouldn’t want it because of the low pay. “I am concerned about the rates (of increases). I would be happy as a clam if we got what we approved today for our employees. The ship has to rise evenly.”

In an odd bit of reckoning, even though Botelho said he didn’t look forward to seeing BenitoLink report that the supervisors had voted themselves a massive pay raise, he then leaned toward option one, which was 35 percent.

De La Cruz said by choosing one of the three options it would allow him the flexibility to attend more meetings and be on the numerous committees required to conduct the county’s business.

“I brought this on the agenda knowing that it’s a very hot issue,” he said. “Unfortunately, because it’s a political issue the board could only discuss it today (along with the other pay raise agenda items). I would recommend we do one of these three options and move on to the Nov. 7 meeting.”

Supervisor Mark Medina said 10 months into the job he puts in 37 to 40 hours a week doing it. He said he spends the time because he’s passionate about giving back to the community. He said when he ran for office he believed he understood what he was getting into, but it turned out to be a much bigger obligation that he expected. He thought salary compensation was a valid topic of discussion for future boards. Later, Richman told BenitoLink he agreed with Medina, that no board should vote for its own pay raise.

“We need to attract good people,” Medina said. “The younger generation cannot afford to run a campaign or live on these wages without having another full-time job.”

He agreed with De La Cruz on choosing option two. In the meantime, he encouraged anyone to call him with their opinions. Supervisor Jerry Muenzer related how he had to take a pay cut at his former business in order to work as a supervisor and when his business closed it afforded him more opportunities to serve on various committees.

“But, to be honest, at this salary it has been a struggle for my wife and I,” he disclosed for the first time since becoming a supervisor. “I understand what has been said. I understand how it looks, but because this has to be done in open session, it’s not done very often.”

He said he was leaning toward options one or two. De La Cruz split the differences in percentages and suggested 37.5 percent.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]