WatchSonoma Watch

County cuts D.A. investigators’ car perk

Jill Ravitch


Investigators in the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office were told Tuesday that they no longer will be allowed to routinely take home their work vehicles.

The issue has been simmering in a months-long dispute between District Attorney Jill Ravitch and investigators in her office.

In budget cuts enacted halfway through her first year in the elected post, Ravitch in July ended the long-standing practice of take-home vehicles for investigators.

At the time, the move was estimated to potentially save about $6,000 annually. More recent projections show the savings could be $15,000, or more than a quarter of investigators’ estimated annual vehicle costs of $53,000, county officials said.

The office’s 13 rank and file investigators, however, have opposed the change, arguing it eliminated a key work tool and violated their labor contract by ending a benefit without their say.

Attempts to resolve the matter through negotiations resulted in an impasse and put the issue before the Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, the board sided unanimously with Ravitch after she assured supervisors that the change had not impacted investigations.

“It’s unfortunate we’re here today,” Ravitch said at the start of her presentation to the board.

She said the cut was part of an attempt to trim fixed expenses and save positions in her office, which has a staff of more than 100 employees and a budget of $20 million.

The move would not affect an on-call investigator — a rotated, week-long post — or an off-site investigator assigned to a state-funded computer crimes task force based in Napa County, Ravitch said. It would apply to the office’s chief investigator, Brian Davis, but it won’t affect Ravitch, who said she commutes to work in her own vehicle.

In the face of budget cuts, “we’re doing everything we can to ensure (the office’s) operations continue,” she said.

The board’s 4-0 vote, absent Supervisor Valerie Brown, followed a rebuttal by investigators’ representatives and questions to county personnel officials. The officials told supervisors that take-home use of departmental vehicles, though a long-standing practice for investigators, was not a benefit provided by their contract or a factor in their compensation.

“That seems pretty cut and dry. It’s just an operational change, no different than changing cubicles in an office,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt.

The decision signaled what several supervisors said is a pressing need to review and possibly reduce a long list of perks given to county employees on top of their salaries.

Car and cellphone allowances could be next, along with other benefits, said Supervisor Mike McGuire.

“The message being sent today is that sacrifice is here to stay for at least the next several years,” McGuire said.

He was one of at least three board members to voice frustration that an impasse had developed over a relatively small fiscal issue.

But investigators’ representatives told supervisors they saw it differently.

First, they said the change shifted up to $20,000 in annual costs — a figure they said came from county fleet officials — onto the backs of investigators without any commensurable concession from the county.

Second, they said the move was made without their input, a step required by their contract.

And third, they said, despite Ravitch’s assertions, take-home vehicles continued to be an important work tool.

“At the start of this job, each of us was handed a badge, a gun and a set of car keys,” said Greg Phillips, an investigator in the District Attorney’s office and a vice president of Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, which represents the investigative team.

He said that work would go on, but that the change had opened up a rift with Ravitch. “The reason we’re here is because she violated the process,” he said.

Ravitch fired back inside and outside the board chambers Tuesday.

She said investigators would still be allowed to take home their work vehicles in special circumstances with prior authorization from Davis, the chief investigator.

She also said her relationship with the investigators remained strong.

“I have a good relationship with the investigative bureau,” she said. “I’m very proud of the bureau’s work.”

16 Responses to “County cuts D.A. investigators’ car perk”

  1. RAW says:

    Why does the DA need investigators? Should the police and sheriff detectives be good enough? DA investigators going to crime scenes? The DA should eliminate those positions and let the someone else do that for her. It is almost like the DA is trying to be independent of the other law agencies. No, she works for them to their end, right? Think of the savings.

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The BOS needs to look at the perks the managers are getting. The public is not aware of just how many there are and how much the cost. I don’t believe most public employees should have a car they take home. They can check them out when they need them when the get to work.

    The perks that pad the managers pensions should not be applied to their pensions. Only their base salary should accrue a pension.

    And how about laying off some of the managers? Manager positions have been added since 2007 while frontline staff has been cut to the bone affecting services to the public. The ratio of rank and file staff to managers is shockingly low. The BOS is aware of this and has yet to do anything about it. Yet they say they want to keep services to the community at a high level. They lay off frontline employees and contract the jobs outside but keep the managers. Makes no sense to me.

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  3. @ Money Grubber: Just loving your posts!!!!! I agree with your statement that the 2 are really one ( “investigation” by two groups of cops–the DA and Police/Sheriff) and that it’s rubber stamping (and, back scratching…my two cents) I think Jill is trying to act like a real DA and she’s rattling the cage of the little Good ‘ol Boy, Good ‘ol Legally Blonds networks. Tickles the hell outta me.

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  4. Money Grubber says:

    I wonder what the “bomb squad” boys are doing in Sonoma County Law Enforcement these days ? Playing cards? Eating pizza. Phoning in their own “bomb” scares?

    Remember how the local government insisted that it needed funding for the “bomb squad.”

    Then some retired public employee posted right here in the Press Democrat that the “bomb squad” was dispatched last year some outragous amount of times which was clearly a total lie. He claimed that they a “bomb” scare every two or three days over the previous 12 months.

    Ahhhhh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ahhhhh ha.

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  5. Steveguy says:

    Are those the Prius drivers in Trader Joe’s parking lot ??

    If so, they shouldn’t be allowed to drive. period.

    Sarcasm Ted…

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  6. Money Grubber says:

    Graeme Wellington:

    Thanks for the heads up on the fraud within the city of Rohnert Park with regard to the lady bureaucrat collecting cash at the same time she was driving a public vehicle.

    John T:

    I believe it was within the County of Sacramento just recently that they eliminated a function of the DA’s Office in which the DA investigators supposedly reviewed every police shooting.

    It was stated in the media that the system had evolved into nothing more than a rubber stamp process, anyway, and that the DA reports virtually mirrored the reports of the shooter police.

    So, as you said, the county was double billing the taxpayer by way of two groups of “investigations” that really were nothing but a single “investigation” by two groups of cops.

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  7. Graeme Wellington says:

    In Rohnert Park, one lady bureaucrat had a city car and a cash vehicle allowance simultaneously. No consequences when the “error” was discovered.

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  8. NOTUTOO says:

    You’re crazy if you think this is a cost saving measure. This isn’t about trimming fat. If you know anything about county budgets you know that they never go down, always up. The cost savings for the take home cars is already earmarked for something else she has her sights set on. Most likely something to do with domestic violence.

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  9. truth in law says:

    No one wants to lose a perk. Money is saved and reapplied someplace else.

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  10. Martian says:

    Sour grapes. I support the D.A.’s decision to trim the fat, let’s keep it coming.

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  11. John T says:

    Good for Jill! It’s time someone stood up to the overpaid investigators. They all come out on a major crime so they can pile on the OT.

    Ever wonder why they need to come out at all when the Sheriff’s deputies and Sheriff’s detectives are already on scene?

    I guess they don’t see anything wrong with double billing the poor taxpayer, is there?

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  12. The Hammer says:

    I think every taxpayer, you know, the people who pay the wages of every county employee, should have a county provided vehicle, a hummer maybe, so we can get to the tax office to pay the property tax bill. (Just a joke, not necessary to respond.)

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  13. Ruben says:

    Ravitch may not get a county car but instead she gets $500 a month car allowance in lieu of a county car. A little hypocritical and not entirely truthful when she says she uses her own car and doesn’t let the taxpayers pay for her ride! Why doesn’t she give up her $500 a month car allowance too, just to be fair. That would save the da’s office $6000 a year!!!!

    Oh wait she’s the boss: do as I say not as I do.

    What’s happening in that office. Doubtful she has a good relationship with her staff when she takes money out of their pockets.

    Friends in the criminal justice system say the morale in that office is at an all time low thanks to Ravitch. No surprise.

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  14. pete says:

    She should be cutting her own salary too!

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  15. Union Guy says:

    Just more overtime. The end result of a bad decision. Now when they need the investigators at the scene of major crimes, they can wait for them to go to the office, pcik up the car with all the gear in it and go to the scene. Sure, one on-call investigator will have a car, but a major crime is usually not handled solo. Penny wise and dollar foolish. Inexperince will cost even more with the learning curve. Thank goodness major crimes only occur in the county a few times a week.

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  16. Money Grubber says:

    Why would the DA staff expect to have a county provided car in the first place ?

    Oh, wait. Because a car was provided with the “gun and badge” ?????? lol.

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