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Sonoma County supervisors collect automatic pay hike


Sonoma County supervisors got a treat last month to mark the coming of the new year — a 1.4 percent pay hike and a lump-sum payment because the raise was retroactive to July 1.

The little-noticed pay hike boosted the supervisors’ base pay by $1,878 to $135,969. The back paycheck was $763.20.

Fourth District Supervisor Mike McGuire voluntarily turns back 10 percent of his pay, so his annual hike was $1,690 and the back paycheck was $686.88.

The hike was not the direct handiwork of the supervisors, however, but rather an indirect effect of actions by the state. For more than four decades, Sonoma County has pegged supervisor salaries to judicial salaries as a way of reducing any appearance of conflict of interest in having elected officials set their own salaries directly.

Sonoma County sealJudges received their own 1.4 percent raise, to $181,292 annually, on Jan. 1, also retroactive to July 1.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she sees nothing wrong with the raise, given that it was simply a matter of following long-set procedure. The system of linking supervisor salaries to some unrelated outside factor, such as judicial salaries, is a good thing, she said.

“It takes the politics out of it,” she said. “I think it would be bad if we had to determine our own salaries.”

Zane and Supervisor Efren Carrillo pointed out that the supervisors agreed to take an 8.5 percent cut on total compensation in 2013, at the same time the county was asking unions to agree to pay and benefit cuts. In the end, most county employees took a compensation cut of about 2.25 percent, but the supervisors maintained their own larger cut.

“We felt the need to lead by example,” Zane said.

McGuire had little to say about the raise, but also said he was “leading by example” by voluntarily turning back a portion of his salary.

Board Chairman David Rabbitt said he had heard no discussion among supervisors of turning down the raise.

“I don’t know how symbolic that would be. Where do you stop on those things?” he said. “8.5 (percent) is much, much more than anything else. We did lead by example.”

Vice Chairwoman Susan Gorin, who joined the board in 2013, agreed, saying that in addition to the board’s voluntary compensation cut, she had waived any participation in the county’s pension system. Given all that, she said, “I’d have to give some thought as to whether or not I want to give this back.”

The raise, however mechanistic, didn’t go down well with county employee unions. Bill Robotka, union representative for the Engineers & Scientists of California, said his members are set for just a 1 percent raise, and that won’t kick in until December.

He said a fairer way to set the board’s salary would be to peg it to Sonoma County employees, so the supervisors would experience the same local budget pressures as the workers do.

“Don’t make it a perception (of sharing the pain), make it a reality: set the salaries to your employees,” he said. “If we’re waiting until December, why would you take it now — and have it retroactive?”

The county’s largest union, the Service Employees’ International Union, reacted with dismay and said it was “past time” to reconsider how supervisor salaries are set. SEIU workers are expecting their 1 percent raise in October.

“No other county worker receives a salary increase without public input or a vote by the supervisors. … Employees’ salaries and benefits are consistently scrutinized, examined and vetted by the public,” area field director Jason Klumb said. “All county employees work hard for our community and everyone should go through the same public process. It shouldn’t be different.”

Sonoma State political science professor David McCuan agreed that the raise would likely irk some employees and taxpayers.

“This is obviously bad politics and bad optics in an election year … . It’s going to appear that supervisors are not like the people they govern,” he said.

The formula for supervisors’ salaries was pegged at 55 percent of judicial salaries until 2000, when supervisors raised the figure to 65 percent, giving themselves an 18 percent pay increase, phased in over three years. The board raised the percentage to 75 percent in 2008.

According to county payroll records, the base pay for supervisors was $64,851 in 1999, $93,494 by 2004 and $134,091 by 2013, before the latest raise.

Including the new raise, supervisors’ base pay has jumped 210 percent in 15 years.

Several other counties use similar mechanisms to set the salaries of elected officials, though the California State Association of Counties does not have a comprehensive list of how many.

Marin County supervisors voted in June not to take the judicial pay hike. Napa County supervisors accepted the raise, according to reports in the Napa Valley Register. Madera County supervsiors declined it in December, two weeks before it was to take effect, according to the Fresno Bee. Fresno County supervisors accepted the raise collectively, the paper said, but one member declined personally.

Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association President Jack Atkin said he was “not crazy” about the idea of supervisors getting a raise, but he noted the the total cost was modest, less than $10,000. The real danger to the county, he said, is the cost of the pension system, not the pay of five elected officials.

“It’s not something I’m really concerned about because there is such budget pressure,” Atkin said, leading to “things that go unfunded that should be funded — like road maintenance, park maintenance, basic government services.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BeerCountry.

11 Responses to “Sonoma County supervisors collect automatic pay hike”

  1. earthsleaves says:

    we, the people are their bossess. we elect them. can you imagine going to your boss and telling him/her that you just gave yourself a raise because you felt like it. Until we stop electing (hiring) politicians and not those who truly want to serve in the public interest, AND stop allowing them to set their own rules it will always be the same.

  2. Mockingbird:

    Let’s play “devil’s” advocate for a minute and take the board’s side for purposes of this issue and agree with the statement that “it’s not their fault, they weren’t the BOS that voted for this.”

    On its face, taken literally, that is a true and correct statement.

    However, I have never read/heard/seen/been informed of ANY LAW, POLICY, DIRECTIVE OR EXECUTIVE ORDER which prevents them from doing the right thing now, which includes following the sound fiscal example undertaken recently by our neighbors to the south and REFUSING the salary increase, and then rolling back the salaries for themselves as well as future members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to more reasonable levels, which would not only demonstrate to the people of Sonoma County that the board was making an earnest attempt to lead by example, but would be reflective of sound fiscal policy as well.

    But, wait. Did I just use the words “supervisors” and “lead” in the same post?

  3. Elephant says:

    Yeah one of the most nefarious quirks about the BoS is that they get to set their own salaries. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but I believe that this is far more than double of what it was 15 years ago. It might even be triple.

  4. Follower says:

    Sometimes I wish I hadn’t paid so much attention in History class.

    I wish I had no idea where this is all headed.

    I wish I could just enjoy all the free stuff my Government wants to force my neighbors to buy me in ignorant bliss.

    I wish my parents hadn’t raised me to think for myself, believe in myself and believe in my own abilities so I could feel comfort in knowing that my Government knows what’s best for me and will take good care of me.

    I wish they hadn’t raised me with such high standards so I could accept “good enough for Government work” and just go on with whatever life my Government allows me to live.

    I wish I had no idea of what it used to mean to be an American.

    But. . . I DID pay attention in History class so I DO know where this is all headed and it’s not a happy ending.

    We are doing NOTHING that hasn’t been done before over & over again all throughout human history and it always ends in bloodshed.

    With any luck, this shell game can continue until after we’re all dead and gone.

    With any luck, our children and grandchildren will be the ones without a chair when the music stops.

    So next time you’re faced with voting for another redistributionist politician, you need you ask yourself. . . “do I feel lucky”?

    If you can answer “yes”… whatever you do, DON’T study History!
    You will come to some VERY unsettling conclusions.

  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    As for “lead by example” someone should ask them how they got that 8.5% cut because the unions couldn’t figure it out. Are they including the cut in county paid deferred comp which went from 6% to 2.25%?

    Please be aware that the unions are on the same page as the public on this issue.

  6. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    This is what the county unions have been screaming about. The BOS get raises automatically because way back when the BOS voted to tie their salaries to the judges. THEY ALSO get raises when the rest of county workers gets raises along with three retirement funds (county, social security AND DEFERRED COMP). They were supposed to give up all their COUNTY PAID deferred compensations as they promised SEIU but they didn’t. Of course.

    When unions challenge them they say “it’s not their fault, they weren’t the BOS that voted for this”. What I don’t hear “we’ll change this because it’s unfair to the voters and other county workers”.

    You all can yell about unions all you want but county UNIONS ARE the watchdogs of the management and BOS. The public isn’t always watching and the BOS is counting on this.

  7. Antonia Cansino says:

    “Besides, Jack Atkin said ” We just gave David Rabbitt our good government award and it would look bad if we criticized him publicly for a sneaky pay raise so let’s just bash rank and file workers Pensions instead!!” (Now we know which “taxpayers’ this organization cares about….)

  8. GAJ says:


    Judges have very difficult jobs and put increasingly through the mill year after year while the Sups do noting but ignore their basic duties especially properly funding the repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure and controlling employee costs.

  9. Papa ESoCo says:

    To Jim, gave you a thumbs down, but, thought afterward perhaps you were saying that “tongue in cheek”. More I think about it the surer I am; so, sorry for the thumbs down.
    As for the “Stupidvisors”, they deserve a quick kick in the pants for all the damage they have done; especially “Captain Underpants”.

  10. Francis says:

    I would like my salary pegged to Mark Zuckerberg’s salary so no appearance of conflict of interest would come into question.

    What relationship is the salary of an elected county bureaucrat and a jurist? There are no educational requirements to be a supervisor, no experience needed and based on what this board is doing no criminal background check is done. In fact it might help.

    This is totally stupid and needs to be overturned. These supervisors do not earn their large salaries now.

  11. Jim says:

    Well, they deserve it. All government officials should get raises given the wonderful job they’re doing.