Petition would rescind supervisors’ pay raise

A recent vote by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to give themselves a 33 percent pay increase may not go into effect after all.

A consortium of organizations representing public employees and tax payers teamed up Friday to deliver a petition calling for a referendum on the supervisors’ raise, which was set to go into effect Sunday. The salary adjustment would have increased the supervisors’ salaries from $97,483 to $129,227.

Peter Nguyen, general manager of the Public Employees Union Local 1, which represents county employees, said the organization, along with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the Contra Costa Tax Payers Association, and chapters of American Federal, State County and Municipal Employees had collected 39,222 signatures.

The number is well above the 25,500 that county spokeswoman Betsy Burkhart said was needed for the board to reconsider their vote. But first, the signatures will be sent to the elections office for verification.

If the county clerk certifies the petition, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Karen Mitchoff said the board would reconsider the pay raise, rather than authorizing a referendum on the issue:

“When we did this, we did not think there would be this response or this reaction. … People are angry and I get that they’re angry…We thought it was a fair and equitable time to adjust salaries so they don’t continue to spiral away from the average.”

Incoming Chairman John Gioia is calling for the board to act before the clerk is done verifying signatures. He said he’s prepared to submit a proposal on Jan. 13 stopping the expenditure of county funds for the clerk to verify signatures and then to ask the board to rescind the pay raise:

“The board has a lot of incoming issues next year and we want to move past this issue.”

Gioia added the board will then have to determine how to adjust their salaries in the future.

Outgoing Deputy Sheriff’s Association president Ken Westermann said he was “dumbfounded” when he first learned of the raise:

“For years, the supervisors have been talking with us about shared sacrifices and that the county’s financial situation was obviously very dismal, that revenue was down. … It’s very hypocritical.”

Westermann said the sheriff’s office has lost 55 deputies to neighboring counties, roughly 9 percent of the force, because salaries are much lower in Contra Costa County than elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Robbie Ann White, president of AFSCME Local 2700, said the salary increase felt “like a slap in the face,” after a two-year contract negotiation for county employees:

“They had told us in all the bargaining sessions they didn’t have the money and they would rather spend the money on wages instead of other things that would be incentives for our employees.”

She said a study of salaries in surrounding counties revealed Contra Costa County employees were receiving up to 19 percent less than the average salaries of similar employees.

Mitchoff said the supervisors were also getting paid less than supervisors across the state. At their new salary of $129,000, Contra Costa County supervisors would still be paid roughly $18,000 less than supervisors in the more populous Alameda and Santa Clara counties, as well as Sonoma County, where the board earns $138,500 annually, according to county documents.

Supervisor Candice Anderson, who cast the sole dissenting vote when the salary ordinance was introduced on Oct. 28, said she felt it wasn’t fair for the supervisors to justify their own pay raise by comparing their salaries to other counties while telling county employees similar comparisons weren’t valid:

“To take a raise well over 30 percent was shocking and (county employees) felt betrayed.”

Anderson said she voted against the raise on principle, rather than because it would have been fiscally irresponsible. With just five county supervisors, Mitchoff said the raise amounts to approximately $235,000, as opposed to the millions it would cost to raise county employee salaries by even 1 percent.:

“For me, you lead by example and you lead by sacrifice. … We can’t offer our employees that raise.”

Anderson said she included a waiver in the ordinance so that she would only receive a pay increase of 4 percent, the same that was received by the Public Employees Union Local 1 in their most recent contract.

Nguyen said the supervisors should tie their pay raises to the local consumer price index or the average wage increase of county employees, instead of 70 percent of superior court judges’ salaries, as is currently the case:

“We believe any wage adjustment should be reasonable. … I hope (this referendum) reminds the board that their primary job is to serve the public and to engage with their constituents. If they had kept those two tenants in mind, they never would have gone down this path.”