Contra Costa supes repeal pay raise

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors repealed an ordinance Tuesday that would have raised their salaries by 33 percent, preempting a campaign to repeal the raise at the ballot box.

In a unanimous vote, the supervisors repealed the raise but will reconsider options for giving themselves a pay raise next week when they vote to give the repeal final approval. The supervisors voted last year to raise their pay from $97,483 to $129,227 per year and argued that the large adjustment was necessary because the board has not had a raise since 2006.

In future years, the ordinance would have tied the supervisors’ pay to state judgeships, another move that prompted criticism but that supervisors’ argued was standard practice in California.

Opponents of the ordinance, led by public employee unions, gathered 39,222 signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn the raise, arguing that employees had been asked to make sacrifices in times of financial hardship for the county.

To get the repeal on the ballot would have cost the county more than the raise itself, Supervisor Mary Piepho said at today’s meeting, so the supervisors chose to repeal it themselves in the face of the public outcry.

Piepho said if the supervisors had received a 4 percent pay increase each year since their last adjustment, it would have amounted to roughly the same raise.

Public Employees Union Local 1 general manager Peter Nguyen said today the repeal was a step forward but does not solve the tension between public employees and the supervisors:

“Public opposition was unanimous and passionate. … That sentiment was clearly borne out countywide by the tens of thousands who signed the petition.”

He recommended a citizen’s panel to oversee all future board salary changes that would keep raises in line with the average consumer price index as long as county employees pay also kept pace. Supervisor Karen Mitchoff pointed out it is unclear if a majority of voters oppose the supervisors’ salary increase since the issue was never voted on in a public election.

The gathered signatures represent at most 10 percent of registered Contra Costa County voters, Mitchoff said. She said she was troubled by the personal attacks levied against supervisors as the issue was debated, particularly on social media.

The debate showed a fracture in the relationship between the county government and county employees, Mitchoff said:

“We’re both going to have to work very hard to repair those relationships.”

The board is required by state law to set its own salary and the ordinance moving forward would have tied it to 70 percent of state judges’ salaries — something widely practiced in California counties, according to the supervisors.

Where that salary is pegged changes county to county, ranging from 49 percent in Napa County to 100 percent in Los Angeles County, board chairman John Gioia said. Gioia said as the board examines the issue going forward, it will require some “thoughtfulness and understanding.”

The board will discuss what other options might be available at its meeting next week.