Though the screws have been tightened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that doesn’t mean people won’t ask for a wrench. In Mono County District Attorney Tim Kendall’s opinion, loosening those screws equates to rectifying past wrongs and setting the record straight.
Kendall went before the Mono County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday with an agenda item focused on pay equity for the DA’s office.
As Kendall explained, three positions were left out of the county’s most recent salary survey in 2018, District Attorney, Sheriff, and Assessor, and since the survey results have been published, more adjustments have been made after the fact as well. Although the Assessor’s pay scale was ultimately adjusted, the DA and Sheriff have not been.
According to Kendall, the 2018 survey and subsequent series of salary adjustments was the latest insult to the DA’s office, which had not been included in any of the county’s salary surveys going back 14 years.
As a result the DA’s office, Kendall reported, has continually struggled with employee retention and recruitment. In a staff report, he explained that there’s been a steady decline in interest from applicants over the years, with the most recent round of recruiting yielding two candidates, only one of whom was qualified, over a four-month period.
“When we talk about the last two years, we’re talking about fairness and equity, both internally, to be included in these surveys but also fairness and equity among our peers from similar counties,” said Kendall.
In order to find a suitable benchmark, Kendall undertook a salary survey of his own, incorporating data from the 15 other California counties that were used in the 2018 Mono County survey. The new survey revealed that the average District Attorney salary across those 15 counties was $162,946.38, with an average assistant DA salary running at $138,579.38. Adjusted for Mono County cost of living, he calculated the DA’s salary for Mono should be $181,358.87 (currently $152,532.00) and the Assistant DA’s would be $154,238.80 (currently $127,920.00).
Kendall’s ask was less: $170,004 in salary with an approximate $5,500 benefit increase to $96,359 for a total package of $266,363. The Assistant DA would receive $144,503 in salary and $87,748 in benefits for a total of $232,251.
“I think we all realize that there’s a bigger discussion that needs to take place as far as moving forward to make sure these issues are addressed in contracts, contract renewals, retention,” Kendall said, “and certainly to get a process in place that is transparent and addresses fairness and equity so that we won’t have positions left out in the future like the DA’s office.
Asked by Kendall to comment on the issue, Dave Butters, head of Mono County Human Resources, reported that Kendall had included him throughout the process and noted that the data Kendall was using is correct. He also noted that county’s old compensation policy, which defined pay relationships between positions has been lost over time.
Acting County Administrative Officer Dave Wilbrecht explained that while he didn’t disagree with anything that had been said and recognized the need for work to be done on the matter, “It’s about the time of things, when’s the best time for things.”
“Right now we’re in a large conversation in the county about businesses losing business, people unemployed … the optics of raises for county employees is a very difficult thing for me just to come to terms with.”
Wilbrecht recommended putting the issue off until the mid-year when the county may have a better sense of what the budget looks like.
Kendall made final comments prior to board deliberations.
“Sometimes just spending in general can bring fear of what that public perception might be. Many of the decisions I make have to take into account what the public might perceive,” Kendall said.
“What I want the public to know, at least for this discussion, is the discussion that’s taking place today is about corrective action, it’s about fairness, it’s about equity, it’s correcting an omission that really shouldn’t have occurred back in 2018. It’s not arbitrary, it’s very deliberate, it’s thoughtful and it’s not without supporting data.”
“I have faith in the public that they will perceive this as fairness,” he concluded, “They’ll perceive this as equity.”
Supervisor Bob Gardner was in agreement with Kendall on the matter, noting “This is a corrective action, it’s an omission, it’s regrettable … we need to fix it and not penalize employees any further.”
Supervisor John Peters agreed and noted “I just don’t the see the value in continuing to know that there is some inequity that is part of this,” adding “What can we do to take care of this now and work on setting up a path forward where this wouldn’t occur again.”
“There needs to be an expectation … for what is to come,” Peters added, “What is the expectation for the other departments?”
Board Chair Stacy Corless, in between comments from board members, added that the discussion was more centered around salary parity as opposed to equity, a point that colleague Jennifer Kreitz took up.
“If $181,000 for two white men is what we’re talking about as far as equity, I don’t think that’s fair,” Kreitz said, “Wait ‘til mid year. There’s a whole global thing we need to be looking at within our budget. I think that this will have ramifications.” She later noted that there is a cost-of-living salary increase already in the pipeline, and questioned the wisdom in granting a raise if it were to be followed soon after by another.
Given his impending retirement from the board, Supervisor Fred Stump felt that he shouldn’t make decisions on long-term finances for the county and opted to allow his successor to potentially make that decision. “I do appreciate the parity issue that has been raised here, it’s regrettable when I did have more time left that this didn’t get addressed,” said Stump, who added that his decision to delay “has nothing to do with my feelings of confidence in both David [Anderson] and Tim [Kendall] as District Attorneys.”
“We’ve had major disruption in county administration and that’s really come into play here and slowed down this process,” Corless noted, “There’s a whole other thing going on with parity among department heads and every time we make a change in individual meetings, it impacts the rest of this group.”
“I’m not ready to say today, ‘yes lets go ahead with this’,” she added, noting constituents would be “heartened to know that the DA’s office is doing good work for them and deserves to be compensated fairly.
County Finance Director Janet Dutcher gave her take on the matter, stating, “We can’t just go out and get new clients and more billable hours …we live within a fixed budget.
“One of my stresses when I see an agenda item like this is, ‘oh my gosh, I just balanced the budget and now it’s out of balance again.’”
“I’m not asking for more money, I’m asking to pay my people a fair compensation based on the market,” Kendall said. “But I’m not asking for additional money to budget.” He explained that the salary increases would come from the same allocation that the District Attorney’s office already receives from the county.
Kendall added that he’d met with Dutcher repeatedly to guarantee that the salary increase would be coming out of the department’s budget, not additional funds.
The board opted to assign Wilbrecht to work with Kendall on an adjusted contract to be brought before the board at a later time.