Well, everybody’s doing it.
Businesses have been buoyed by government grants and loans. Individuals have received augmented unemployment benefits and emergency checks from Donald and Joe.
So now, it appears to be government’s turn to pay itself.
Inyo County Supervisors approved the second reading of resolutions and ordinances on Tuesday granting Supervisors and upper management staffers raises ranging from 4 to 40% depending upon the position.
Inyo Supervisors granted themselves a 26% pay hike. They will now receive $72,060/year for their part-time jobs, about a $15,000/year bump.
It also sparked some unusual discord from a board which typically keeps its differences to itself.
Supervisor Jeff Griffiths voted against giving himself a pay raise.
Fellow Supervisors suggest this was a grandstand play and that he’s happy to take the money – he just doesn’t want to own the vote.
Or perhaps his fellow Supervisors are merely upset that Mr. Griffiths did not follow the Bro Code. Isn’t there supposed to be honor among thieves?
Supervisor Jen Roeser, whom I would suggest one could call the “Smiling Assassin,” was clearly perturbed by Griffiths vote.
After all, she was the one who magnanimously offered to skip the pay raise for the first year because she’s only sat on the board for six months.
She said her hard-working colleagues who have served for far longer merit the increase.
Except for her new enemy, Grandstanding Griffiths. She challenged him to match her and also not take the pay raise for the first year.
He said he would donate the extra $15,000 to causes/charities of his choice.
It was somewhat ironic that Roeser was going after Griffiths while her other three colleagues on the board are all double-dippers (Supervisors Kingsley, Pucci and Totheroh all currently receive retirement pensions from other jobs while they get paid for this one).
The $15,000 bump in pay, by the way, will translate into a $3,000/year bump for the above Supervisors once they leave office and begin tapping their (second) county pensions.
Supervisors Kingsley and Pucci were members of the subcommittee (along with various elected department heads) that spearheaded the push for the proposed salary “adjustments.”
In board discussion at the June 8 meeting, Supervisor Kingsley described the process and methodology arrived at as “simple but brilliant.”
Supervisors Totheroh and Roeser also used the term “brilliant” while dishing out effusive praise for the “draft analysis strategy developed by Auditor Controller Amy Shepherd.”
Everyone’s always got a better idea for a mousetrap.
From CAO Clint Quilter’s staff report: The key element of this analysis was to select a benchmark position that was very similar for every county and to then determine how other positions were compensated in comparison to that benchmark. The benchmark position chosen was the County Administrative Officer.
Translation: All positions are compensated at a percentage of what the CAO makes.
Then the County embarked on a survey of other counties.
Again, from Quilter: The counties initially chosen for comparison were San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Nevada, Mariposa, Mono, Ventura, and Calaveras. These were initially chosen due to ease of obtaining information and having the necessary positions. Subsequently, we were able to identify an easy mechanism to access the information from most counties. In order to test the validity of our method, different groups of counties were used in a similar analysis for a sampling of positions. This was done in 3 ways. First, an analysis was done using the first California county alphabetically and every seventh county thereafter in an alphabetized list. Second, an analysis was done using the fourth California county alphabetically and included every seventh county thereafter in an alphabetized list. Finally, an analysis was done using the 18 California counties beginning with the letter S. All three of the analyses gave results that were within 2% of the analysis using the original counties.
Once the analysis was completed, positions were grouped into bands in order reduce the number of different salary schedules required and to maintain consistency between positions with similar responsibilities. These banded percentages are the recommended percentage of the County Administrator Salary for each position.
Which all sounds so groovily scientific.
But what struck me … some of the comparison counties are awfully pricey, particularly in terms of real estate values. A cursory bit of Lunch research determined (numbers courtesy realtor.com as of April/May 2021) that the median home sales price for the comparison counties was $601,429/$383 per square foot.
Inyo County’s median sales price was $443,000/$265 per square foot.
So Inyo County’s housing costs are 25% less on average than the selected peers, and yet, we wish to pay ourselves on par with our peers.
Sounds like a pretty good deal.
But hey, why would Messrs Kingsley and Pucci and the rest of their fine subcommittee wish to dither in such mental gymnastics if it threatened to get in the way of a 26% raise?
Kingsley said at both the June 8 and June 15 hearings on the matter that he’s happy to talk with his constituents about how hard he works and how the raise is appropriate.
We set up a system and applied it fairly across the board, he said.
Totheroh piped up by saying that his discomfort in handing himself such a fat raise was “made significantly less by the process.”
Kingsley said at the June 8 meeting that he hopes the bump in pay will inspire more qualified people whom are smarter than he is to run for office.
According to County Counsel Marshall Rudolph, the public has sixty days if it wishes to circulate a petition and seek a referendum on the Supervisor pay hikes.
Here is a breakdown of the increases awarded to Supervisors and other upper management staff.
Title 2020 2021 %
Supervisor $57,180 $72,060 26
Assessor $116,052 $134,376 16
Auditor/ $116,052 $134,376 16 Controller
Clerk/ $105,504 $122,700 16
Treasurer/ $106,824 $122,700 15
Dist. Atty. $153,168 $169,440 11
Pub. Adm./ $80,532 $113,892 41
Sheriff $148,884 $169,440 14
Ag. Comm. $150,684 $156,720 4
CAO $187,272 $194,760 4
Cty Counsel $192,708 $200,412 4
Child Supp. $111,624 $116,088 4
Envir. Hlth $107,016 $111,300 4
Water Dir. $117,744 $134,376 14
HHS Dir. $133,704 $148,380 11
Chief Prob. $129,660 $134,832 4
Pub. Works $149,352 $155,808 4
Plann’g Dir. $109,332 $122,700 12
And this is what their respective benefits pacakges cost as a percentage of salary:
Ag Commissioner 46%
County Counsel 34%
Child Support Dir. 32%
Envir. Health Dir. 36%
Water Director 47%
HHS Director 44%
Planning Director 35%
Chief Probation Off. 45%
Public Works Dir. 31%
District Attorney 35%
Pub. Admin/Guardian 45%
Treas./Tax Collector 38%
Supervisor Griffiths 23%
Supervisor Kingsley 19%
Supervisor Roeser 21%
Supervisor Totheroh 19%
Supervisor Pucci 11%
So the Ag Commissioner’s benefits, for example, cost .46 x $156,720 or another $72,000 on top of his salary.
Of note: Like the rest of the state, the County’s pension obligations are not fully funded. Far from it.
Raising salaries, ironically, means increasing pension obligation exposure.
Hilariously, the County removed Sheriff Jeff Hollowell as Veteran Services Officer, which formerly netted him approximately $12,000/year.
And then gave him a $20,000 raise. Mr. Hollowell has been more than made whole.
In other Inyo Supervisor action … the board held a workshop at its June 8 meeting hosted by Health and Human Services on services available to address homelessness and affordable housing in Inyo County.
Another opportunity for the public to ask why Supervisors haven’t made any progress on the safe parking issue since scuttling the Nazarene Church deal some four months ago.
“I’m disappointed in the Supervisors [Kingsley, Pucci, Roeser] who voted it down and then didn’t come up with an alternative,” said citizen Julie Tiede.
Harold McDonald of Inyo350 added, “From a private citizen perspective, nothing’s happened on safe parking.”
He added that it’s not just up to IMACA or the City of Bishop to solve.
Pucci and Smiling Assassin Roeser were quick to tell the world how hard they’ve been working on the issue. “It looks like we’re doing nothing,” said Pucci. “That’s not the case.”
This hard work can apparently be defined as talking to a few constituents and then lobbing site ideas at IMACA’s Larry Emerson to vet.
Supervisor Griffiths said it’s unfair to load the whole issue on Emerson, as he’s got a lot of other tasks to take care of.
Pucci replied, “I don’t want to hear from Supervisor Griffiths about how busy Larry is. I want to know what resources Larry needs.”
The Smiling Assassin then tossed fellow Supervisor Totheroh under the bus, suggesting that he become the “point person” for the new site location effort.
*Right. So if it all goes sideways, blame Totheroh versus the three supervisors who voted down the first location.
Pucci, Roeser and Kingsley all paid lip service to the safe parking issue; it’s not clear how much any of one of them believes in its necessity.
As Kingsley said, “Let’s not overstate the problem just to get people excited.”
Roeser said her numbers from IMACA indicate there are perhaps 7-12 people living in their cars who might need a designated “safe parking” area.
Health and Human Services Director Marilyn Mann finally stepped in to offer to serve as a liaison between the “hard-working ideas machines” otherwise known as Roeser and Pucci and IMACA’s Larry Emerson.
Inside Lunch’s brain. If you want to know why we make such good decisions around here …
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece in its May 15-16 edition entitled, “Good Moods Often Lead to Bad Decisions.”
A good mood, the author postulated, makes us more likely to accept our first impressions as true without challenging them.
“People who are in a good mood are more likely to let their biases affect their thinking.”
“Some people are more receptive than others to bullshit. They can be impressed by ‘seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.’”
I thought the last observation to be a good tip: “Negotiators who shift from a good mood to an angry one during the negotiation often achieve good results.”
But let’s circle back as we tend to do around here.
Read Sebastian Junger’s book “Freedom” this week.
The narrative is structured around a group of guys out hiking and camping along train tracks on the Eastern Seaboard and then inward through Pennsylvania.
The irony Junger recognized, was that “Everything we needed – food, clothes, gear – came from the very thing we thought we were outwitting.
Everyone – including people who vehemently oppose any form of federal government – depend on a sprawling supply chain.”
And then … “In modern democracies … an ethos of public sacrifice is rarely needed because freedom and survival are more or less guaranteed. This is a great blessing but allows people to believe that any sacrifice at all – rationing water during a drought, for example – are forms of government tyranny. They are no more forms of tyranny than rationing water on a lifeboat … the idea that we can enjoy the benefits of society while owing nothing is literally infantile.”
Finally, on leadership: “[Democracy’s] core virtue of insisting leaders be accountable to others and willing to make sacrifices is crucial to any group that faces adversity … In any society, leaders who aren’t willing to make sacrifices aren’t leaders, they’re opportunists, and opportunists rarely have the common good in mind. They’re easy to spot, though: opportunists lie reflexively, blame others for failures and are unapologetic cowards.”