MARIPOSA — Last month, four members of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors voted to increase their base pay by $30,000 per year — and now a significant number of county residents are expressing their displeasure on social media, and through the referendum process.
Despite a number of local residents speaking out against the action, the board passed an ordinance at their Jan. 7 meeting amending Chapter 2.60 of the Mariposa County Code. The measure approved by District 1 Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe, District 2 Supervisor Merlin Jones, District 4 Supervisor Kevin Cann and District 5 Supervisor Miles Menetrey increases supervisors’ annual compensation rate to 40 percent of the Mariposa County superior court judge’s salary, or 40 percent of approximately $200,000.
The board’s previous compensation was based on 25 percent of the judge’s salary.
District 3 Supervisor Marshall Long cast the lone dissenting vote.
Local activist Robert (Bob) Borchard, together with several other concerned citizens, has launched a referendum campaign to stay the execution of the ordinance. Although there was a textual hiccup to the original referendum petition form, requiring its redrafting and signing, according to Borchard as of Feb. 2, the group had reached the halfway point on their signature drive in just over a week, and there is a month before the submission deadline.
According to Keith Williams, Mariposa County’s registrar of voters, there is a 60-day window from the date the ordinance was passed for a referendum to be presented to election officials containing at least 823 signatures of registered voters. If that is accomplished, the registrar then notifies the board of the action and a 30-day stay is placed on the ordinance while the signatures are verified by the clerks in the elections department.
Williams said once the signatures are verified, he notifies the board that the stay on the ordinance is permanent. The board then has the choice to either repeal the ordinance or call for a special election to bring it before the voters of the county.
“I have to check election code, but they may also be able to alter the ordinance,” Williams explained. A special election has to be held within 88 days of the signature verification, which means it would have to take place before next November’s presidential election.
In an email to Abby Lauten-Schriver, who writes for the Merced Sun-Star, Borchard wrote: “I just want to underscore the underhanded way that this issue was processed and why I and a lot of other people are so steamed over this pay raise. This issue was quietly ‘slipped’ on the agenda with the required public notice but NO fanfare! If I had not got a heads-up from Supervisor Long, they would have pulled it off with no public input. As it was, we had many citizens in the Board room protesting and the ONLY people who spoke in support were County Dept. Heads! They passed it 4-1 and went down to the local wine shop, with their Dept. Head supporters and celebrated their victory! This is a small town and this arrogance infuriated a lot of people! The attachments above are the the public information notices we circulated prior to the final action hearing.”
Borchard said he did reach out to the local Mariposa newspaper, but didn’t receive a response.
Most of the controversy appears to be based on the validity of a comparable salary study. Mariposa County’s human resources director stated, “We spent $7,310 on the comp study.” Substantial increases to all department heads’ compensation, and the board of supervisors’ salaries were recommended by Williams, based on the results of the Bryce Consulting study.
Community member Barbara Cone (Milazzo), a self-described social scientist, has flooded her Facebook page with information and comparison’s that she believes invalidates the accuracy of the Bryce Consulting study.
“I see the blatant flaws in the Compensation Study,” Cone wrote on Jan. 30. “This invalid study is the entire basis for the amount of money the supervisors have voted for themselves. As a Social Scientist I must blow the whistle on the errors! The justification for $184 thousand dollars to be spent on only 5 individuals every year rests on a compensation study that is so methodologically rife with error that they have no business claiming that it supports anything they are asking for. I feel it is my OBLIGATION as a Social Scientist to have meticulously dismantled the compensation study and to inform the public of the multitude of flaws before the citizens are stuck with a $184 thousand dollar a year mistake,”
The following day, Cone posted again. “It is important to know that the only way to compare county to county is to look at the full compensation of supervisors. Some counties pay higher salary and don’t provide benefits, like Colusa. Meanwhile Mariposa has big benefits because it is the one area supervisors had the power to increase. The supervisors are acting like the Wizard of Oz. They only want citizens to look at their base pay, yet their totally bogus compensation study says you have to look at the full compensation. They can’t cherry pick what they want and maintain integrity. For example, in 2018 Supervisor Cann was compensated $73,376.10. He won’t talk about that. He wants everyone to ignore the benefits of $11,114.63 and the retirement contribution of $6,436.63 that the county provided to him. These supervisors are losing the public trust by their own actions. Here is the link to the 2018 compensation for Supervisor Cann – https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2018/mariposa-county/robert-cann.”
Former ag commissioner weighs in on controversy
Cathi Boze, the retired Mariposa County agricultural commissioner-sealer, has also been outspoken about the proposed pay hikes. “I am both appalled and disappointed in how the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, particularly the Supervisors in Districts 4 and 5, orchestrated their own salary increase. I am especially disappointed in the Supervisor for District 1, as I have always thought that she had, not only integrity, but also did her best to serve her constituents. I was wrong. I am angry that the Board of Supervisors and the CAO do not have their focus on the benefit of the citizens of Mariposa County as they should, and swore an oath to do, but only on their own benefit. I expected this of the Supervisor for District 4 whose only focus since being elected has been what can benefit Yosemite National Park. However, I did expect better from the others and only one, the Supervisor for District 3, voted to oppose this massive raise.”
Boze also added, “I am angry about the almost $30,000 raise that the Board of Supervisors just voted for themselves – an increase to 40 percent of a Superior Court Judge’s salary from the current 25 percent. That means their annual compensation will go from the current $54,000 to $82,000 + benefits or an increase in cost to the County budget of $184,777, which equates to more than $10 for every man, woman, and child in Mariposa County (the current County population is less than 18,000). This is why I am working to rescind this massive increase in the Board of Supervisors’ salaries and submit it for a vote of the people.”
Each of the supervisors was emailed three specific questions regarding the issue. All five supervisors responded in writing, except for Long, who explained his stance via a telephone interview.
Long said, “I was okay with the salary study with regard to the department heads, but I thought including Merced and Madera counties in calculating the supervisors’ salary was not fair.”
Long and Jones were the liaisons with the human resources department for the board.
“I listened to my constituents and my conscience in voting no. I’ve seen a lot of social media posts saying, well I’ll take the money anyway, but the fact is I will do exactly what I have done in the past, and that is spread it throughout the community. That’s what makes Mariposa County such a great place with us all contributing to our community events and efforts,” Long explained. “Public service is supposed to be its own reward, not a career.”.
Supervisor Jones, who is retiring and not running for reelection in District 2, has also stated that his salary increases will be donated to the FFA and 4-H organizations. (Through the timing of initiation outlined in the ordinance, Jones won’t receive any increase while he’s in office)
The following are the written statements from the other four members of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors:
Question 1: Were you completely comfortable with the salary survey conducted by Bryce Consulting?
Supervisor Cann: “Salary comparisons with other counties are at best apples and oranges. Mariposa is one of three counties in the state which has no incorporated towns or cities. Also some BOS salary structures are unnaturally suppressed compared to the performance required because Supervisors are rarely willing to deal with the expected outcry from a percentage of the public. This rarely happens with the other elected’s salary comparison such as Sheriff, Treasurer, Auditor, etc. Many counties supplement Supervisor salaries with car allowances, county paid employee share of retirement plans, individual allotments for participating on Local Transportation Commission and Water Boards and other Board functions. Supervisors who choose to participate in county retirement plans must pay the full 8 percent employee share and don’t become eligible till after 5 years of service.”
“Most county boards don’t deal with utility districts, fire departments, town transportation plans, parking districts, lighting districts, on and on. That is the work of town councils and mayors. Many Boards only meet twice a month. But, as you may know, other than hospital and school board the county supervisors are the only government and responsible for all aspects of the county. Mariposa County has an economy unique within the state. We are a county of 18,000 residents with well over 4.5 million visitors each year. Hotel tax revenue exceeds property tax revenue by over 3X. Balancing an agriculture and tourism based economy demands an ever improving service level or you will be left behind.”
“Am I completely comfortable with the salary survey? Of course not. But it is important for the Board to decide what we feel is best for the future of Mariposa County and we made that decision.”
Supervisor Smallcombe stated, ” I am comfortable with Bryce Consulting’s compensation study. Compensation studies are common in industry and government sectors and the methodologies used are generally accepted. Bryce has been around for nearly 30 years and they’re a well-respected firm. As required by our MOU with SEIU, we consulted with them to identify comparable counties for use in the study, so we followed accepted practices.”
Supervisor Menetrey wrote: “YES.”
Supervisor Jones penned, “I feel they did an adequate job. Any time you are doing consulting over salaries, there is no two counties that have the same work load and job description. They will always vary. Was it a perfect match? No. I think they did the best job they could considering the information they had to work with.”
Question 2: What was your primary motivation in increasing the supervisor salary?
Supervisor Smallcombe wrote: “I’d like to see more diversity on our Board, especially bringing on younger people. Those younger people are likely to have more financial responsibilities than many of the retired folks who’ve served on it; they need adequate income to support themselves and their families during a hiatus from their profession and, should they fail to be reelected, to support themselves while they re-enter their profession. I’d also like to have more transparency about increases in Supervisor salaries. There is a reluctance to discuss salary increases for Board members, even the cost of living adjustments from which we’ve benefited since 1991. Our Human Resources Director has assured us that we can have that conversation in open session and that will promote a larger conversation about what Supervisor salaries should be.”
Supervisor Menetrey stated: “The study resulted in contract agreements with all 4 union represented units. Two of the units agreed to 4 year contracts (this is a first for Mariposa County) with salary increases each of the 4 years of the contract. The two other units (representing the Sheriff’s Department) agreed to a 3 year contract with salary increases each year. The Salary study also resulted in adjustments to the Department head salaries that amount to $272,566 annually (much less than the Board of Supervisors increase total) and there seems to be no public outcry about that decision. Even with the salary increase the Board has voted to implement, the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors’ salary will still be less, in some cases far less, than all 20 Department heads that answer to it, and still some employees. I will concede that the salary increase is a huge jump, however, I feel that if the salary had been addressed or discussed over the past 29 years this Board would not be in this position. I also agree with the position that a greater salary will entice a broader spectrum of citizens to seek this public office.” (Note: Menetrey’s full response was limited due to space considerations.)
Supervisor Jones wrote: “For the last 7 years, I have lost money every year doing this job. I didn’t do it for the money, but to serve this county and this great country. I didn’t serve in the military and this is a way I could give back. My primary reason I voted for the increase was not for myself for I won’t get a dime of it, but to be able to recruit good candidates from District 2. Because of the long travel, the costs incurred comes out of one’s pocket. After talking to many people, I could find only 1 qualified person to run for Supervisor this year. There is no travel subsidy for county Supervisors going back and forth to work. Just traveling back and forth to Mariposa and Greeley Hill it is over $20,000 a year in expenses. Not many people can do the job and take a loss every year. That is why I was motivated to see the salary increase. HR spent over 9 months trying to convince me. My first response was NO, but yet the majority of the Supervisors can’t afford to lose money.”
Supervisor Cann penned: “By keeping the salary artificially low for the performance required, the county has dramatically limited the pool of potential supervisor candidates. It is unreasonable to expect to attract qualified, experienced candidates for a more than full time position in constant public controversy, if your only pool are those who are retired with supplemental income or are independently wealthy. Reference the current election cycle with three positions on the ballot and all of them have only one candidate, each is retired from a former profession. Open supervisor seats routinely attract 4-6 candidates in most counties. Board salaries are currently exceeded by 89% of county employees. It is illogical to unnaturally suppress the salary of the officials you expect to lead the county in ever improving economic, environmental and social growth. In 1991 when the current 25% of Superior Court judges salary formula was set, being a Supervisor in Mariposa county was a very different business. I’m sure most worked very hard. In the ensuing 29 years the world of legislating in California has turned upside down. The job has become an executive leadership position which if not performed on a full time basis, you are effectively handing the reins of the county to non elected department heads which are direct reports to the Supervisors. In my 12 years serving, the number of less than 40 hour weeks can be counted on one hand and are greatly outnumbered by the 60 hour weeks which are many. By being heavily engaged at the State and National level Mariposa supervisors have brought in tens of millions in grant dollars which literally flew over our heads for past decades.”
Question 3: What was your motivation to pass the raise all at once rather than gradual salary increases?
Supervisor Menetrey: (This is additional text from his emailed response that didn’t directly address the question.) “The current salary of $50,933 if broken down to 52 weeks, 40 hours per week yields $24.48 per hour. After taxes the hourly amount drops to $19.20 per hour based on the equation. I know plenty of young people who charge $25 per hour to weed eat folk’s property. Just for some perspective. The Board of Supervisors is responsible for the $142,000,000 County budget. This salary increase for the Board represents .15 of 1 percent of that budget. It has been alleged that the Board of Supervisors Job is a ‘part time’ position. The people who think and say this have no idea of what the job actually takes. I can assure you that I work every day as a County Supervisor. I am in my office most mornings by 7 am, weekends and some evenings are consumed with County representation or responsibilities, every Sunday is spent reading the hundreds of pages of the upcoming week’s agenda. I hope this information will help you to understand why I voted in favor of the change to the County ordinance affecting the Board of Supervisors’ salary.”
Supervisor Jones wrote: “Due to the knowledge that some of the BOS members today are really struggling financially, it is not fair to them to give them just a small increase and still be losing. Sometimes, politically, it is harder to do it all at once. In the long run it is better for the two new Supervisors coming in and the 1 other running unopposed. I won’t be on the BOS next year, so it won’t affect me. If one looks at the total county budget, this increase is a very, very small amount.”
Supervisor Cann stated: “In the HR world this would be considered an ‘equity increase.’ If you determine the position is not paid appropriately you correct the inequity. Spacing the raise out over multiple years simply prolongs the inequity. For the future of Mariposa County I believe it is important to do everything possible to attract high quality, experienced folks to run for Supervisor. After 10 years we have finally brought most salaries near the median for our region. We have dramatically upgraded our Department heads and staffing. A few terms with bad, or personal agenda driven supervisors (often the outcome of artificially suppressed salaries) will quickly dismantle an excellent group of public servants. I did not request the salary increase. I do hope though it will be given informed consideration by the public to insure a much better chance of attracting a broader cross section of Mariposa County’s population to these critical positions in the future. While I lament the rancor and animosity some of those running the referendum bring to the community, I believe that process is democracy working exactly as it is intended. The Board made the decision. If those who oppose it gather the required number of voter signatures the issue will most likely go on the November ballot. Supervisor Jones and I will be out of office after December 2020. With a November election we will gain nothing from this raise. Though Supervisor Long voted against the raise I’m sure he will take every dime on his check if it is sustained.”
Supervisor Smallcombe wrote: “As you know, this has been a contentious process, particularly because the current formula is contained in an ordinance approved nearly 30 years ago. The ordinance process is time consuming. Going through the process two, three or four times, plus the requisite associated sixty day waiting period, would not have made the changes any less contentious. Again, we need to have a more open and transparent, preferably annual, conversation about Supervisor compensation and those conversations should occur in open sessions, but outside the ordinance framework.”
Locations in Mariposa County where registered voters can sign the referendum petition include Pony Expresso, Donuts-A-Go-Go, Triangle Market, Gallaway Feed Store, Coulterville Mercantile, Coulterville Emporium, Greeley Hill Hardware, and various pop-ups manned by concerned citizens.
Follow the results of the referendum campaign on Sierra News Online — and the response from the board of supervisors if indeed enough signatures are gathered and presented at the March 3, 2020 board meeting.