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Supervisor Pay Hike Spurs Riled Residents to File Referendum

MARIPOSA –Proponents of the referendum to reverse an ordinance granting members of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors a substantial salary increase easily surpassed their goal of 823 petition signatures, and on March 4 they presented the measure to Mariposa County Clerk of the Board Rene LaRoche and Mariposa County Registrar of Voters Keith Williams.

Mariposa County Registrar of Voters Keith Williams

At issue is an ordinance passed on Jan. 7, 2020 on a 4-1 vote of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors granting themselves an increase of approximately $30,000 in their annual base salary.

District 1 Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe, District 2 Supervisor Merlin Jones, District 4 Supervisor Kevin Cann, and District 5 Supervisor Miles Menetrey all voted in favor of the measure. Only District 3 Supervisor Marshall Long cast his vote against the ordinance.

Since the early 1990’s, supervisors’ salaries have been tied to the compensation of a Superior Court judge. Prior to the passage of the ordinance, Supervisors were paid 25% of the judge’s approximately $200,000 salary. The measure passed in January raised that percentage to 40%.

The approval of the ordinance set off a firestorm of controversy, primarily on social media. Proponents launched a referendum effort, which if successful, will place a stay on the enactment of the ordinance. Petitions signatures were collected all over the county at specific business locations, and at “pop-up” signature gatherings.

According to Williams, he was presented a petition containing “a little over 1,400” signatures. “We’re in the process of validating the signatures on the petition,” Williams said. The county elections department has 30 days from the time it was presented with the petition to verify the number of signatures of registered voters.

Williams said he notified the members of the board of supervisors by letter after he received the petition.

If the signatures on the petition are indeed verified and total 823 registered voters, by California election law, the board of supervisors are left with only two options. They can either entirely repeal the ordinance, or submit the ordinance to the voters.

California Elections Code Section 9145 states, “If the board of supervisors does not entirely repeal the ordinance against which a petition is filed, the board shall submit the ordinance to the voters either at the next regularly scheduled county election occurring not less than 88 days after the date of the order, or at a special election called for that purpose not less than 88 days after the date of the order. The ordinance shall not become effective unless and until a majority of the voters voting on the ordinance vote in favor of it.”

Because of the timing required under the elections statute, a special election would have to be called in Mariposa County.
If the petition passes muster with the required number of registered voter signatures, a special election would have to be held within 88 days of April 2 of this year, which would mark the 30-day window of signature validation. The election could not be added to the presidential general election in November.

An explanation of the referendum process is outlined on the County’s website under the election department. Briefly, the process is explained as, “The referendum process provides citizens with a vehicle to refer an ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors to a vote of the people. The very nature of the referendum process is that it must be accomplished in a very condensed timeframe. Therefore, there are no requirements for proponents to file notices, or publish intent, or obtain any document or input from the elections official or government official. It is truly a process of the people. It is advised that proponents obtain legal counsel to confirm that they are complying with the law. California Elections Code Division 9, Sections 9140 through 9147 provide the procedures for the county referendum process. All code sections referred to in this document are the Elections Code unless otherwise noted.

County ordinances become effective 30 days after the date of its final passage, except:
1. An ordinance calling or otherwise relating to an election;
2. Those specifically required by law to take immediate effect.
3. Those fixing the amount of money to be raised by taxation or the rate of taxes to be levied.
4. Those for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety. The ordinances referred to in this subdivision shall contain a declaration of the facts constituting the necessity and shall be passed by a four-fifths vote of the board of supervisors.
5. That portion of any ordinance that changes supervisorial salaries shall become effective 60 days from the date of its final passage.”

In a previous article on Sierra News Online, the four supervisors casting approving votes stated that their primary motivation was to attract a greater number — and more qualified — candidates to run for the office.

Two of the four supervisors who voted to pass the ordinance, Cann and Jones, are not seeking re-election this year.

In the March 3 primary election, those supervisor seats were filled. In District 2, Thomas Sweeney, and in District 4, Wayne Forsythe, both running unopposed, were elected to fill the positions being vacated by Jones and Cann at the end of this year.

This isn’t the first time the issue of supervisorial compensation has ruffled the feathers of Mariposa County voters.

In April of 2003, the LA Times‘ Eric Bailey penned a story on the issue headlined: Rural Officials’ Bid for 24% Pay Hike Denounced.

“They may be perched in sublime isolation on the edge of California’s outback, but residents in this little no-stoplight town on the road to Yosemite know very well what’s going on in their world. They know very well, for example, that the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors is proposing to give itself a big pay raise despite fiscal troubles near and far. After initially proposing a 40% pay hike, the board recently ratcheted down the raise to 24%, spread over two years. But locals were hardly mollified, particularly given the timing. The wage increase comes at a time of war in Iraq, budget crisis in California government and Mariposa County’s own $1-million deficit.”

Read the complete text at https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2003-apr-18-me-raise18-story.html.

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