The opposite of term limits: Pay for longevity

George Turnboo was one of six candidates for the vacant supervisor seat to replace ousted El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting.
George Turnboo was one of six candidates for the vacant supervisor seat to replace ousted El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting. jvillegas@sacbee.com

We’re no fans of term limits. They result in a constant churn of new and inexperienced legislators, allowing long-lived special interests to dictate policy to their advantage.

But though we like elected officials with institutional knowledge, it’s tough to defend giving them bonuses for winning elections. Or any pay bonuses at all, for that matter.

Apparently that is what a majority of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors believed last year when they voted to strip away tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bonuses received by seven countywide elected officials.

It was to be a significant hit to the paychecks of the seven officeholders – assessor, auditor-controller, district attorney, recorder-clerk, sheriff, surveyor and treasurer-tax collector – starting in 2015.

Auditor-Controller Joe Harn, for example, was going to have his $200,000 pay reduced by about a quarter when he lost two bonuses: one for longevity and another for being a certified public accountant, a bonus that Treasurer-Tax Collector C.L. Raffety also receives. Sheriff John D’Agostini receives a bonus for having a peace officer professional certificate.

Times change, and so, apparently, do the minds of supervisors. The board reversed itself on the bonuses last week, just weeks before the cuts would have started.

Supervisor Brian Veerkamp, who voted to cut the bonuses last year and voted to reinstate them last week, said it was a fairness issue because loss of bonuses would mean that elected officials, who operate as the heads of their departments, would have lower salaries than their top staffers.

That may be so, but the seven sought and won re-election in June knowing their take home pay would be significantly lower next term. By doing so, they effectively agreed to the new reduced salary. Any why wouldn’t they? Even without the bonuses these seven are paid well – the lowest annual salary in the mid-$100,000s.

By comparison, the average wage for El Dorado County’s workforce is $47,378, according to the California State Controller’s state pay database.

A handful of people turned out to the Tuesday meeting to protest the bonus reinstatement.

Monique Wilber of Shingle Springs couldn’t attend but sent a note to the supervisors asking them not to raise the pay. “I find it absolutely offensive that this possibility is even a consideration, especially for electeds, who were elected to safeguard our tax dollars and represent their constituency. I am a government worker, and my pay has been flat, and actually has declined, since 2006,” she wrote.

The past couple of years have seen El Dorado County government embroiled in controversies that have diminished its reputation, including the trial and conviction of Supervisor Ray Nutting and a politically charged grand jury report recommending a charter change to get rid of some elected positions. This unnecessary giveaway of taxpayer money to a small group of well-compensated elected officials only gives the public more reason to distrust county leadership.

The good news is that three new supervisors were elected this fall. One, Shiva Frentzen, who was elected in a special election to replace Nutting in September, has already been seated and was one of two supervisors to vote against reinstating the bonuses. That shows that being long-lived isn’t always something you want to reward.