News traveled fast after the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Oct. 28 to give themselves their first raise in six years, from $97,476 to $129,216.
Meanwhile, the county’s public employees received a salary increase of 4 percent this year, 2 percent the next and 1 percent in 2016. This disparity between elected officials’ raises and those of county employees has drawn widespread criticism.
Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, a county employee, said her trust in the supervisors has been broken.
“At a time when line staff’s salaries haven’t improved, it’s disheartening to us that the Board of Supervisors appears to have taken advantage of our trust,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with raises, but the Board of Supervisors’ raise should be in line with what was given to line staff. If they want a 33% raise, then give line staff the same.”
The Board voted to link their salary to 70 percent of the salary of the county Superior Court judges. This is a policy adopted by many Bay Area counties, although the percentage varies by location. The county looked at a Bay Area wide survey of Board of Supervisors’ annual salaries in order to determine the new salary increase.
“The county looked at an amount that was about the average, and then looked at a percent of the judges that would be similar to the average,” County Supervisor John Gioia said.
By linking their salaries, every time judges receive a raise, board salaries will increase.
Labor groups and others in the county aren’t happy with the move, which paves the way for automatic salary increases in the future.
Local 1’s general manager, Peter Nguyen, called it “irresponsible.”
“They could be getting many more increases,” Nguyen said. “It doesn’t have to be on an agenda, it doesn’t have to be discussed, it doesn’t have to be voted upon, it just simply happens automatically.”
But board members say the decision to link their salary was aimed to eliminate the need for later board votes on its own paychecks.
“I never like having to vote on my salary,” Gioia said. “I would rather have it set a different way; that was why (we linked) it to a percent of judges, which is what most counties do.”
But the new salary structure gives Contra Costa County’s board more money than the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. It’s also higher than those of California state senate and assembly members, who make a base salary of about $90,000.
(With the new increase, Contra Costa’s Board of Supervisors will have the fourth highest salary in the Bay Area.)
Supervisor Candace Andersen was the only Contra Costa County board member to oppose the raise.
“(From) my standpoint, being a leader does not mean giving myself 33 percent,” Anderson said, “but instead keeping any raise in the same range as we give our employees.”
The Deputy Sheriffs Association launched a Change.org petition in order to garner public support to reverse the ordinance.
The petition has more than 2,300 signatures.
Local 1 is taking it one step further. The union and other local unions are campaigning to gather more than 25,000 signatures, the required number of signatures in order for the board to reconsider the ordinance.
“If we’re successful in gathering those signatures, the board then must reconsider the matter,” Nguyen said. “If they reverse what they did, then it’s a victory for the people.”
If there are more than 25,000 signatures, the board will have two options. One is to rescind the ordinance, and propose a raise at a different amount.
The second is if the board refuses to reverse the raise and votes to keep it, a special election would take place within 88 days, where voters would decide the final fate of the raise. This special election could cost Contra Costa voters an estimated $2.5 million, according to the county clerk. During this period, the salaries would be frozen.
When asked what the board will do if more than 25,000 signatures are gathered, Supervisor Gioia said he would listen to the voters.
“Clearly I think the board would choose to rescind the ordinance, that would be my position,” Gioia said. “If we ended up rescinding the ordinance, then I would be looking at something that is pretty much the same as what the employees receive.”