In a rare episode of heavy-duty dais drama, County Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Steve Lavagnino criticized Supervisor Peter Adam on Tuesday for accepting a pay raise that he had spent months bashing.
In December, the supervisors voted 4-1, with Adam against, to award themselves a $9,964 raise. The 12 percent hike was added to their $84,200 salary, which had been frozen since 2006. The decision to bump their own pay — which many supervisors said was “awkward” — came after county staff found Santa Barbara’s supes were making 30 percent less than their counterparts in comparable counties.
Tuesday’s meeting featured the findings of a six-person committee assembled to analyze how the board could go about giving themselves raises in the years to come. In its research, the committee found that had the supervisors received cost-of-living raises between 2007 and 2014, the combined increase over those years would have been greater than their recent pay boost. It also found that the supes make less than the average department head ($167,200) and assistant department head ($128,360); the average county employee, not counting those who work in public safety, earns $65,400.
After meeting four times, the committee on Tuesday suggested various ways for how the supervisors could deal with future increases — including revisiting salaries every three years and comparing them to what electeds in similar counties make — but the board voted 3-1 (Supervisor Doreen Farr was absent) to limit future pay hikes to 0-3 percent, based on inflation.
Adam, again the lone vote against the move, took the findings in the opposite direction, insisting that the board not only doesn’t need a raise but could also use a pay cut. “I think that we should evaluate ourselves much more on the fiscal health of the county and whether or not we’re taking care of our infrastructure needs when we evaluate what our job performance is,” he said. “I would give us a D.”
But Adam’s remarks didn’t fly with Lavagnino, who called him out for taking the raise he has been so outspoken against. “You have to give the money back,” he said. “I don’t see how you can ethically say, ‘I’m fighting for this, and we should take a pay cut, and we don’t deserve a raise,’ and get all the accolades that go along with that,” Lavagnino complained. “At the same time, in the dark of night, you get to cash the same check that we are, and we’re taking the heat for it.”
Carbajal agreed, pointing to a decision he “didn’t brag about” to impose a furlough on himself in 2008 after the board levied furloughs on county workers. During that period, Carbajal had a cumulative $2,600 taken out of his paycheck. “It’s one thing to kick up a lot of dust,” Carbajal said to Adam. “But to have the audacity to not return that money? It’s abhorrent to have such contradiction and to be such a hypocrite. We have to have integrity in the decisions that we make. It’s not just about grandstanding.”
Adam, visibly flustered, said it wasn’t “inconsistent” to take the raise. “I’m not going to give it back — that’s ridiculous,” he said. “You guys don’t define morality. If we were at the ranch, I’d have a short phrase for you.”
Adam insisted that he has made significantly less than his colleagues. Auditor-Controller Bob Geis said Adam claimed lower pay because he opted out of the county’s employer-sponsored medical plan, but that all supervisors earn the same base pay. If Adam wanted to return his raise to the county, Geis said, he would have to take the same steps that Carbajal did in 2008.
The $9,964 raise is being covered by General Fund dollars, Geis said. Any future inflation-based raises of 0-3 percent would also come out of that pot.