Last week, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to give the County CEO, David Rickert, a 5% pay increase 6 months before his performance was scheduled to be reviewed and only 6 months after he was hired.
This comes roughly a month after the Board discussed giving themselves a 65% pay raise – which the Board ultimately rejected with each Board member denying a role in putting the raise on the agenda.
Are these pay raises justified?
If you look at them in isolation, it could be possible to support the raises. But in the broader context of county employee negotiations, I think the answer to both of these raises become easy “no’s.”
UPEC, the largest employee union in the county representing around half of all county employees, resorted to a 2-week strike this spring when the Board refused to offer a pay increase close to what it requested. Instead, the Board imposed a 2.5% pay increase in May. In October, the Board signed a new contract with UPEC, approving a 2.5% pay increase and increased county contributions to health insurance.
Like UPEC, the Deputy Sheriffs Association has had a similarly difficult time reaching an agreement with the Board – even though a whole floor of our jail sat closed for over a year because the Sheriff couldn’t pay correctional officers enough to stay on the job. Here again, the Board imposed a 2.5% raise in mid-June for correctional officers (those staffing our jail). In October, the Board agreed to a 2.5% increase for Deputy Sheriffs, Sergeants, and the District Attorney Investigator Unit. Interestingly, according to this contract, employees are only eligible for 5% increases if they have been with the County at least 15 years.
A month later, Sheriff Johnson, in an interview with KRCR, said he needed to increase pay and benefits to get more of the new hires to stay. It took another several months and pleas from the Sheriff for the Board to approve additional increases for specific positions.
In leadership, optics matter – and the optics here are not good. Increase the CEO’s salary (which increased 250% just by taking this job) 6 months early while forcing your staff through the wringer to get smaller raises.
And do all this at a time when inflation is crushing low- and middle-income workers, leading some county employees to live out of their vehicles and rely on the very government benefits we are paying them to distribute. When I toured the jail several months ago, the officers told me about a new hire who left after just months to work at Walmart because the pay was better, there was no overtime, and it was less stressful.
But maybe CEO Rickert’s performance to date has been so strong and the threat of another county poaching him from us is so likely, that we needed to urgently give him more reason to stay. As far as accomplishments, Supervisor Crye (who sponsored this agenda item) offered none. Crye’s vague reference to other counties asking CEO Rickert questions at CSAC (California State Association of Counties) is hardly reason alone to suspect that other counties are recruiting CEO Rickert. In fact, a quick Google search and review of CSAC’s job board show no CEO openings in the state.
This isn’t a criticism of CEO Rickert’s performance, but rather, a criticism of a decision that likely made hundreds of employees resentful at a time when morale is already low and 15-30 employees are leaving the county’s UPEC unit every month.
What do you think? How do you think county employees feel about this move?