Opinion » Street Talk

Write me a raise while you're at it


Sure was funny weather on Tuesday. Two city blocks were the difference between sun-dappled rainbows and dark gloomy skies.

The rainbows ended on SLO City Hall, where local officials were busy dipping into their pots of gold to scatter about $1 million worth of raises on Police Chief Deb Linden and dozens of other city managers.

But you can't blame the SLO City Council for voting for the raises. After all, they were just following the recommendation of the thankless staff members who wrote the report, which noted that the city's been losing some utility managers and such to the city of Paso Robles, which apparently lures them away with diamond encrusted utility belts.

But would you be surprised to learn that the staffers who sent the City Council the report were also some of the main beneficiaries of the proposed raises? More on that later. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and have to tell myself to slow down and wait. You don't have to spill it all at once, Shredder. Give people a reason to keep reading.

The dark clouds, meanwhile, were hanging over the SLO County supes' offices, where administrator David Edge was busy telling the group how much worse the budget picture has gotten since the last time they looked at things. That was a few months ago, by the way. And to hear David tell it, in his sleepy English accent, you get the sense that things are really, really dire. He kept using the word "recession" and talked about how, with the state's budget shortfall likely to trickle down on SLO County as if it were a urinal cake at the Madonna Inn men's room, things aren't likely to get better.

But, of course, the county's been preparing for this exact situation for months. Managers were already told to implement a don't-call-it-a-hiring-freeze, and all department managers were told to propose ways to cut 2.5 percent from the budget. (Oh, one nice side note: The only department head who refused to comply with the request that he recommend areas for cutting was our own Johnny Lawless, Sheriff Pat Hedges. Those deputies need every penny over there so they can buy a few more of those badly needed urban assault vehicles.)

So to recap, we've got the SLO City Council, flush with money from a sales tax increase, spending money like the boon years, and the SLO County Supers preparing for the storm.

Now--finally!--let's get back to the city report I mentioned. I stole a copy of it from a reporter's desk. It's a doozy, and notes how the city needs to give big raises to keep up, not with the private sector Joneses, but with Joneses in other cities. The sort of officials who do things like surveys did a survey and found that the city's pay is competitive in lots of areas and short in just a few. What goes unmentioned in the report is whether they found out if the city actually overpays in certain areas. There aren't any recommendations to cut anybody's pay, so I doubt it. Or something.

Not everybody's supposed to get a raise. The recommendations were "surgical," meaning they picked and chose exactly who needed a big raise. Chief Linden comes in for one of the biggest raises, because the survey found that she was paid at a rate 16 percent lower than "comparable agencies." They're giving her a 17-percent raise. The extra percentage point is a tip, I guess. Maybe because Mardi Gras is coming up, and the corpse of parties past is still twitching a little and needs another stake through the heart.

The report also goes out of its way to downplay the million-dollar cost of the raises, noting that they'd be phased in over two budget cycles and represent only a small part of the general fund budget. Hey, I'd

be happy with just $10,000, which would represent virtually no part of the budget.

Have you been waiting patiently for the punch line? Yeah, me too. And here it is: If you look at who presented the report to the council, you'll see the names "Ken Hampian, City Administrative Officer" and "Monica Irons, Director of Human Resources." Then if you flip the report to the back and look at "Exhibit B" where they list the jobs that actually get raises, you'll see that whoever holds the title of "City Administrative Officer" is up for a 12-percent raise under the plan, and whoever holds the title of "Director of Human Resources" is up for 12 percent as well. Who could that be?

Best as I can tell, the raise would mean that Hampian's pay range would go up to somewhere between $148,772 and $186,030, and Irons' pay range would go up to between $106,210 and $132,808.

It's funny, because if they were elected officials, they'd probably have to excuse or recuse or defuse themselves or whatever from working on the budget, out of a conflict of interest.

Anyway, I've decided I'm doing the wrong sort of writing with this column. Working on reports to the City Council may well be the most profitable sort of work there is. And apparently it also allows some room for fiction.

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