Los Angeles County supervisors agreed to increase taxpayer outlays for a top local arts official's compensation package, despite criticism that the move was "pension spiking."
In a 3-2 vote, board members Tuesday upped the county's contribution toward the $190,000-a-year salary of Laura Zucker, executive director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Her agency, a quasi-independent entity, operates the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre and oversees millions of dollars in arts grants.
The move is expected to boost the county's contribution to Zucker's pay by $37,000 over the next three years. That would replace a portion of the 63-year-old Zucker's compensation that is now funded by a private nonprofit group associated with the Ford theater.
If Zucker retires after the county assumes full responsibility for her salary, her pension could be higher because the county would use the taxpayer-funded portion of her salary to calculate her retirement rate.
"This money, of course, is not our money. This is taxpayer money," Supervisor Gloria Molina said. "There is no justification for increasing this employee's salary ... especially when the arts commission is not a department. The executive director does not even report to us."
Molina asserted that Tuesday's decision was "pension spiking." She also said the action would increase the amount the county contributes toward Zucker's pay above similar outlays for the directors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said no other county commission director currently receives compensation equal to Zucker's new rate, and he expressed concern that Tuesday's action could encourage other commission executives to seek higher pay. He joined Molina in opposing larger contributions to Zucker's pay.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy defended the board's decision, saying the arts commission has grown significantly under Zucker's leadership. He said the additional money is necessary to retain Zucker.
Zucker said she was disappointed that her pay had prompted a public controversy but said, "as a seasoned county veteran, I know many issues have the potential to blow up."
Zucker has clashed with Molina over the racial and ethnic diversity of the arts commission's staff and arts programming. Yaroslavsky suggested that Molina was making an "ugly issue" of the pay hike in retaliation for past disagreements.
Zucker said her office would remain responsive to Molina's concerns. "Our basic values are very much in alignment," she said.