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Riley Opposes Pay Boost for County Tollways Chief

Times Urban Affairs Writer

Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley said Wednesday that he will oppose as excessive a proposed 11.8% pay raise for the executive director of the agencies building three tollways in southern and eastern Orange County.

The raise for John Meyer, which would boost his salary $10,000--to $95,000 a year--is listed as a consent item on the agenda for today’s meeting of the county’s Transportation Corridor Agencies, meaning it is not considered controversial. But Riley said he will question the propriety of the raise in light of recent problems.

The pay issue highlights recent tension among some board members who disagree strongly on such issues as financial accountability, meeting project schedules and public relations for the agencies, which oversee the Foothill, Eastern and San Joaquin Hills tollways.

“There are some people who feel that anything better than a 10% raise would fall into the category of a merit rather than a cost-of-living increase,” said Riley, who seldom criticizes administrators. “In the scheme of management concerns, he (Meyer) may not deserve it.”

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Contacted Wednesday afternoon about the proposed raise, Meyer said: “I have not been aware of any great problem concerning the salary issue. . . . Now I’m concerned.”

The San Joaquin Hills tollway has been delayed for more than 9 months because the project’s environmental impact report failed to address some key issues, such as whether the tolls would divert drivers to local surface streets.

Some plans and cost figures have also been late in coming from a consulting firm hired to design the tollways.

And developers have criticized the design team, accusing it of duplication of work or seeking drastic alteration of designs that the developers had previously helped to prepare.

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Meyer acknowledged that there have been delays in processing environmental and design-related documents, but he defended his performance, saying such delays are “outside my control.”

Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young, a member of the toll road organization’s executive committee, said the panel believes that Meyer should get the raise “because he hasn’t had one in 2 years, and it’s time.”

The agencies have two boards of directors that share the same office and staff. One board, headed by Young, oversees the Eastern and Foothill projects. The second board, headed by Riley, governs the San Joaquin Hills project. Young and Riley also serve on both boards simultaneously.

“In evaluating, we ought to consider one’s attitude and performance,” Riley said.

In recent months, Riley and his board alternate, Mark Goodman, a member of Riley’s staff, have sparred with Meyer and James E. Erickson, the agencies’ attorney, over alleged delays in providing documents justifying various expenses and in securing environmental review work and tollway designs by scheduled deadlines.

At a recent meeting of the agencies’ finance committee, Riley and Erickson engaged in a heated exchange, during which Riley said that it is his duty to ask questions and that he should not be subjected to attacks by Erickson and others.

Erickson’s legal bills, which have totaled more than $1 million in the past 2 1/2 years, are being reviewed by a specially appointed committee.

Partly in retaliation for what he perceives to be unfair and misplaced criticism of the legal costs, Erickson’s law firm--Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott of Costa Mesa--has circulated rumors about Goodman, implying that Goodman is improperly collecting meeting attendance fees from the Corridor Agencies at the same time that he is paid by the county as Riley’s aide to represent Riley whenever necessary during county business hours.

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Goodman has denied wrongdoing, saying Riley approved his actions. And Riley said a county counsel’s opinion supports Goodman’s collection of fees for attending corridor agencies meetings as his appointed alternate.

At the same time, the law firm and some board members of the agencies privately criticized the regulations that allow Riley and Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez to appoint members of their staff as alternates, when alternates for other board members must be elected officials.


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