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SAN CLEMENTE : Council Pressured to Rescind Raise

The City Council, which voted last week to form a citizens committee to explore cost-cutting measures, is under pressure to rescind a $5,000 raise it recently gave to City Manager Michael W. Parness.

At a special meeting held to discuss formation of the committee, council members heard an earful from citizens who objected to formation of the panel as well as the raise for Parness.

“It sends the wrong message,” said Ray Harbor, a member of a citizens group called Taxpayers Action Network of Orange County. “People are losing their jobs left and right. This is not the right time to be giving raises.”

Parness currently makes a salary of $99,000 per year and was given the same 5% raise that other city employees received.

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Councilwoman Candace Haggard said she would join with Councilman Thomas Lorch in voting against the raise when it comes back to the council for final ratification on Dec. 18. When the council originally approved the raise on Dec. 1, Lorch was the lone dissenter.

In a prepared statement, Haggard said she had been swayed by public opinion and said the council’s action had “seriously compromised the spirit of cooperation” between the council and the citizens.

“Sometimes we make the wrong call,” Haggard said, “and this time, I believe we did.”

But Councilmen Scott Diehl and Truman Benedict said they are standing behind their votes to give Parness the raise.

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“The performance of the city manager is very good,” Diehl said. “I think he deserves the raise. The timing of it is terrible because of the economy but the economy is not his fault.”

“He’s the lowest paid city manager in South Orange County,” Benedict added. “He deserves a raise like the other city employees.”

The only member of the council who is still undecided on the matter is Mayor Joseph Anderson. “I really haven’t decided,” Anderson said. “I’m prepared to listen to arguments.”

The citizens committee will consist of 11 members selected by the council. They will meet once a week to come up with a list of cost-saving measures and will present a report to the council in March.

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Parness said the committee would not be allowed to consider raising taxes and fees or making across-the-board cuts.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Parness said of the city’s financial situation. “We are committed to doing everything we can to get through this year and prepare for next year.”

Parness said a majority of the council recommended forming the committee in order to have public input if cuts need to be made next year.

But Haggard and Lorch voted against forming the committee because they said such tasks should be undertaken by the council itself.

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