Several prospective members of a county panel being created to analyze the pay of top officials said Thursday that they disagree with the practice of offering large perks to county leaders.
Lindsay Nielson, president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn.; Stacy Roscoe, president of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn., and Bradley Wetherell, president of Ventura County National Bank, said the county should have considered increasing the base pay of its officials instead of handing out large financial benefits.
"We shouldn't play games and give people salary increases through perks," Wetherell said.
Nielson also criticized the county for including some of the large benefits in its formula to figure the retirement packages of the 11 elected officials and the chief administrative officer. He said he plans to bring the topic up with the panel.
Although county officials say that the practice is legal, Nielson said Thursday that it certainly appears "a little too generous."
"I always thought pensions were based on salary," Nielson said. "I didn't realize bonuses and automobile allowances were figured into the retirement. . . . We won't be able to afford to have these people retire."
They also criticized government leaders for their reluctance to make public the pay packages.
"The best thing that can be done is to have a clear, simple system for pay and then communicate what that pay is," Roscoe said.
Under considerable pressure to make the numbers public, officials disclosed last week that in 1991, the county's top elected officials and chief administrative officer received on top of their regular salaries more than $270,000 in vacation, longevity and education benefits and thousands of dollars more in financial perks. Officials also received a $6,000-a-year car allowance.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 on Tuesday to form a citizens panel of at least five members to review salaries and financial benefits and recommend a new compensation system after concerns were raised over the size of some of the benefits.
In addition to naming Nielson, Roscoe and Wetherell, the supervisors agreed to ask the following people to serve on the panel: Ventura County Bar Assn. President Roger Myers, Los Robles Medical Center Administrator Robert Quist, retired Superior Court Judge Jerome Berenson, Bank of A. Levy President Marshall Milligan and a personnel director from either GTE California Corp. or Amgen Inc. in Newbury Park.
The supervisors wanted Ventura County Superior Court Presiding Judge Steven Z. Perren to head the panel, but he declined, saying it would be a conflict of interest.
On Thursday, Personnel Director Ron Komers began contacting citizens to find out whether they would serve on the committee, but he only was able to reach Nielson and Roscoe, who agreed to participate.
The board expects to review a final list of panel members on Tuesday.
Milligan and Quist told The Times that they would be willing to serve on the committee, and Myers said he would join if it did not take up too much time. Berenson could not be reached for comment.
"It seems to me it's an issue that needs to be put to rest," Milligan said.
Quist said the county should pay top dollar to its best managers.
"I believe very strongly if you want to keep good people you have to match what is out there in private industry," Quist said. "There may be residents that have difficulty with a particular perk, but when you look at the whole package, it might not be unreasonable."
Roscoe, who is a manager for Proctor & Gamble Paper Products Co. in Oxnard, added: "I wouldn't say you should underpay your public employees, but there should be some basis that is understandable by the average person on the street."
The volunteer panel will be expected to complete its assessment of the county's compensation system by Dec. 15.
"It is good to have someone from the outside take a look at it," Supervisor Vicky Howard said. "Public officials have a hard time when it comes to dealing with their own compensation."
She said she will encourage the committee to address Nielson's concerns about the pensions.
"I think it is something that certainly should be mentioned," she said. "I will look at their recommendation, and I will go with it."
Supervisor John K. Flynn continued Thursday to voice his opposition to the board's decision to set up the panel. He was the only supervisor to vote against the measure.
He said he has heard criticism from constituents that the board is "elitist."
"It does not fairly represent the citizens of Ventura County," he said. "I think forming it was a mistake."