Since Orange County officially emerged from bankruptcy last June, it has handed out sizable pay raises to 110 of the county’s managers, according to records obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.
Nearly 12% of all the county’s management and supervisory staff have had their salaries hiked over the past seven months.
Coupled with the bankruptcy-delayed raises that roughly 600 of the county’s managers received in June 1996--paid retroactively to December 1994--some have seen their paychecks jump more than 20% since the bankruptcy, and in one case 55%.
The latest raises, most ranging between 5.5% and 10%, were given in the form of “adjustments” to the salaries of some managers who were said to have taken on additional duties as bankruptcy-related cutbacks were made in their departments, or in connection with permanent or temporary promotions, according to county officials.
“What bankruptcy?” asked Bob Ault, a Westminster community activist and member of the Committees of Correspondence, a watchdog group that has been a persistent critic of county spending. “They needed those raises like I need another hole in my head.”
County Chief Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier defended the salary increases as appropriate for employees who were promoted or assumed new duties as a result of the bankruptcy.
“You have to pay people commensurate with what they’re doing,” Mittermeier said, adding that about half of the raises amounted to “an equity increase” for employees who took on additional duties.
The Board of Supervisors last year gave the county executive the authority to make such pay adjustments, said Chairman William G. Steiner, as part of her sweeping plan to overhaul county government and make it leaner and more efficient.
“The CEO was given broad discretion in setting salaries with the understanding that there would be a bottom-line savings of a minimum of $10 million by the end of the fiscal year,” Steiner said.
“So, if there’s a smaller work force and new responsibilities for those people, I don’t have a problem with a salary adjustment--provided that the overall savings will be achieved.”
Many of the increases, Steiner said, resulted because “of the merit system that’s in place here.”
The Times requested the salary information to determine the effect the county’s post-bankruptcy restructuring has had on employment and pay levels.
Mittermeier said about half of the 110 raises kicked in automatically because of existing county policies requiring promoted employees to receive at least a 5.5% raise, and a bargaining agreement that provided 12 lieutenants in the Sheriff’s Department with increases.
Another 29 raises were given to court personnel who were promoted or received adjustments approved by Superior Court Executive Officer Alan Slater, Mittermeier said.
“No one said, ‘Let’s go out and give wholesale raises,’ ” Slater said. “The only time we gave them was if [an employee] came up for a merit review or a promotion.”
Of those who received equity raises, Mittermeier said, she personally approved only 16 “that were very clearly justified.”
Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Maurice Evans said eight of the nine raises to employees in his office resulted from promotions and the ninth, an equity adjustment, was approved by Mittermeier.
Exactly how many of the county’s 14,000 employees are considered managers is a point of some confusion.
At first, Jan L. Walden, the county’s human resources director, said the county had 550 managers, down from 600 when layoffs were ordered in the immediate aftermath of the county’s bankruptcy filing.
But Walden later clarified the figure, saying that another 204 management personnel hold staff jobs such as senior analyst, “kinds of positions that might not be considered management in another organization.”
In all, Orange County’s top ranks include 81 executive managers, 582 administrators, 66 law enforcement supervisors and the 204 who hold management staff jobs, Walden said.
Non-management county workers, most of them members of the Orange County Employees Assn., received a flat 2.5% raise after the bankruptcy.
Most county employees were not aware of the new authority Mittermeier had been granted under her reorganization plan until late last year. One large county department posted a memo last November that read in, part:
“Also included in the [restructuring] plan are changes in the personnel and salary resolution, most notably giving the CEO authority to approve salary equity adjustments up to 25% based on performance, and to lay off managers based on performance and the needs of the organization, not exclusively on seniority.”
An administrator who spoke on condition of not being identified by name said “that news caused shivers in our department.”
But despite those fears, Walden said only 12 county managers have departed from their county jobs since the bankruptcy ended.
About half the raises, which will cost the county at least $475,000 a year, resulted from permanent or temporary promotions, Walden said.
Overall, Walden said, “the pay ranges for management have not moved from what were in place in August 1994.”
Under county policy, every manager is entitled to a minimum 5.5% raise when promoted. All the raises above that, Walden said, were approved by Mittermeier.
The recent round of increases come on top of the raises and retroactive pay that 600 managers received last June in connection with the bankruptcy settlement.
At the time, both the county and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court concluded that managers were entitled to be treated like creditors, whose promised-but-unpaid raises constituted legitimate claims in a bankruptcy proceeding.
Those managers received raises and back pay ranging from a few hundred dollars to the nearly $22,000 that two employees each pocketed.
A dozen of the recent raises were given to sheriff’s lieutenants as part of a bargaining agreement that requires their salaries to be reviewed every year.
Todd Spitzer, sworn in last month as one of three new county board members, said the raises would make the board question more closely Mittermeier’s “business plan” for the county.
“I’ve been hammering on the really essential point that we are not out of bankruptcy and will not be out of bankruptcy for 30 years,” Spitzer said. “And if you’re going to work in Orange County as an employee, you’re going to have to understand that.”
The largest raise, a 55% increase over pre-bankruptcy pay, went to Mark S. Leets, an “administrative manager II” who works as the director of business services in the county’s Integrated Waste Management Department. Leets was apparently promoted after the bankruptcy.
With his raises, Leets’ salary jumped from $40,851 before the bankruptcy to $63,502. He did not return calls for comment.
Another who saw her pay jump significantly during the bankruptcy was Courtney Wiercioch, whose salary rose from $68,452 to $85,488, an increase of 24.8%.
The assistant county executive for public affairs, Wiercioch said the increases resulted solely from two promotions, the one to her current job, and another that occurred when she worked at the John Wayne Airport, where she had been classified as an administrative manager II.
Wiercioch, who once served as an executive assistant for former Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, said of her promotions, “I had increased responsibilities in both cases.”
But critics questioned the appropriateness of rewarding so many employees so soon after the county borrowed $880 million, to be repaid over the next 30 years, to settle its bankruptcy debts.
“Back in my day, it was an accepted fact that in return for very good job stability and an extremely good retirement package, you accepted less pay than the rest of the world,” said Ault, a retired engineer.
“Then sometime in the 1960s the cry went out that you can’t get good people unless you pay them competitive salaries. Well, the bureaucrats’ salaries are no longer comparable to industry. They’re better.”
“You know, there may be folks out there who think there should never be increases at all. I don’t agree with that at all.”
But she continued: “Just because you’ve emerged from bankruptcy doesn’t mean you’ve recovered.”
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Showing Them the Money
Since the county emerged from bankruptcy in June 1996, 110 of Orange County’s administrative and executive managers have received pay increases through salary adjustments, promotions and temporary promotions. These are in addition to the $2.12 million in delayed raises and retroactive pay given to administrative and executive managers on June 20, as the county was emerging from bankruptcy.
Managers Receiving Raises Since July 1, 1996
Salary adjustments: 52
Temporary promotions: 10
Note: One person received both a salary adjustment and temporary promotion
And here’s a selection of the raises granted management employees since the bankruptcy:
Current Position Raise salary Staff analyst, D.A.'s office 25.9% $62,150 Executive manager, CEO’s office 24.8% $85,488 Food services manager, jail 23.3% $53,331 Admin. manager I, integ. waste mgt. 15.7% $64,064 Sr. Staff analyst, Municipal Court 15.4% $58,843 County counsel 14.5% $126,214 Sr. staff analyst, John Wayne Airport 11.8% $49,982 Superior Court manager 9.7% $75,547 Staff analyst, Human Resources 9.2% $48,547 Assistant public defender 9.1% $114,483 Executive manager, data systems 9.1% $106,017 Sr. staff analyst, sheriff-coroner 8.0% $60,340
Source: Orange County Human Resources Department
Researched by MICHAEL G. WAGNER / Los Angeles Times