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110 Managers Got Raises After Orange County Bankruptcy Ended

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since Orange County officially emerged from bankruptcy in June, it has handed out pay raises to 110 county 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 increased over the last seven months.

Coupled with the bankruptcy-delayed raises that about 600 county 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 were given as “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, county officials said.

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“What bankruptcy?” said 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 Executive Jan Mittermeier defended the raises as appropriate increases 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 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.

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“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. It’s part of Civil Service.”

Mittermeier said about half of the 110 raises took effect automatically because of existing county policies requiring promoted employees to receive at least a 5.5% raise, and a bargaining agreement that provided 12 sheriff’s deputies with increases.

In addition, 29 raises were given to court personnel who were promoted or received adjustments that were approved by Superior Court Executive Office Alan Slater, Mittermeier said.

Of those who received equity raises, Mittermeier said, she personally approved 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 immediately after the county’s bankruptcy filing.

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But Walden later clarified the figure, saying that an additional 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.

Non-management county workers, most of them members of the Orange County Employees Assn., received a 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.

About half the raises, which will cost the county at least $475,000 a year, resulted from permanent and temporary promotions, Walden said.

The rest were “equity adjustments” to compensate some managers who shouldered additional duties after the bankruptcy cuts or were underpaid in comparison to their private sector counterparts.

Overall, Walden said, “the pay ranges for management have not moved from what were in place in August 1994.”

All the raises above the required 5.5% minimum for managers, Walden said, were approved by Mittermeier.

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The recent round of increases follow the raises and retroactive pay that 600 managers received in 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 amounts ranging from a few hundred dollars to the nearly $22,000 that two employees each pocketed.

Most of the recent raises average around 10%. A dozen 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,” said Spitzer. “And if you’re going to work in Orange County as an employee, you’re going to have to understand that.”

Courtney Wiercioch, the assistant county executive for public affairs, saw her pay jump significantly during the bankruptcy, from $68,452 to $85,488, an increase of 24.8%.

Wiercioch said the increases resulted solely from two promotions. The one to her current job, and another that occurred when she worked at John Wayne Airport, where she had been classified as an administrative manager II.

Wiercioch 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.”

Mittermeier disagreed.

“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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