Treasurer to lose his 9% pay raise

Times Staff Writer

Following revelations of poor management of an agency that assists the elderly and disabled, Ventura County supervisors Friday said they intend to strip a 9% raise recently awarded to the elected official who oversees the public guardian's office.

Supervisors Steve Bennett, John Flynn and Kathy Long said they would vote Tuesday to take back a $12,900 increase that the board approved earlier this week for Treasurer-Tax Collector Larry Matheney.

"Larry's responsible for the oversight and management of public guardian issues, and he simply didn't do his job," Flynn said. "It's inconsistent with good government to award a raise."

The public guardian is a small agency charged with handling the finances and assets of about 300 elderly and disabled clients.

At this week's board meeting, Matheney reported alarming management failures inside the agency.

Oversight was so lax, he told supervisors, that agency credit cards were passed around, record-keeping was shoddy and no employee reviews were done.

Problems didn't come to light until last year, when the district attorney's office brought embezzlement charges against a caseworker accused of stealing pension checks from elderly clients. Two other county employees have since been charged with related crimes.

Matheney's report was meant to update the supervisors on reforms he has instituted to prevent future abuses. But its candor, especially coming from the man with primary oversight of the guardian's office, surprised the supervisors.

Board Chairwoman Linda Parks called it the "damning government report." After a short break, the Board of Supervisors then voted on a $5.3-million package of salary increases for management-level employees.

Matheney's increase was part of that upgrade.

"We made a mistake," Bennett said of the 4-1 vote approving the raise. "Quite frankly, I was so focused on how horrendous his report was that I wasn't concentrating on the item before us."

Parks was the dissenting vote. She said she wanted to delay the item for a week after hearing a concern from a grand juror.

A day after their vote, Bennett and Long placed an item on next week's Board of Supervisor's agenda asking that the raise be rescinded. On Thursday, Matheney sent a letter to the board saying he would not fight the decision.

In a separate e-mail, Matheney acknowledged that the candor of his report had put board members in an "awkward position."

"I am very much at peace with the correctness of rescinding the raise," he wrote. "It is in the best interests of the public we all serve."

Matheney earns $143,000 a year to oversee three basic government functions: collecting property taxes, investing $1.3 billion in county funds and providing conservator services for elderly and disabled clients. He oversees a combined workforce of 49.

He won election to the post in 2002 and was reelected in June with no challengers. When word of his 9% raise got out, some citizens responded by calling for his resignation.

Matheney hasn't signaled that he is considering that option.

Some of the supervisors said they intended to take a closer look at his other operations and demand outside audits of all departments regularly.

Supervisor Long said she was stunned by the "total lack of oversight" that Matheney outlined in his report. If he was an appointed manager, she said, the board would very seriously consider firing him.

She stopped short of calling for his resignation.

"That's up to his conscience and the voters," Long said.

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