Sheriff\'s raise is the talk of county government (Dec 8 2005)


Staff member
Sheriff's raise is the talk of county government


The $26,000 raise Sheriff Jim Anderson's received Tuesday sent a ripple across county government Wednesday, with some employees defending the hefty increase while others hinting they are underpaid.

From watercoolers to courtrooms, the 12 percent raise drew gasps and gossip as Sheriff Anderson became the second-highest-paid employee in the county after Chief Executive Officer Mike Brown, who earns $197,364 annually.

The Board of Supervisors approved the salary and benefit increase Tuesday to keep Sheriff Anderson's pay well above his department's 40 top-level managers, who also received raises.

Under an agreement that took effect Monday, Sheriff Anderson's salary will rise from $171,636 to $191,731. He will also receive about $6,000 more each year in pension, health care and other benefits.

The lift puts him well past other county department chiefs who once earned the same or more. These include District Attorney Tom Sneddon, County Counsel Shane Stark, Public Defender Jim Egar and Public Health Officer Dr. Elliot Schulman.

It also lifted him even further above the head of one public safety agency that many say should have comparable salary levels: county Fire Chief John Scherrei.

"Our fire chief is way under," said Santa Barbara County Firefighters Association spokesman Rob Heckman.

Chief Scherrei -- who joined the county in 1999 -- earns about $151,512. In an interview with the News-Press, he defended Sheriff Anderson's raise but hinted that similar compensation for the fire chief may be overdue.

"I think it would be fair," he said.

Other department heads also said they wouldn't mind a raise.

"I don't feel particularly overpaid," said Mr. Stark, who earns about $172,488. "I'm like any person -- more money is good. I certainly wouldn't mind getting the raise, but I don't see any reason to push it."

Members of the 460-person Deputy Sheriff Association praised the pay raises for Sheriff Anderson and the managers, but noted that their union did much of the heavy lifting.

Deputies in September landed a lucrative pension increase that would allow them to retire at age 50 with full benefits.

Under that change, a retiring deputy making $70,000 after 30 years could draw a $63,000 annual pension until death.

The sheriff's managers will also receive that deal, and the sheriff could qualify in future years, according to staffers.

"It does look like they rode on our coattails," Deputy Sheriff Association spokesman Mike Durant said.

Sheriff Anderson's raise could disappoint deputies who wanted to push for an even higher salary and benefits package in their September contract, he suggested.

"There were members who thought that we could have gotten more," Mr. Durant said.

County Human Resources staffers have called the sheriff's raise necessary because a proposed salary increase for Undersheriff Ken Shemwell would have made his pay comparable to Sheriff Anderson's.

The county typically pays department heads at least 10 percent more than their next highest-ranking employee.

Mr. Brown explained that the sheriff had fallen behind in raises. When deputies received a 12 percent raise several years ago, then-Sheriff Jim Thomas declined a similar adjustment for the sheriff shortly before he left office, Mr. Brown said.

Some said Mr. Thomas' move was intentional, a personal slight against Sheriff Anderson, who was elected in 2002.

Mr. Thomas did not support his candidacy that year.

"My opinion is that Thomas did that to spite Anderson," said Mr. Durant.

Mr. Thomas, reached Wednesday night, said he declined the raise to ensure that it went to deputies.

He rejected the suggestion that he wanted to spite Sheriff Anderson.

"I take offense at anyone who even thinks that," he said. "There's no way I ever would have spited him in any way, shape or form."

Some critics suggested that Undersheriff Shemwell did not deserve such a large raise, which ultimately drove up Sheriff Anderson's salary.

But Human Resources Director Sue Paul justified the raise, saying Undersheriff Shemwell's salary is "out of market" with other jurisdictions.

Andy Caldwell, the executive director of the advocacy group Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business who first brought the raise to the public's attention at the supervisors' Tuesday meeting, questioned whether elected officials should be treated as department heads and given top salaries.

Noting that the five supervisors make about $80,000 -- far less than most top county staffers -- he suggested that elective positions like the sheriff, district attorney and public defender could make less.

Serving in public office, he said, has its own rewards.

"There needs to be a distinction between department heads and elected officials," Mr. Caldwell said. "There's a concept of running for office to serve, not running to get a raise."