For a brief moment this week, the five-member Mono County Board of Supervisors suddenly became a six-member panel.
Although seated in the gallery and without voting privileges, Supervisor-elect Stacy Corless of Mammoth on Tuesday, July 15, joined a debate regarding extra salary compensation for the supervisor occupying the chairmanship.
Her testimony, at the behest of South County Supervisor Fred Stump, caught Corless by surprise, but not in a negative way.
“I thought it was very considerate of the supervisor,” she said afterward.
Outgoing Supervisor Byng Hunt, whose District 5 seat Corless will occupy officially in January, laughed about it afterward.
“She’s in it up to her knees, now,” the four-term supervisor joked, within easy earshot of Corless.
Stump, who voted with the majority to keep the supervisors’ salary structure as it is—the supervisors turned back the proposal, 3-2, after a 49-minute debate—said he did not mean to blindside Corless, who was the only non-staff spectator in the audience.
“It was in the spirit of inclusiveness,” he said.
“We value her opinion just like we value Byng’s opinion, even though he’s leaving [the board]. It’s about doing business the right way.”
Corless, 43, did not weigh in with her opinion on the vote in question.
Rather, she reminded the board members that she had obviously not sat in on the deep, closed-meeting policy discussions regarding salaries of county employees.
“But I’ve been both a boss as well as an employee,” she said, “so I understand how complicated it can get.”
In this particular debate, the question got complicated in a hurry.
At issue was the $353 a month in extra compensation the supervisor occupying the chairmanship receives, beyond the $4,109 a month in base salary.
In addition to salary, supervisors also are entitled to the same medical care, dental care and vision care coverage provided to all county employees, and to the same term life insurance given to all county department heads, both elected and appointed.
Also, members of the board have the option of being members of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), with the employees’ share paid by board members themselves.
But it is the extra “bump” for the board chairmanship that came under the microscope on Tuesday at the board meeting, which was conducted at the board chambers in Mammoth at the Sierra Center Mall.
Chairman Larry Johnston brought the matter before the board, arguing that the chairmanship did not justify the extra pay, and eliminating the extra compensation would send a message both to county employees and residents of the county.
“The timing of this is good,” he said. “The public expects the board to be reactive to what’s going on in our own economy, and this is reactive. Here’s a way to do something.
“If you want to reinstate it later, you can. I’m not talking about reducing the base salary.”
The proposal came under fire from both Tim Alpers and Hunt, both veteran supervisors who have served as chairman.
“I’ve been chairman four times in my tenure,” said Hunt, 69, who this past spring decided to step aside from his long years in public service.
“It does require a lot of manipulation, coordination, staying afterward, signing papers, and so on, and there isn’t a type of respect that goes with being a leader at the county level.
“This (The Board of Supervisors) is probably the most respected government body locally that we have, and a leader in that capacity should be compensated somehow. If it’s $353 a month or $10 a month, there should be some compensation.
“I had no regrets about taking the extra money.”
Alpers agreed, saying, “I think the position is worthy of being acknowledged as being a bit special, and it is a lot of extra work.
“I think it needs to be acknowledged in some way. I think it should be voluntary and I would prefer to keep it where it is right now.”
The chairmanship is not elective.
Rather, board members each January rotate to the position. Next in line for the chairmanship is Vice-Chair Tim Fesko, but he could decline the position if he wanted.
Stump admitted to seeing the merits of the legislation, but also saw the merits of keeping to the status quo.
“I’m a little bit wishy-washy on this,” he said.
Johnston, however, said he was neither wishy nor washy.
“I feel strongly about this,” he said. “We’re asking a lot from our employees, and this sends the right message.”
Hunt ultimately agreed with Johnston when it came to a vote, but the majority of Alpers, Stump, and Fesko turned it back.
As for Corless, obviously without a vote, she said that voting for the cut “might not be the most appropriate way to acknowledge the employee costs.”
With that, the new non-supervisor supervisor made her first policy statement, jumping feet-first into the supervisorial fray.