After a tense conversation Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a 2.5% salary increase for Santa Barbara County’s elected department heads, and a larger 3.5% increase for the district attorney position.
With the increases, the five elected department heads — auditor-controller; clerk-recorder-assessor; district attorney; sheriff-coroner; and treasurer-tax collector-public administrator — will each be making more than $230,000 per year.
Human Resources Director Maria Elena De Guevara said that since the county changed its compensation structure for department heads, the Board of Supervisors needs to approve a new method for salary increases for the five elected department heads.
They are chosen by voters rather than appointed by the County Executive Office and Board of Supervisors.
She presented multiple options, including a 2.5% raise for a cost of living adjustment plus 2.5% raise to mimic the merit-based raise the county executive officer gave appointed department heads this year.
The five elected department heads were going to get the 2.5% COLA in June, but they wanted a 5% raise, like other department heads, and had Human Resources pull the COLA raise from the agenda, District Attorney Joyce Dudley said during public comment.
Dudley said she unfairly earns less money than the county counsel and public defender, the county’s other attorney department heads.
Dudley, who has worked in the District Attorney’s Office since 1990 and served as DA since 2010, said she has a much longer tenure with the county and supervises a larger department than the other two.
“It’s impossible to consider all of these comparisons and not conclude that this is in fact discriminatory, unwarranted favoritism with taxpayer money,” she said.
“It is unconceivable that at the end of this public servant’s career, the last time I appear before you, I have to make a plea for parity and justice for me, my family, my successor and everyone else in your District Attorney’s Office,” she told the supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting.
Dudley is retiring at the end of her term and her chosen successor, Assistant DA John Savrnoch, was elected in an uncontested race in June.
Dudley made more money than those two department heads in 2021, according to the Human Resources Department, and in 2022 is making about $10,000 less than those two positions.
No supervisors were supportive of approving a 5% salary increase.
“I’m uncomfortable paying our department heads the 5% increases when our employees are not receiving 5% increases,” Supervisor Das Williams said. “To me I think it’s dismaying for rank-and-file people who get paid, you know, barely enough to make it in Santa Barbara, to have people who make twice or three times as much as them get twice the pay increase.”
The county’s elected department heads have “extreme longevity” and there doesn’t seem to be an issue attracting people to fill those positions, he added.
“When we’re giving percentage increases to the most highly paid people in the organization, it’s a more significant raise than others in the organization are getting,” Supervisor Gregg Hart said. “And that magnifies the problem, not fixes it.”
The supervisors were uncomfortable during the discussion, and some of them commented on how awkward it was. Three of the five elected department heads attended the meeting in person, but only Dudley spoke during public comment.
“Well, I got a massive headache in the last 10 minutes,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said during deliberations.
He said getting called out for favoritism over a few thousand dollars a year is “tough for me to hear.”
“That’s not cool,” he said.
Lavagnino suggested having annual pay increases of 0-3% based on the Consumer Price Index, which is how it works for county supervisor salaries.
Supervisor Bob Nelson said the county needs to create a long-term policy for salary increases so there’s a clear expectation for people running for office and for voters choosing candidates to fill those offices.
Board Chair Joan Hartmann said the county needs to be able to attract top people to these positions, which independently run their county departments.
The supervisors voted 4-1, with Hart opposed, to approve a 2.5% salary increase for four of the elected department heads and a 3.5% salary increase for the District Attorney to bring compensation to the level of the county counsel and public defender.
The increases take effect Sept. 5 and will bring approximate annual salaries to:
» District Attorney Joyce Dudley: $257,406
» Auditor-Controller Betsy Schaffer: $235,256
» Clerk-Recorder-Assessor & Elections Joe Holland: $232,829
» Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown: $248,930
The supervisors will discuss a long-term resolution for salary increases at a future meeting.