UPDATE: At least one County employee has contacted Parker Live to say that the salary information in the circulated document mentioned in this article is incorrect. Animal Control department head Michael Ramos told us his salary was never the ‘Estimated FY2019’ number in that document, and his raise was 1 percent, not 22 percent as the document claims. As noted in our original article below, Parker Live has not confirmed or verified any of the information in that document; we merely reported that these were the numbers being circulated in an email sent by La Paz County Assessor Anna Camacho.
(Reportedly, the data in the email came from the Arizona Association of Counties Salary and Benefit Survey, to which La Paz County Human Resources sends the salary information each year.)
ORIGINAL STORY: The La Paz County Board of Supervisors opted not to intervene in a decision of its top tier staff to give raises to some County officials over angry objections in a public meeting Monday.
District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor questioned the raises, saying the Board had not approved them, and that he was made aware of them by members of the public who were concerned.
“I sit on the Board of Supervisors, I am here every day, I knew nothing about these raises until I heard it through the grapevine,” Minor told the boardroom. “When I heard it through the grapevine, I started looking into it. And I got a list of department head salaries and was able to see some of the raises; I call them proposed, I was later told no, they’ve been done. And then I was told that they were baked into the budget. And again, as somebody who thinks that transparency is important in anything, but particularly in La Paz County government with our track record, I take that very seriously.”
Minor said that the budget he voted on did not include mention of the raises, and that the only document he saw was a proposal to give raises which he was asked his opinion about but made no decision on. (Minor voted against approving the budget due to what he said was a lack of information presented.)
Camacho rallies critics
It was clear Monday that Minor was not the only person frustrated with the situation. County Assessor Anna Camacho was another vocal critic, rallying supporters in a widely-distributed email sent last Friday, urging people to attend the Monday meeting.
“Department heads that are under the direct authority of the County administrator are receiving raises, not based on qualifications, experience, merit or what the position pays across the state, but rather, to bring them up to some arbitrary level,” she wrote.
Camacho attached a document claiming to set out what every County department head is paid and showing proposed increases for some of the officials’ salaries. The document shows increases for County Administrator Ron Drake, the highest-paid County official at $130,000 per year, along with raises for the department heads of Animal Control, Community Development, Public Defender, Elections, Fiduciary, Finance, Health, Human Resources, Parks, Probation and Public Works.
If accurate, the largest increases were to Animal Control (22.58 percent), Parks (21.43 percent) and Elections (21.17 percent). Parker Live has not reviewed the numbers independently or confirmed that these were the final raises put into action. (Note: Reportedly, the data in the email came from the Arizona Association of Counties Salary and Benefit Survey, to which La Paz County Human Resources sends the salary information each year.)
Minor told the meeting that he wanted a transparent process.
“My understanding would be that we would adopt a budget and that there’s money in the budget and the department heads, or, in this case, the County Administrator or Director, is going to come to the Board and propose all those increases so that we have the opportunity to see them and approve them, or not, and that the public again could have transparency,” he said. “I take the position that there are no increases at this point because the Board has not approved any increases at this point. I now need to be told why I’m wrong, if I am, because I don’t think I’m wrong but there’s an argument apparently being made that this is how we’ve always done it.”
Dooley sides with staff
Ryan Dooley, the Chief Deputy County Attorney assigned to give the Supervisors legal and procedural advice, said he believes the raises were proper if they were part of the budget process approved by the Supervisors as it has been practiced in previous years, whether or not the actual budget documents broke it down specifically.
“The only problem is if somebody gets money above and beyond what was contemplated,” he said. “And so, I am concerned a little bit that the Board, if what you are saying is that you weren’t aware of certain increases, then there’s what has been done and there’s what is the best practice, and the best practice would be to have a separate document that specifically lists out who those people are.”
Dooley said that although the handbook does give the authority to approve raises to the Board of Supervisors, there is not a specific process for doing so.
“Right now at the Board of Supervisors, we don’t necessarily have a written policy and procedural manual as to how the Board is going to operate. Absent that, we then drop down to what has been the practice of the Board. And, if we’re going to deviate from that practice, we can’t do it capriciously or arbitrarily, which means we can’t do it on a whim and we can’t just do it so that nobody knows what the heck is going on.”
He argued that because the budget contained numbers for each department overall which factored the raises in, the Board did not need to approve each raise specifically.
“The County Attorney’s position is that as the budget was approved with those numbers, that those are approved salary increases. If the Board takes a different position, then we can address that and possible legal issues one way or another about people’s salary increases.”
In her email, Camacho said the increases are “arbitrary” and not justified if the County is genuinely strapped for cash.
“We were told that the only reason the employees were being given a 1 percent increase was to offset the increase in medical deductions, so that they wouldn’t actually experience a LOSS in wages,” Camacho wrote. “We were also told that the reason they weren’t going to receive more substantial raises is because the county can’t afford it. If the county can’t financially justify allowing the employees to even net a 1% increase, how is it that the county can afford significant increases for the department heads? We are either financially strapped or we are not. We can either afford raises or we can’t.”
Camacho included a link purporting to show that the department heads were already being paid comparably to their counterparts across the state of Arizona.
Minor disputes with Drake
Minor then got into a tense exchange with Drake, who is the head of the administrative staff which approved the raises. Drake said he was on vacation when the raises were discussed with the Supervisors individually by Finance Director Terry Krukemyer.
“I wasn’t here, it was my understanding that Terry presented to you all of the salary adjustments that were occurring in Public Works and the Sheriff’s Office and showed you documents and Excel spreadsheets of the proposed increases,” he responded. “So it’s hard to sit here and hear that no-one saw this or any Board member says they weren’t aware of it and they had no idea. Anyone who says that we didn’t know about the proposals, that’s just untrue.”
“To be clear, I have this document from Terry that deals with proposed increases and open positions, it has no references to the overall budget of any department,” he said. “Then I gave Terry my thoughts. No reference to the final budget. When we got to the final budget, the thing that we finally approved, separate from this document, there was no reference to this. And again, one of the largest increases is not on this piece of paper that we were sent.”
Wilson and Irwin weigh in
District 1 Supervisor D.L. Wilson and District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin said they too wanted a better process based on standardized employee evaluations, something Minor said he was frustrated not to have in place despite giving instructions to staff to implement them.
Irwin said she had numerous meetings on the budget that included talk about raises.
“I did have the same document you did,” she said to Minor. “I did receive the spreadsheet, was asked to give my opinion.”
D.L. said he did too. Minor responded that he never heard what their opinions were, and never had a chance to review the raises as a Board.
Camacho asked to speak, and spoke angrily at the podium.
“The Administrator decides that all of his department heads get those raises,” she said. “Well when I give a raise, I have to show merit. You guys make me run through the wringer, you make me show certification, I have to approve my staff getting a raise. Then you guys have to do the same. Why is it different? Why are there two rules here? What’s going on?”
In the end, Minor made a motion to put the raises on hold, and to bring them to the Board for formal discussion and potential approval. After several seconds of silence, he said, “Not hearing a second, the motion will die for lack of a second.”
Audible gasps were heard from the meeting, including, “Wow”, “Oh my God” and, “This is crazy.”
The Board proceeded to its next agenda item.