SLO County grants large raises, attorney Don Ernst out

July 12, 2022

By KAREN VELIE

San Luis Obispo County supervisors sparred on two local issues at Tuesday Board of Supervisor’s meeting: the approval of raises of up to 23% for county officials, administrators and management staff; and whether to continue having attorney Don Ernst represent the county on an opioid lawsuit.

While the board recently approved approximately 3% annual raises for the 2,400 line-level employees represented by unions, some public officials and management staff were seeking pay increases of 17% to 19% over the next two years. The raises for administrators are slated to cost the county $5,199,000 this year and $9,796,000 next year.

Seven local residents spoke out against the proposed management raises primarily because of financial issues and equity with the community and non-management employees.

Several speakers referred to the $15 million deficit the county is already facing. Others argued all employees should receive the same percent increase in pay, noting it is slap in the face to the represented employees.

One speaker questioned how management staff could justify large salaries increases “while residents are going through the worst economic crisis of their lifetimes.”

Noting she was aware of the county’s $15 million dollar budget shortfall, Supervisor Debbie Arnold said that while she supports cost of living raises, she could not vote for the pricey equity pay increases.

In order to determine equity raises, the county conducts a survey of a selected group of government agencies and private businesses and determines if the management wages in SLO County reach the average rate of the compared entities. If not, county administrators propose equity raises to meet the average.

Lynn Compton also said she planned to vote no based on current economic issues.

Supervisor John Peschong argued that the 10% to 15% of unfilled employee positions was a reason to vote for equity raises for administrators. Even so, most of the missing positions are line-level employees who were held to 3% raises. The vote passed 3-2 with Arnold and Compton dissenting.

Several years ago, County Counsel Rita Neal recommended the board vote to have local attorney Don Ernst represent the county in a class action suit against an opioid company, with a national law firm at the helm. The Board of Supervisors then agreed to a contingency fee contract with Ernst.

Within the last year, Ernst allegedly warned Supervisor Lynn Compton, after Compton voted against renewing Neal’s contract with the county, that if she did not agree to support Neal he would put enough money in to her opponent’s campaign to defeat her in the 2022 election. Ernst’s wife and business partner then donated heavily to Jimmy Paulding’s successful campaign for supervisor.

SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow said last week that the recommendation of Ernst appeared to violate California’s Business and Professions Code 17204, which requires the District Attorney’s Office have first crack at representing the county in the suit and that he was opposed to contingency agreements in these types of cases.

“The District Attorney’s Office was not consulted regarding the county’s opioid litigation and was not asked to give our approval for the use of our exclusive prosecutorial authority,” Dow said last week. “If I had been asked, I would not have agreed because the hiring of private lawyers on a contingent-fee violates California’s ethical principles for public prosecutors, according to Supreme Court decisions and the California District Attorney’s Association ethics manual.”

However, during Tuesday’s meeting Dow apologized to Neal for speaking with the press and not discussing the issue with her.

“First, I want to make clear that my statement to the press was not intended to convey or imply that Rita Neal or our County Counsel‘s Office did anything inappropriate with regard to the opioid litigation,” Dow said. “I am here this morning to apologize to County Counsel Rita Neal for my earlier statement to the press. Because, in the context of the article it was published in, even though I did not mention her name, it implied (and was reported as meaning) that she had done something inappropriate in handling the opioid litigation. That was not my intended message.”

During closed session, the board voted 3-2 to remove Ernst from the case, with supervisors Bruce Gibson and Dawn Ortiz-Legg dissenting. Even so, it does not appear the county plans to bring Dow’s office into the case.

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Jorge Estrada

Don’t forget that they want to stay home every chance they get. It’s a tough job listing to the recordings and deciding which one requires a call back?


OnlyinSLO

Nice job Wade, drinks on us for a long time. Too bad there isn’t any accountability


ryguy

I’m not quite understanding this pay structure based on the article. Are the raises performance based or do you just get the recommended raises doesn’t seem very motivational to work hard for us. I wish I could comp my salary with Napa County like they do. My whole life you received between a 0-5% raise based on your performance plus a bonus if you really killed it


kayaknut

No compensation increase in government is performance based. Also anytime a position is filled, the salary starts at what the previous person was at, regardless on how many years they had been doing to the job, or the experience of the incoming person. A new person should never automatically make what the previous person made, they should have to prove themselves to be able to do the job first.


tryhard

This might be the most ridiculously absurd untruth I’ve ever read. C’mon people get your head out of your little heated Facebook groups and into reality.


Robert1

Is it true that Neal worked for Ernst before she landed in the money trough aka county job???


Borderline

Thank you Lynn and Debbie. Expected better from John Peschong. So voting for 23% raises for administrators is going to encourage people to apply for the 3% raise rank and file positions? Or are those open positions administrative? If the County has been functioning without them, I would question whether or not they are essential. Maybe it’s time to review the County org chart.


kayaknut

No surprise the chart is top heavy.


SLOpoked

SLO city did the same thing with massive management increases but totally made it under the radar.


mullyman

You give the real workers a pissy 3% raise that is nothing as inflation eats that up and you give yourself a raise of almost 23% and think that you deserve it and that’s o.k ? Your reward should be the people vote you out as soon as possible as you are just blood suckers with no real worth!!!!


kayaknut

Let’s hope the voters remember who voted for this, Gibson can be voted out this November, and Legg in 2024 I think.


Lewy

San Luis Obispo city/county government: Come for the climate, stay for the corruption.


indabarrel

Small business eating doo doo, kids getting $15 an hour to flip burgers and those gov employees on the dole getting a raise….typical.