Calaveras County will pay Public Works Director Tom Garcia nearly $20,000 more per year after the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to confirm the raise challenged by Auditor-Controller Rebecca Callen and protested by other county workers.
Callen said the board’s announcement of an increase in Garcia’s salary from $117,832 to $136,115 on Sept. 11 after a performance review in closed session was not an adequate public process.
Though she said County Counsel Janis Elliott’s assessment that no legal requirement exists for justifying such a pay raise, Callen noted that a lack of any justification from the board is likely to bring scrutiny from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Callen said her payroll manager “was not comfortable writing the check … we had not seen a salary increase documented like this. Ever.”
“It really wasn’t transparent. ... I had nothing to go by as to why it was happening,” she said.
Supervisors heard from county road employees, residents and candidates for office, each opposing the raise as the county has seen diminished tax revenue in the last five years.
Road worker Jack Tressler said Garcia is ultimately responsible for a supervisor who has threatened employees on road crews.
“Our attitude reflects our leadership. … Mr. Garcia is at the top of all this,” Tressler said. “People are unhappy, people are broke and half the people in our road department have to go the food bank to support (their) family. What about the small people? We live and shop in this county and support local businesses. (Garcia) doesn’t even live in this county.”
Tressler and others took exception to Garcia residing in Folsom and using a county vehicle to go to and from work at the public’s expense.
“We’re still getting shafted,” added road worker Charles Williams. “The morale in our department is terrible and we can’t deal with it anymore.”
“It just doesn’t make sense to me when we’ve got layoffs and cuts in gross pay … these people are carrying an increased workload, more so than Mr. Garcia,” said Bryce Randall, a candidate running for the open District 2 supervisor seat.
“I also believe that the board deceived the public on their meeting,” said Cliff Edson, who is running a campaign for the seat of Supervisor Gary Tofanelli.
Tofanelli cast the deciding vote after supervisors Tom Tryon and Merita Callaway lined up in favor of the pay increase and supervisors Darren Spellman and Steve Wilensky stated they would vote against it.
Edson joined a chorus of speakers at the podium who praised Callen’s “courage” in bringing the issue forward.
“Thankfully, we actually have people working for this county … who care about things being done correctly,” he said.
The board members who voted to re-approve the increase for Garcia pointed primarily to the expense the county faced in recruiting and hiring a replacement if he decided to leave. His expertise is critical in completing the long-awaited General Plan land-use guide update, they said.
Callaway also took umbrage at the suggestions of impropriety by the board.
“If, per the auditor, we didn’t do it quite right, then that’s what we’re doing (now). We’re rescinding the (earlier) resolution and we’re correcting it. We didn’t hide anything from the public,” she said.
She said a public works director is “hard to come by” and competition among counties to hire them is “extremely competitive.”
Callaway also added that the personnel management issues raised in Tuesday’s session were also brought to Garcia’s attention behind closed doors.
“The board weighed the positives and negatives of Mr. Garcia’s performance. There was nothing that was mentioned here that was not noted in our closed session,” she said.
Tryon said the procedural problem with the increase amounted to little more than a substantial “clerical error” and that if Garcia left, the county faced costly and time-consuming delays to the General Plan through hiring a consultant.
“If we lost, quite frankly, our current director, that would cost us a heck of a lot more,” Tryon said.
Tofanelli concurred in that regard but said he remains critical of Garcia for a lack of effort in acquiring local contractors for various work and the personnel issues in his department.
“Is he a good personnel manager? Apparently, at this point, he’s not,” he said, but added that the General Plan update requires stability.
“If you want (the county) to run like a business, you can’t keep turning over positions that are critical,” Tofanelli said. “If you keep throwing in a new superintendent at a job site, you’re never going to get the job done.”
Spellman said he understood the General Plan timing and cost concerns but ultimately was swayed by a groundswell of opposition to the raise.
Wilensky regretted that the matter devolved into “an almost cruel public version of a performance evaluation” and that heavy costs would be associated with getting a new director but ultimately voted in opposition.
Garcia sat in the back of the board chambers throughout the deliberations but offered no comment during the discussions.
Garcia’s accomplishments, cited in a staff report developed by Human Resources Director Francine Osborn, include a seven-fold increase in the department’s budget through securing of numerous grants, 15 bridge rehabilitation projects that did not require local matching funds and long-range plans developed to improve the county’s solid waste system.