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County forks over $470K for PIOs

Residents question salaries of spokespeople, managers; one position will be vacant
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County CEO’s office appears to be downsizing again, but many residents are appalled the bureaucracy and salaries were so large just last year. The latest organizational move by CEO Tom Miller, whose annual salary is $245,269, follows the retirements of his $243,131-a-year Chief Assistant Executive Officer Rich Colwell and $169,104-a-year Assistant CEO Mike Boyle. Miller’s salary has been reduced to $233,949 this past year because of a dozen furlough days. That leaves one assistant CEO — $169,104-a-year Holly Heinzen. The other two top executives aren’t being replaced. Auburn’s Dan Sokol, vice president of the Taxpayers League of Placer County, said government administrators have created their own value system that holds no relevance to financial realities. “The whole situation is ridiculous,” Sokol said. “They’ve created what, in the league’s point of view, is an overpriced system.” Sokol added that he feels many of the new positions created in government allow the manager above that position to take a raise in pay because of the policy that requires one level of management to have a higher percentage salary than the level below. Department shakeout The departure of the two executives has filtered down to the county’s mid-management level, with a shakeout in its $470,000-a-year public information office. In the latest staffing changes under The Domes, Placer County’s public information office is merging with community outreach and emergency functions while keeping a key position unfilled. The three-person office — which for several years has been staffed by longtime public information officer Anita Yoder and assistant PIOs Mike Fitch and Robert Miller – will continue to work out of the County Executive’s Office under CEO Tom Miller but be more closely aligned with community outreach and emergency services efforts. But because of Boyle’s retirement and a Board of Supervisors decision not to hire a replacement for Yoder after her mid-month retirement, the public information function will now be part of the emergency services-community outreach office. And the number of public information officers telling Placer County’s story will be reduced from three to two in mid-December. Yoder, who earned $121,349 in compensation and allowances in 2009 plus $26,798 in benefits, is not being replaced. Robert Miller, whose total compensation including salary and benefits last year was $109,489, and Fitch, whose total compensation was $107,617, will maintain a two-person public information office. Supervisor Jim Holmes said he doesn’t begrudge a situation where public information officers are making more than $100,000 a year or top executives paid more than $240,000. But it does “grind on me” that he’s an elected official playing a key role in the county and only making $30,000 in total compensation. Voters approved the $30,000 cap 18 years ago because of rapidly escalating salaries for the board approved by supervisors. “But I didn’t take this job for the money,” Holmes said. “I’m concerned about the costs but I don’t begrudge their salaries.” Holmes said that, as examples of how hard the county’s top executives are working, he’s seen Tom Miller coming into work sometimes at 5:30 a.m., and Heinzen working on weekends. Supervisors had looked at several options in reorganizing some of the functions and redistributing responsibilities in the CEO’s office after the retirement of Boyle in September. Boyle’s departure came nine months after Chief Assistant County Executive Officer Rich Colwell abruptly stepped down from his post late in 2009. Neither positions are being replaced. County pay records for the two public information employees staying on show Fitch earned $82,777 last year and received $24,840 in benefits. His current monthly salary is $6,491. Miller earned $79,889 and received $29,600 in benefits. His monthly salary is also set at $6,491. The county also pays for two other public information specialists. Dena Erwin, with the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, and Art Campos, with the county District Attorney’s Office also are on the county payroll to provide public information. Erwin’s 2009 compensation was $62,351 and benefits totaled $19,448. Her current monthly salary is $5,558. Campos is an independent contractor hired on a part-time basis by the District Attorney’s Office. County records show his contract calls for $31 an hour up to a maximum of $20,000 for a one-year agreement. Both Campos and Erwin work out of offices independent of the public information function overseen by Miller. In total, Placer County offices directly paid about $470,000 for public information officers in the last fiscal year. Fred Colburn, a semi-retired business owner in Meadow Vista, described the salaries and total compensation as too much. “It’s outrageous,” Colburn said. “I’m sure all the government unions are all happy and don’t want to tell people in the public sector. I question why this is all going on and hasn’t seeped out.” Colburn also questioned the need for even two public information officers. “I think three people making that much money is too much, at first glance,” he said. “Maybe they only need one and maybe at an ordinary income of $70,000. I’m sure they make more than normal people make.” Yoder, Miller and Fitch’s offices are centered at the geodesic-domed County Administrative Center in Auburn, also known as The Domes. (Full disclosure: Miller, Fitch and Erwin are former Auburn Journal newsroom employees). Andrew Scott, president of the Placer County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, said the public information officer pay is far greater than what a starting deputy sheriff makes. A deputy sheriff I classification pays $4,200 a month. Erwin, who is not a member of the association, has been a county employee for about a decade. “That’s quite a disparity,” Scott said. “The hourly wage is about 50 percent more than someone who has to have a large body of knowledge and has the responsibility of a lot of authority.” Undersheriff Devon Bell said he couldn’t comment on the question of disparity but that the Sheriff’s Office has the need on a 24-hour-a-day basis for a public information officer. Because the Sheriff’s Office functions separately from the CEO’s office, it doesn’t use that office’s public information officers, he said. Tom Miller said the Office of Emergency Services/Community Outreach model approved by supervisors last week is intended to have information generated in a more consistent, timely production mode. The intent isn’t to turn information officers into reporters but instead be more like a publisher providing information on a regular, consistent basis. The office is already producing a number of newsletters, including one for the animal control division and the Placer Gold in-house publication for employees, Miller noted. The move to put the public information function with emergency services was sought by staff because the two have worked hand-in-hand in several disaster-related situations involving public safety, Miller added. The vote Nov. 23 was 3-2 to approve the reorganization plan, which divides up several of the functions Colwell and Boyle oversaw. And the decision to continue with one assistant CEO is consistent with counties of similar size. San Luis Obispo County, with a population of 265,000 to Placer’s 330,000, also has one assistant CEO. Supervisors Kirk Uhler and Jennifer Montgomery both voted against the CEO’s office shuffle for different reasons. Montgomery said she was getting “heartburn” considering a move that would do away with the Board of Supervisors office as a department. Uhler favored a different model he had suggested a month earlier that would have situated the public information office organizationally in the same office as district aides and initially answerable to a yet-to-be-hired principal management analyst. In an interview, Uhler said that the county and the board have been focused on the administrative functions and it has been well-served by staff. Citing the low level of layoffs in Placer County compared with neighboring Sacramento County, Uhler said he would like to see more of a positive message getting out on how well the county is being managed. “You can go next door and see sizable layoffs we have avoided,” Uhler said. “As chairman, I want to see greater access to communicating beyond museum tours – not to say they’re not important. But as I look at other governments, I would say we get lumped in with everybody else when we’ve been able to weather the economic storm better than most.” ------------ Placer County’s public information team Here’s a list of Placer County’s public information pros over the past year, including total compensation: • Anita Yoder, $148,147* Placer County public information officer • Robert Miller, $109,489* county assistant public information officer • Michael Fitch $107,617* county assistant public information officer • Dena Erwin $81,799* Placer County Sheriff’s Office public information officer • Art Campos $20,000** Placer County District Attorney’s Office information officer* *Includes all overtime, special pay or allowances paid as well as salary reductions due to mandatory time off in 2009. **Reflects an annual contract at $31 per hour up to a maximum annual amount of $20,000. ~ Source Placer County ----------- CEO salaries Placer County CEO Tom Miller has been aided over the last several years by three assistant executive officers. Now he’s down to one: •Tom Miller $243,131-a-year salary •Holly Heinzen $169,104 •Rich Colwell $243,131* •Mike Boyle $169,104* *Retired and not replaced