Top Aides to Supervisors Might Get Big Raises

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Orange County Supervisors are set to vote on a plan Tuesday that would establish – for the first time – job classifications and pay grades for political aides to county supervisors.

The proposal would hike the top pay for chiefs of staff from $112,881 to $131,123.

If enacted, the new policy would have supervisors’ most senior political aides join deputy sheriffs in securing a pay hike just after being required to pay into their own pensions.

Currently, there’s only one job classification for fifth floor offices, executive aide, and that salary range goes from $29,993 to $112,881.

The update was requested by the county Human Resources department.

“It is best practice to establish separate pay ranges for each of the four job classifications that are commensurate with the level of complexity and scope of responsibility for each class,” reads the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting.

“The changes proposed for your Board’s consideration are in alignment with equivalent internal classifications and will provide sufficient compensation to attract and retain competent staff for members of the Board and elected officials.”

The county’s largest union is already on the warpath over the proposal openly questioning supervisors on how there’s no money for rank and file raises but plenty of room for high-ranking political operatives.

If it’s just about establishing best practices, union officials question why the top end range is being adjusted…up by more than 15 percent.

This week, Jennifer Muir – assistant general manager for the Orange County Employees Association – send out a sharply worded message to her members opposing the proposal.

“The County workforce is divided into haves and have nots, insiders and outsiders, the favored few and everyone else,” Muir wrote.

“We’re everyone else. For us, the County is a place of limited resources, falling real wages and takeaways. But there’s another County, a County where the sky is the limit, a County where who you know is the only thing that matters, a County where you can get a huge wage increase in the blink of an eye.”

This proposal has the potential to be the latest in a series of controversies involving supervisors’ political aides and top county executives.

A 2010 county human resources audit found that county executives were granting themselves questionable raises and other ensuring disclosures have focused on supervisors’ political aides skirting merit selection rules for job recruitments as they shuffled back and forth between political offices, campaigns and county work.

In 2013, county HR officials changed hiring practices in reaction to hearings on state legislation that would have restricted county hiring practices.

Recently, County Supervisor Pat Bates questioned HR officials from the supervisors’ dais on those restrictions asking how they would deal with a wave of political aides from outgoing supervisors looking for jobs given the 2013 HR policy.

Under the new transfer policy, political aides that have never worked for a county department would have to go through competitive recruitment for jobs.

Meanwhile, employees who have previous department experience could simply transfer into open county jobs.

The new salary band up for debate Tuesday also solves a potential salary twist to the recent transfer of top executive Brian Probolsky from OC Community Resources into Bates’ office.

Probolsky, who also serves as an elected member of the Moulton Niguel Water District, took over as Bates’ chief of staff last month given that her longtime chief of staff, Don Hughes, is out on a family leave.

County offficials said his chief of staff posting is considered a temporary reassignment so his job will stay open at OC Community Resources.

Except, he currently earns $122,886.40 according to county officials — far above the salary range of $112, 881 approved by supervisors.

Probolsky, who is is also currently being investigated by the human resources department because of discrepancies on his government timecard also drew attention when he originally transitioned from Bates office into OC Community Resources back in 2012, given that he secured an immediate 80 percent raise in salary. Probolsky had been working as an EA to Bates since 2010. 

When County Supervisor John Moorlach several years ago hired back one of his former political aides, Ian Rudge, at a higher salary than authorized by county ordinance, he made up the difference.

“I paid the difference out of my campaign account,” Moorlach said, adding that it was billed as an office holders expense.

“I didn’t think that (expanding pay ranges) was an option,” he said.

Moorlach’s approach to the situation did not add any additional salary or pension costs to taxpayers for political aides.

That’s unclear for the new policy.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. at the County Hall of Administration, 333 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, CA

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