Just like the executive ranks of Orange County government, county supervisors are getting back a 5 percent pay cut that they took 18 months ago. But in talking to several county supervisors, it’s not clear that they planned to take the money back.

There is no confusion over the fact that supervisors and about 125 executives in the county bureaucracy took the pay cut in June of 2009. However, there is confusion over a vote in June of last year to extend the cut.

County Chief Executive Tom Mauk and Supervisor John Moorlach say it was clear that the extension was to last only six months. But at least two other supervisors question that.

One is Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who had just assumed office when the vote was taken. His understanding was that the cuts would stay in place for the entirety of the budget crisis.

“The purpose of the cuts was not for a time period. It was to show we wouldn’t ask people to do things we wouldn’t do ourselves,” Nelson said. “And if the employees are still dealing with the cuts, then so should I.”

Supervisor Pat Bates also thought the pay cut was permanent, she said.

“I thought it automatically went in until we undid it,” Bates said of the pay cut.

Yet Moorlach said he clearly understood the action taken and when it was scheduled to sunset.

“I believe it applies to supervisors, and it was time-certain,” Moorlach said. “I don’t recall any of my colleagues, the chair or vice chair, requesting to extend it.”

Two other supervisors — Bill Campbell and Chairwoman Janet Nguyen — did not return calls seeking comment.

For example, item 11 in the June omnibus bill reads, “Adopt Resolution extending the authorization for members of the Board of Supervisors, other county elected officials and certain executive managers to make a charitable contribution of 5.0% of their gross salaries to the County of Orange in the form of payroll deductions during Fiscal Year 2010-11.”

Yet that doesn’t exactly say they would take it back the next January.

Mauk sent out an email on Friday congratulating the elected officials and his managers for taking the cut over the last 18 months, saying it saved nearly $4 million.

“By taking this five percent reduction, these managers have helped to offset the need for additional salary and benefit reductions elsewhere across the entire county,” wrote Mauk. “This benefited the County at a critical time. I am proud of the leadership they have demonstrated during this challenging period for the County.”

However, Nick Berardino — general manager of the Orange County Employees Association — said nothing could be worse for public workers than to hear their bosses are taking back a pay cut when they’re expecting more cuts.

“If the county CEO thinks that fattening his own and his executives’ paychecks by five percent during the largest budget crisis in California history demonstrates leadership,” he said, “then the citizens of Orange County are facing a disaster.”


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