Orange County supervisors have increasingly advocated in recent years to have their political aides shuttle back and forth between their personal staff and public sector jobs at the county, arguing that political aides – often local elected officials themselves – offer a lot of experience to the county.
Yet the practice also carries an expensive tab for taxpayers.
Consider the case of Brian Probolsky, a politically connected OC GOP insider and elected board member of the Moulton Niguel Water District.
Probolsky works at one of the county’s mega agencies – OC Community Resources – and has been for the last few months on official loan to Supervisor Pat Bates, his original mentor in county government.
Last month, just before getting elected to the state senate on platform of “fiscal common sense,” Bates boosted Probolsky’s salary as her chief of staff to $62.92 an hour – instantly making him the highest paid of any supervisor’s chief of staff, records show.
Neither Probolksy nor Bates responded to a request for comment.
Bates ordered the raise in an Oct. 3 memo sent to county staff where she advised that she was making a salary adjustment for Probolsky, “in recognition of his increased responsibility as a result of reduced office staffing levels and his excellent performance.”
Bates’ action has already drawn the ire of her colleagues.
“I’m outraged,” said Supervisor John Moorlach, who said he looked into the matter he was advised of ongoing Voice of OC public records requests into the matter.
“It defies common sense.”
Probolsky’s Oct. 3 raise also went well above what was authorized by county regulations – even though internal HR officials warned CEO Mike Giancola about the fact that the raise exceeded the authorized levels for political aides, according to documents obtained by Voice of OC.
“There is issue on this one,” wrote County HR Director Steve Danley on Oct. 16 to Giancola. “Current top of salary range for a Board EA is $60.59/hour; the salary increase request for Mr. Probolsky is to $62.92. While it is within the Admin Mgr II range, it will probably gain adverse scrutiny since his current duties are as an EA.”
Yet the very next morning, Giancola, who himself recently got a controversial raise, wrote back to Danley telling him to proceed.
“I concur with the Supervisors request as she notes the increased responsibility, Giancola wrote. “Please process the request.”
The pay hike is base-building meaning that it ultimately pads Probolsky’s pension.
That particularly irritates Moorlach, who has made pension reform and opposition to pension spiking, a central tenant of his term in office.
He says its difficult to convince employee groups to agree to small raises and increases in pension contributions when political aides are able to game the system for quick pay raises.
“Perception is critical. I understand that,” Moorlach said. “I have voiced concerns.”
Bates is also apparently sensitive to perception as she changed the amount of Probolsky’s raise after Voice of OC raised questions.
The day after Voice of OC submitted a request on the matter under the state Public Records Act, Bates sent county staff a memo on Oct. 31 adjusting Probolsky’s hourly rate down to $60.59, saying, “please make this permanent change effective today.”
This change brought the pay raise in line with county regulations.
Probolsky is currently the focus of an ongoing HR investigation into his activities as a water district board member because he does not take time off on his county time cards during official water board meetings.
He also made headlines back in 2012 when he left Bates’ office as an executive aide and secured an 80 percent raise for a newly created job inside OC Community Resources Department.
According to a complaint letter sent by fired Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis, Probolsky went from making $31.00 an hour on Bates’ staff to $56.00 an hour when he transferred into the bureaucracy.
He came back to Bates’ office earlier this year on loan from OC Community Resources until her term ends next month, at the rate of $59.08 an hour.
And when he cycles back to OC Community Resources, it will now be at the higher hourly rate of $60.59, which sticks with him throughout his county career.
Putting him in a position to help the next county supervisor in search of a political aide.