El Dorado County leaders’ salary hike OK’d with change

Noel Stack / Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE. Calif. — With a third recruitment effort under way, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a salary boost for the position of county chief administrative officer. Supervisors approved a 10% increase — down from the recommended 15% noted on the meeting’s agenda.

The CAO’s monthly salary ranges from $19,250 at step 1 to $23,400 at step 5, according to the salary schedule effective Dec. 31, 2022, and posted online at The increase was supported 4-1 with newly sworn-in District 5 Supervisor Brooke Laine voting no as she said she didn’t think she had enough information.

“The step level (of the new CAO) will be determined by the board commensurate with the qualifications of the individual,” stressed District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl before the vote. “I didn’t want to make this sound like it’s an automatic jump (to step 5). If we could find somebody that’s Don’s clone, that might be eligible for step 5 but I think that’s going to be difficult.”

CAO Don Ashton announced his intention to retire last year. He’s expected to stay on the job until sometime in March.

Last summer the county began recruiting for a new leader, even hiring a firm to help in the search. “Ultimately that was a five-or six-month process and we weren’t able to locate a candidate that the board wanted to move forward with,” said Human Resources Director Joseph Carruesco.

District 3 Supervisor Wendy Thomas called the process a real “conundrum” as the county has apparent conflicts — a duty to hire the best and brightest while staying fiscally responsible.

“This is a really challenging balancing act,” Thomas shared. “Recognizing all of the challenges that we are dealing with at this county level, we need key people that are qualified … that are talented and knowledgeable about local government.”

But supervisors generally agreed the county’s salary and benefits package — at a time when roughly a dozen other counties are also looking to fill the CAO/CEO role, according to Carruesco — falls short. In a letter to the board, Auditor-Controller Joe Harn notes the county’s CalPERS retirement program of 2% at 60, while it saves the county tens of millions in the long run, is a disadvantage as many other municipalities offer 2% at 55. The county also doesn’t offer retiree health benefits.

“It puts us at a tremendous disadvantage when we are trying to recruit a … really qualified individual that can lead our county,” Thomas agreed.

Still, a 15% salary increase didn’t get much enthusiasm from supervisors or the public.

“With the increase of 15%, it seems like to me that’s a big increase and that big increase … that could be hiring another employee for our county,” District 2 Supervisor George Turnboo said. “(It’s) way, way too much.”

Camino resident Sue Taylor called county leaders’ salaries “astronomical” when compared to the county’s median income.

“We’re a conservative county. We talk about keeping up with the Joneses, these other counties, but I don’t want to be like those other counties,” Taylor said. “I don’t know that you need to do this.”

Placerville resident Mandi Rodriguez joked that she should have gotten into county government rather than the private sector for a better paycheck.

“What the heck was I thinking?” Rodriguez she said during public comment. “You guys are ballin’. What do you even do with all that money?”

Taylor, Rodriguez and other speakers told the supervisors they should find a candidate who wants to work in El Dorado County and cares about the community. “Money doesn’t equal the best employee,” Rodriguez said.

Speakers and supervisors also had concerns about the way the CAO’s salary and those of county counsel and the sheriff would be linked if the board accepted staff’s proposal, which it did. The board has committed to keeping the CAO the highest-paid executive in the county, now followed by county counsel, who, after the board’s vote Tuesday, receives a salary of 1% more than what the county sheriff earns. The sheriff’s salary is set by El Dorado County Charter Section 504 — a non-negotiable rate determined at the end of each year by using comparator agencies (Amador County, city of South Lake Tahoe and California Highway Patrol). The only way that formula is changed is via a charter amendment that must be supported by a majority of county voters.

“We may be fine this year … but you can’t let the system function for many more years because of all the compounding that’s going to occur,” said Diamond Springs resident Kris Payne, speaking on behalf of the Taxpayers Association of El Dorado County.

Carol Louis, president of the Taxpayers Association of El Dorado County, submitted a letter to the board that asks for a no vote on the item that will set “a costly precedent for taxpayers of this county.”

“… the Taxpayers Association of El Dorado County is aware of the constant maneuvering of county management and some elected officials to boost salaries and pensions to the detriment of the county taxpayers,” the letter states. “We the taxpayers believe in fair compensation but we believe you are damaging our trust in your ability to protect the taxpayer from governmental abuse.”

District 4 Supervisor Lori Parlin agreed that at some point the county will have to untangle Section 504, which was originally designed to recruit and keep law enforcement staff but has since evolved to include a variety of additional positions funded through the EDC General Fund.

“I hear you guys. You know me; I’m frugal but at the same time that argument about coming to El Dorado County, working here for less than you can make somewhere else — I don’t think it works anymore,” Parlin said. “The workforce is different.”

Parlin paused before making her yes vote on the motion made by Thomas and seconded by Hidahl that supported new Section 504 salaries and classifications, the 10% pay increase for the CAO and county counsel’s salary increase. lists county counsel’s salary range at $16,135 per month at step 1 to $19,612 at step 5.

District 5 Supervisor Brooke Laine being sworn in earlier this year.

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