A unanimous San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 11 introduced a measure to raise the annual salary of the county manager to $300,000. If the board approves the measure in January, the $30,000, 11-percent raise would benefit John Maltbie, the county manager for 20 years prior to his retirement in 2008 and who the board has rehired after 13 months as interim manager.
But while $300,000 is a raise, it is actually a cut in Mr. Maltbie's pay, for both his interim managerial work (including retirement pay) and when he was in the position permanently.
As interim manager for the year that began in November 2011, Mr. Maltbie made around $325,000 during the 12 months, if you include his retirement pay, according to calculations confirmed by supervisors Don Horsley and Dave Pine. He received $133,000 in retirement money, which he is entitled to draw from the county provided he worked as interim manager fewer than 960 hours per fiscal year. Because he began and is terminating his interim position around the middle of two fiscal years, 2011-12 and 2012-13, he met the 960-hour requirement for both years and earned $192,000 at $100 an hour during the 12 months.
As permanent manager, Mr. Maltbie was paid $270,000 but regularly made around $342,000, Mr. Horsley told the Almanac. How? By exercising a privilege granted to the county manager and the county counsel: they receive nine weeks of vacation per year (another singular privilege) and they can cash in unused vacation and raise their salaries while retaining their jobs.
These privileges are still in effect for both Mr. Maltbie and County Counsel John Beiers, which Mr. Beiers confirmed in an email. If Mr. Maltbie exercises this privilege, he could increase his new salary to $352,000, but the board has suggested, and Mr. Maltbie apparently agrees, that he will not do that. The contract includes the following sentence: "It is the intention of the County Manager and Board of Supervisors that the County Manager fully utilize his annual vacation accrual."
Attracting 'top talent'
"His plan and intent is to use that vacation time and that's the board's expectation as well," Mr. Pine said in an interview. "These were the terms that were negotiated to retain him. One of the most important decisions a government board will ever make is (choosing) the chief executive officer. From my perspective, you want to find the best person you can and have confidence in that person's abilities."
Mr. Maltbie knows how to get things done, which is no small task in this county, Mr. Pine said, adding that he is comfortable with the overall compensation despite a perception problem in the timing: giving a county official an 11 percent raise right after voters approved a half-cent sales tax in the face of a structural deficit and to help the public health system maintain viability and prepare for some 50,000 more clients in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act takes effect. The raise "is not without its critics," Mr. Pine said.
"The overall package is well worth his talent," he said. Asked for an example, Mr. Pine paused a few seconds. "He's done a great job working with all the stakeholders, working through the realignment process. Not many people can do that, working with the independently elected leaders and building some consensus."
Had Mr. Maltbie not been interested in the job, a recruiter would likely have done a salary survey and returned with a figure close to $300,000, Mr. Beiers said. The salary has been unchanged for five years, he said, adding that the county did do an "informal" salary survey. It's probably close to what we would have paid. The benefit with John is that there's no ramp-up time," he said. "We want to attract top talent."
Weeks of vacation
When asked to comment on the vacation cash-in benefit and the nine weeks of vacation, Mr. Beiers responded via email. "The Board adopted a Resolution in a public meeting many years ago that provided the vacation and cash out option to the County Manager and County Counsel. This was approximately a decade ago and I have only been in this position for one and a half years so I am not familiar with the history and context of those negotiations. The County Counsel and County Manager are the only two employees appointed directly by the Board. Other County employees including my direct reports accrue vacation based on number of years of service, as published in the County salary schedule."
The salary schedule appears to show that the most vacation that the other 5,102 employees in the county can earn is about five weeks a year, but only after 25 years of employment.
Mr. Maltbie and the five supervisors receive another benefit: $1,000 a month for car allowance. The Almanac asked Mr. Pine, who lives in Burlingame, if that's reasonable. "Yeah, definitely," he said, and noted that that day he had been to Redwood City, South San Francisco and Palo Alto. "I'm on the road a lot," he said.