March 31, 2009

Salary Cut Sparks Outrage: Was it Legal?

WHAT WENT wrong in Daly City when the City Council voted to cut the salary of the elected City Clerk? I have always understood that the salary of an elected official could not be cut during a term of office but rather could only be adjusted prior to the filing period for office.

On what legal grounds did the Council act to cut the salary of an elected official during her term of office?

It's a mystery at this point.

City officials said the pay cut will help plug a two-year, $6 million budget shortfall. But members of the audience stepped up in defense of the 46-year-old, who was elected to a four-year term in November, and objected to the pay cut.

Many called it a "draconian." They expressed anger at the council and City Manager Pat Martel who they say "unfairly" targeted the clerk.

Annette Hipona, the Daly City Clerk, who also spoke at the meeting, accused the council of "political retribution" for winning the election by a "wide margin of over 60 percent of the public vote." She said some council members endorsed opponent Teresa Proano.

Hipona failed to finish her speech before the council and was almost escorted out of the council chamber by two Daly City police officers for exceeding a two-minute time limit. The officers were at Hipona's sides before she returned to her seat.

In my thirty years in public service I have never heard of this kind of treatment of an elected official. It will be interesting to see how this story eventually ends up after the legal research is completed.

And another related story of the games being played with elected positions in California.

It is disturbing that a very similar thing has happened in Cloverdale, California. Several years ago the council there unfunded the elective office of City Treasurer and no one runs for the office. When no one runs, the City Council appoints another city employee to fill the position in name only. Most recently they bifurcated the duties of City Clerk and Records Manager assigning a salary of $500 a month to the City Clerk portion and the remainder of the salary to the Records Manager portion. They then eliminated the Records Manager position leaving the elected City Clerk with a salary of $500 per month.

The last time they went to the ballot in an attempt to make the offices appointive the city residents voted overwhelmingly to keep the elected office.

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