Proposition C - Setting Salaries of Certain Elected Officials

Voter Guide
November 1, 2006
This measure appeared on the November 2006 San Francisco ballot.

 

What it does

This charter amendment would require the Civil Service Commission to set the salary for San Francisco's mayor, city attorney, district attorney, public defender, assessor-recorder, treasurer, and sheriff every five years. To determine the salary for each of these city officials, the commission would calculate the average salary paid to comparable officials in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara. The City would pay this average salary to these elected officials beginning July 1, 2007. In addition to recalculating the average salary every five years, on July 1 of each intervening year, the commission would be required to adjust these salaries to account for inflation, up to 5 percent per year. In any year, the commission could reduce the salaries of these elected officials if the compensation of other City employees is also reduced to achieve cost savings.

The charter amendment was placed on the ballot by a 10-1 vote at the Board of Supervisors. It requires a simple majority to pass.

Why it is on the ballot

In the early 1990s, San Francisco moved to full collective bargaining for all employees except the top seven elected officials. Even managers and members of the Board of Supervisors became their own collective bargaining units.

Then in June 30, 1994, a new initiative froze the salaries of these top elected officials, the mayor, city attorney, district attorney, public defender, assessor-recorder, treasurer, and sheriff at the levels set by the Civil Service Commission. The commission may - but is not required to -increase these salaries each year to account for inflation but not industry trends. Salary increases may not exceed 5 percent in any year. The commission may not reduce salaries. The Civil Service Commission is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Members serve for six-year terms.

Under the existing city charter provision described above, these seven officials have received inflation adjustments of between 2 percent and 5 percent per year, except for the fiscal years that began July 1, 1994 and July 1, 1995.

SPUR's analysis

Except for the treasurer, each of the other six elected San Francisco officials currently is paid a salary between 8 percent and 42 percent less than the average of the salaries paid to their respective counterparts in the five comparison counties to be used under Proposition C. In total, the seven elected officials are paid in aggregate 16 percent less than the aggregate of their counterparts in the five comparison counties, and this difference is the same when benefits are included. The sheriffs in surrounding counties receive salaries 42 percent higher on average than in San Francisco.

Most of the San Francisco officials covered by this proposed charter amendment has one or more assistants who are paid substantially more than the respective official. On the other hand, the mayor has three assistants whose salaries are limited to 70 percent of the Mayor's salary.

It should be noted that the measure specifies the "average" of the salaries of five nearby counties. It does not specify whether this average would be the mean (weighted average) or median (the midpoint salary). We presume that they are referring to the mean given the small number of comparable salaries.

Pros

Supporters of this measure claim:

  • This is a small financial cost to the city to level the playing field among top executives in our region. If we want to be the center of the region economically, culturally and politically, we should offer the top salaries to continue to attract the top quality individuals. This is also particularly true for the legal positions (city attorney, district attorney) where the City is competing directly with the private legal profession, which pays much higher salaries.
  • Using the average compensation for the same elected positions from officials in the surrounding counties compensation is a sound and accepted way of salary setting. It is a method that does not lead to abuse.
  • San Francisco is a complex place to govern and in which to work, and our top officials deserve to have respect shown for that work through providing top salaries.
  • Each of these seven officials has one or more assistants paid more than the respective official, which seems unfair and could counter the authority of the top position. Conceivably, it could have the perverse effect of inducing the top official to quit and apply to be an assistant.

Cons

Opponents of this measure claim:

  • The measure too narrowly focuses on salaries and fails to consider the overall compensation including health benefits, paid time off, retirement-program contributions, and so on. Additionally, the measure ignores long-term retiree pension and health benefits City officials receive. Those benefits are among the state's most generous.
  • Setting salaries by reference to an average produces a perpetual upward spiral as each increase tilts up the average.
  • The long-term costs to the City may be far greater than the projected first-year cost of approximately $210,000. Not only will the costs increase further each year as average wages in surrounding counties rise, but also with expected "wage creep" in these offices in which staff salaries are sometimes capped at a rate relative to the executive's salary. The proposed salary increases would create pressure to increase the salaries paid to the assistants of these officials.
  • While we may need to reform how our citywide elected officials are paid, this ballot measure relinquishes local control to others outside of San Francisco. This proposal gives five other Bay Area counties and their voters control over what our local officials are paid. We would never want to link our health care and other social-service spending, for example, to these other counties in a similar way.
  • The measure links San Francisco's elected officers to "similar" positions found in the other counties, despite significant differences in their responsibilities and functions. For example, because San Francisco is both a city and a county, its sheriff's duties do not include patrolling, unlike in the other counties. Therefore, comparison with those counties is not a valid measure of relative job responsibilities.
  • These officials hold prestigious positions in a prestigious city and therefore do not need more monetary compensation, nor are they likely to give up those positions for more money.
  • The cost of the proposed salary increases could instead go to raising the salaries of other worthy officials within the city based on merit, not title.

This is not about costs - the financial impact of this measure is insignificant in a budget of more than $6 billion. Instead, SPUR approached the charter amendment from the perspective of whether this is the right process by which to set the salaries of these public officials, whether the salaries set are appropriate and whether those new salaries are necessary to attract the right people. On all three issues, we think the answer is yes.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition C.