By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Treasurer spars with commissioners over hours, pay

But the air seemed to go out of the balloon last week, when he unveiled three options for the structuring of his office, based on his first six months.

The job to which he was elected called for 10 hours of work a week at $14,488 a year, with no benefits and no assistant. And he said that should work for both sides.

But the options he presented were: remain at 10 hours and hand off investment oversight duties to the commissioners; go to 16 hours and hand the duties off to an assistant he would supervise; and, go to 24 hours and assume the duties himself. And under all three scenarios, he asked for pro-rated retirement and health care benefits, in addition to additional compensation for any extra hours.

Green said his plan all along was to evaluate the situation after he spent some actual time on the job and come back with recommendations. And he said he felt he made that clear.

Commissioner Mary Stern supported him. But Commissioners Kathy George and Allen Springer, the latter just elected in November, made it clear during a lengthy and often tense discussion that they never harbored any such expectation.

Eventually, the county’s six-member budget committee, consisting of the three commissioners and three lay counterparts appointed by them, decided to give Green a bump in hours to 16 and pay to $23,184, commensurate with the additional hours, effective with the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

It also agreed to accord Green retirement benefits, pro-rated to his 16-hour workload. It took under advisement his requests for pro-rated health insurance and the hiring of a financial advisor to assist him.

George and Springer were joined by lay members Shelley Halleman and Angel Aguiar in expressing reservations about the requests, which clearly took them by surprise.

They said Green, a retiree who recently completed seven years of service on the budget committee himself, knew exactly what he was getting into. After all, he took the lead, as chair of the subcommittee on compensation, in tailoring the duties and compensation for the office when the county reduced it from 40 hours at full pay and benefits.

They said they didn’t appreciate being put in this position.

“This is a difficult situation, Mike,” George said at one point during the discussion. “I’m feeling like there’s conflict between us.

“I have the utmost respect for you. I strongly supported you running. But now it feels to me that you’re telling us that if we want you to do what you told us you’d do, we will have to pay you more. That’s what it feels like to me.”

Taking the other side, Stern was joined by lay budget committee member Chris McLaran in arguing nobody knew what the job would really entail once the new investment component was added. They said Green was simply laying the facts on the table, now that it had become clear how much work it would require.

“A comprehensive investment program has never been undertaken by the county treasurer,” McLaren noted. Instead of managing its own investments, he noted, the county has previously just placed its reserves in the state investment pool, which is managed very conservatively and thus produces very limited returns.

Green said the additional hours he was seeking would be primarily directed to that effort, “as well as other ways the county could more effectively utilize its cash, in terms of potential retirements or refinancing of debt.” And he boasts a background as a chief financial officer and chief executive officer, which he touted in the campaign as assurance he could deliver.

“You get what you pay for,” Stern told the committee, in rising to his defense.

“You’re saying he knew what he was running for, but he didn’t. None of us did. We knew we wanted a part-time treasurer to focus mainly on investments, but we didn’t know exactly what that would entail until Mike got into office.

“He has the skills to do more than the basics. He has a good plan to be able to do that and he has already shown us potential savings of close to $50,000.”

Stern said she thought Green had already proven himself and deserved the benefit of the doubt.

After four hours under often skeptical scrutiny, Green eventually let his frustration boil over.

“I think we’re spending too much time on this,” he said. “Let’s leave it where it is.”

Obviously, he said, “There’s not an overwhelming perception of value in me or this position.”

The committee continued its discussion, and eventually took limited action, after Green completed his presentation and left the chambers.

McLaran led the argument for increasing Green’s hours, and thus his pay proportionately.

“What’s it worth to have a treasurer willing to explore different things and is out there trying to help the county?” he asked. “There’s no question about that, I really believe he’s trying to help.”

“We have to consider what that’s worth. Are we willing to change things and make them better instead of sticking to things the way they’ve always been done?”

And eventually, he brought everyone around on the hours and retirement benefits elements.

Springer said afterward that he supported the increase in hours, and addition of pro-rated retirement benefits, because he believed in Green’s vision for the county’s investment strategy.

“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for the county to benefit from his experience,” Springer said. “We’ll see if he is able to meet the expectations that he set for financial reward to the county.”

George said she was willing to give Green the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there had, indeed, been a misunderstanding, she said.

She also agreed with Springer in saying, “He’s done a lot of work already to meet his vision for the position.”

The county’s 2013-14 fiscal budget is slated for airing at a public hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 20, in Room 32 of the county courthouse. It is scheduled for final adoption at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 27, in the same location.

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