Photo by Nathan Rupert / Flickr
Supervisor Ron Roberts
Since becoming editor over a month ago, I’ve been playing catch up with a lot of the political intricacies of local government. Needless to say, I’ve had more than my share of Ron Swanson-type “just burn it all down” moments over the past few weeks.
And while I’ve managed to wrap my head around the functions and (dis)functionality of bodies like the mayor’s office, the City Council, and even the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), I’ve found it to be quite the task to find someone who could fully encapsulate what, exactly, is the function of the San Diego Board of Supervisors (abbreviated as BOS because, well, BS would be too apropos). So I began to ask friends and colleagues: Do you know what the Board of Supervisors do?
Answers ranged from “I don’t know” and “Uh, they supervise stuff” to “I think they’re like a local Supreme Court” and “I just skip that part of the ballot.” Keep in mind these are educated, passionate people who really do their best to keep up with local politics. That last quote is particularly troubling and it’s tempting to speculate that other voters may also be choosing to skip that part of the ballot. This theory could also be compounded by the fact that the BOS is allowed to draw their own district lines and, up until a few years ago, had no term limits.
So while it’s safe to say that much of San Diego probably isn’t aware of just how much power the BOS has (FYI, it’s actually quite a bit), or that its five members are all white and all Republican (even though it’s technically a non-partisan office), it didn’t stop constituents from coming out on Tuesday to voice their displeasure with the board’s decision to give themselves a nearly $20,000 raise (they already make $153,000 a year). Dozens of residents spoke out against the raise. Pastor Wayne Riggs of the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice implored the BOS to “give the same scrutiny” to wage raises for county workers that he claimed were “truly struggling.” While most were as respectful as Riggs, some were downright aggressive in their tone.
“You’re not doing your job!” shouted Martha Welch. “I don’t think you’re good people so I don’t think you should get a raise. You work for me, don’t you forget!”
“We are what we do,” proclaimed Susana Juarez, a board member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and an employee of the San Diego Unified School District for nearly 30 years. She went on to recount how hard she worked over the years and how she now struggles in retirement. She also questioned how, exactly, the BOS was working for workers like her.
One woman, the last to speak, even suggested that people would later wonder whether Supervisor Ron Roberts (District 4) was drunk when the board made this decision. She went on to call them “an embarrassment” and “so damn stupid.” Roberts was quick to point out the myriad of county positions that make more money than they do and called the raise “fair and reasonable.”
In the end, the BOS voted 4-1 to give themselves a raise. The lone dissenter was Kristin Gaspar, who had just been sworn in as District 3 supervisor the day before.
And yet the question remains, what does the BOS do exactly, and what are they doing to be paid nearly $200,000 a year along with pensions once they’ve retired? Well, the truth is that they are in charge of a lot. They have executive, legislative and judicial powers. They are ostensibly in charge of the nearly 50 county department offices, everything from the registrar of voters and the parks department to the sheriff’s office and the fire authority.
“Their job is to oversee the needs of the county,” ACCE member Lileana Robles told me after the meeting.
I couldn’t have put it more succinctly myself, but it’s worth pointing out that such a job is a lot of responsibility. So is it possible that the BOS do deserve a raise? Sure, it’s possible, but as one woman at the meeting from the Service Employees International Union put it, they “damn well better come with it.” That is, they better earn it.