As Supervisors’ Pay Rises, Should Constituents’ Confidence Lower?
On October 7, in a 3-2 vote, our County Board of Supervisors voted to give themselves an optional 3% pay raise. Supervisor Joan Hartmann justified her vote by explaining that “this job is a very demanding one with a lot of responsibilities that are very diverse.” Das Williams and Steve Lavagnino expressed similar justifications for their “yay” vote. Supervisors Gregg Hart and Peter Adam said “nay.”
There is no question that our County Supervisors work hard and have important and diverse responsibilities. It is also true that Santa Barbara’s cost of living is high, making it hard for many local workers, public and otherwise, to make ends meet. What I take issue with is the timing and the optics of this raise, and what it says about a brand of leadership that justifies such a thing at a time when so many constituents are suffering.
Supervisor Gregg Hart, who has pledged to personally decline the pay hike, understands the horrible optics of giving himself a raise in the midst of a pandemic that has ravaged small businesses, drained the coffers of local governments, caused historic unemployment, left 1.5 million unemployment claims in California backlogged, and with no federal deal for a new COVID-19 relief package in sight.
I personally find the timing of this pay hike profoundly tone deaf.
Great leaders understand the value, indeed the necessity, of suffering along with their people. In fact, our country’s most desperate hours have been marked by examples of such leadership.
As the leader of a nation trying to heal from civil war, President Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature.”
During the Great Depression’s darkest moments, FDR showed this country how to believe in a brighter future through the strength of his will, bolstered by his brave message: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In this challenging moment, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his handling of his state’s pandemic response, consistently referred to his own ordinariness and emphasized that he and his family are part of the community he leads. “I will never ask you to do anything that I won’t do myself and I’ll never ask you to go anywhere that I won’t go myself,” Cuomo said repeatedly. “We’re all in this together.”
So, I ask the three County Supervisors who have just voted to give themselves a pay raise at this universally painful moment when so many are struggling just to stay afloat: are we all in this together?
In great leaders we see ourselves. And they see themselves in us – in our struggles, in our pain, and in our dreams. If they cannot feel what we feel, they cannot heal what must be healed.