A longtime county bureaucrat has found himself thrust unexpectedly — and unwillingly — into the middle of an increasingly contentious campaign for county supervisor.
Although he is not mentioned by name, Larry Allen, executive director of the Air Pollution Control District, is the featured player in a mailer aimed by the campaign of 5th District challenger Debbie Arnold against incumbent Jim Patterson.
The political advertising uses numbers that are misleading, Allen said, and the campaign has taken a toll on him personally and professionally.
Patterson “voted to pay one county bureaucrat $240,119 per year,” the mailer says, under a headline that says “Your tax dollars at ‘work.’ ” Arnold’s radio ads repeat the theme.
Under another headline that reads “a quarter of a million dollars,” the mailer says the bureaucrat is the Air Pollution Control District’s executive director. While the mailer does not name him, only one person answers to that description — Allen.
The allegation, designed to score a campaign point by alleging that Patterson is a big spender, off-handedly makes collateral damage out of Allen, who has worked for the county or the district for 30 years and is running for nothing.
Arnold insists the mailer is not personal.
“I’m not going after Larry Allen,” she said in a telephone interview. “That’s silly. It was one line item in the budget. Going over my opponent’s budget spending is a legitimate campaign issue.
“I never mentioned his (Allen’s) name,” she went on. “This is not about anything to do with the person.” Arnold said she was being a watchdog for the taxpayer and it would have been irresponsible not to point out such high remuneration.
Nonetheless, Allen says the mailer has affected him personally and professionally. “It’s very stressful,” Allen told The Tribune. “It’s unfortunate that our agency has been pulled into this. There are people out there who are going to read it and believe (the distortions).”
Allen also views it as an attempt to undermine the credibility of the air district, not just Patterson, and keep it from doing its job.
The mailer has more problems than its effects on an unelected official. It is misleading in several ways, Allen says.
An examination by The Tribune reached the same conclusion.
It compares the $240,000 number for local executive director pay with the director’s pay from six other air quality districts — out of 35 in the state — using the state controller’s website as a reference.
However, the $240,000 number for San Luis Obispo County is current, whereas the others are from 2009.
It is possible, though unlikely, that the 2009 numbers for the other six districts have not changed in three years. But even if that is the case, the state controller’s website, in its totals, lists only salary, the employer-paid portion of the employee’s pension contribution, and health benefit costs.
The $240,119 number used for Allen’s compensation, by contrast, represents the 2012 costs to the local district and includes, in addition to the three items listed for the other districts, regular employer pension contributions, debt service on the county pension obligation bond, Social Security, life insurance, disability, workers’ compensation, Medicare and unemployment insurance.
Had Arnold used the same limited data the state used for other district directors across the state in 2009 — apples to apples — Allen’s salary and benefits would have been $177,312 — a figure for Allen’s job that did, in fact, appear on the controller’s website that year.
“It’s apples to oranges, completely inaccurate, disingenuous,” said Allen, who agreed only reluctantly to be interviewed and spoke only because he has been thrust into the public spotlight.
Arnold says her campaign used the most current numbers available.
Air Pollution Control District directors also come from counties with different sizes, pay schedules, retirement formulas and other variables — variances so great that a head-to-head comparison seems problematic at best.
Adding to the lack of uniformity is the fact that some of those directors do more than one thing — they might, for example, also be the county agricultural commissioner.
Arnold said she would speak with her researcher about the calculations.
Finally, although he is taking the heat for Allen’s raise, Patterson was not the only air district board member to vote to approve it. The vote came during a closed-door session at the conclusion of Allen’s employee performance evaluation, and, at a minimum, five of the eight members present voted in favor of it.
Although the action was made public, the individual votes were not. That is significant in this case because another candidate for county supervisor, Ed Waage, was one of the eight.
It raises the questions: Did Waage vote for Allen’s raise; and, if he did, why has he not been targeted?The Tribune sought repeatedly to get Waage to disclose how he voted, but he just as persistently said he would not do so because revealing how he voted on the salary of the agency’s top officer during a closed session would violate the Brown Act.
“You are asking me, an APCD board member, to evaluate the performance of its APCD,” he wrote in an email. “There is a process for such evaluations and performing the evaluation to a reporter is not one of them.”Waage also declined to say how he voted on Allen’s public employee contract.
Tribune staff writer Cynthia Lambert contributed to this report.