A hefty new contract through June 30, 2021, for Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, is up for board approval Thursday, April 28.
That discussion at the Board of Directors meeting could be heated, according to the mostly critical comments that have been piling up on various social media forums, not to mention at coffee klatches and supermarket chats over the bananas.
The contract calls for Gruber’s present salary to increase by 4 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2015, and an additional 4 percent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, bringing his annual salary to $173,929.
Thereafter, his salary will be adjusted each year by 5 percent, beginning in two months, on July 1, 2016.
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By July 2020, his base salary would be $221,984, plus benefits.
Those include: increased vehicle allowance (raised to $600 a month for business travel within the county); phone allowance (to $75 per month); annual vacation days would increase to 25 plus 10 days administrative leave; and his life insurance policy would double to $100,000. His severance package would be extended to nine months from six, and Gruber could not be terminated within three months before or after an election.
Within the past couple of years, Gruber and wife, Melanie, moved to the North County area from the Cambria home they bought in 2005, in part, he said then, because she developed allergies and other health issues related to Cambria’s climate and forest.
According to the annual salary schedules for exempt district employees, effective July 1, 2015, the current range for general manager goes in five steps from $132,297 to $153,150. That chart is on the district website at www.cambriacsd.org, as is the agenda for the meeting.
Gruber said in an in-person interview April 25 that the new contract provides long-term stability for the district, for him and his family.
He’s been with the district for 5 1/2 years, being GM for all but six months of that. His initial annual salary as GM in June 2011 was $150,000 plus benefits.
Gruber’s October 2013 contract gave him an annual salary of $157,500, plus benefits. The contract has no expiration date. He received a 2.1 percent cost of living adjustment in November 2014.
He replaced previous GM Tammy Rudock, whose salary in 2009-2010 was more than $166,500 a year, plus benefits. She was terminated in 2011.
In response to those who say that the proposed contract’s cost is too high for a services district manager in a town of 6,200 residents, Gruber points to other district managers and superintendents in his and other fields, including Victoria Schumacher, superintendent of the Coast Unified School District whose current base annual salary is $179,806, plus benefits.
Those who disagree
Judging by the outcry on social media and elsewhere, quite a few Cambrians also are critical of the proposed contract. Online talking points range from resignation to recall to pitchforks.
They point to water and sewage-treatment rate increases due to hit Cambrians’ CSD bills in a few weeks, and a recent fiscal crunch that had the district slashing expenditures and scrambling for funds until a delayed $4.3 million grant arrived.
One commenter posted listed other annual salaries: U.S. President, $400,000; rank-and-file members of the U.S. Senate, $175,000; secretaries of state and defense, $199,700 each; and FBI director, $178,700.
Christine Heinrichs said she opposes Gruber’s proposed salary/benefit increases “that add to his already overly generous compensation.”
“His compensation is already excessive for a community Cambria’s size.” She provided another comp: Orange County’s South Coast Water District, 35,000 residents, 1,000 businesses and 2 million visitors per year, “pays a maximum of $200,000 annual salary.”
Heinrichs said the CSD’s “financial situation is such that it cannot afford to be open to the public for full business hours. Cambria’s finances were so dire a few months ago that other cutbacks were put in place. … Increasing his compensation while cutting other expenses is indefensible.”
Tina Dickason said in an email that the new contract “is a slap in the face to Cambrians who have been hit with the cost of a water supply project and significant increases to our water and sewer rates. We have conserved to the max, and in so doing, have saved the town’s tourist industry, while placing many hardships on ourselves. To be … awarding the general manager with a gold-plated package flies in the face of fiscal responsibility.”
Susan Oberholtzer said on Facebook, “If I were Mr. Gruber, knowing the dire straits of the finances in this community, I would graciously decline the raise until the coffers were overflowing. But would he?”
Directors weigh in
Director Greg Sanders said in an email interview April 26 that “The plain and simple fact is that we will be paying Jerry right at where the market is. Here are some comparable salaries,” not including benefits:
▪ Oceano Community Services District, $200,900 (annual budget that’s $4 million, “less than half of CCSD’s,” for 2,100 customers, with management of fire and sewage-treatment service contracted out).
▪ Montecito Water District, $175,000 (4,500 customers, water only, budget of $2.57 million).
▪ Carpinteria Valley Water District, $160,000 (4,300 customers, water only, budget $7-plus million).
Sanders said none of those districts are as complex as CCSD, which oversees water, wastewater, Cambria Fire Department, and a parks/recreation/facilities department that includes a 430-acre public park, with a stringent, multiagency regulatory overlay.
He said, “Gruber is a terrific general manager … licensed to manage both sewer and water facilities and is an expert in both. If we don’t pay him something close to what his peers earn, we will lose him. He has had offers from other agencies (which I have confirmed) that he has turned down.”
Sanders said Gruber has accomplished “some minor miracles,” such as the emergency permit and construction of the Sustainable Water Facility. “We need to keep him here” through completion of that facility, “water storage upgrades, Rodeo Grounds Pump Station, community park, acquisition of a new fire engine,” and other priorities.
However, one of Sanders’ peers, Director Amanda Rice, said Tuesday, “I don’t understand why we’re doing it. I will be very, very persistent about asking them (other board members) why they think it’s an appropriate salary and why he deserves it.”
If the explanations make sense, she said, she’ll consider voting to approve the contract. “I’m open to being convinced, but I’m not sure that I can be.”