During a January Board of Supervisors meeting, two highly irregular agenda items were presented by the District 2 Supervisor that I want to share with you. It’s important that you know about these matters, not only because of their sheer oddity, but because they reflect a profound tone-deafness and optics insensitivity. The first item placed on the agenda reads as follows:
“County Administrator Salary Adjustment
Discussion/Direction/Action regarding adjusting the salary of County Administrator Jan Lesher upwards to be more competitive with market rates and more in line with Ms. Lesher’s qualifications and experience.”
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this measure, it’s important to point out that it was presented to the Board of Supervisors in an unusual manner. Rather than being submitted by the County Administrator, it was presented by District 2 Supervisor Matt Heinz. Why Supervisor Heinz felt compelled to introduce this agenda request in this manner and at this time is something of a mystery. Historically, the County Administrator’s contract and pay-plan is considered every four years and during the first meeting in January when the newly seated Board of Supervisors takes office. This particular presentation and its timing still seemed, shall we say, a bit odd.
To give a little background and perspective regarding the events surrounding this, as recently as the middle of last month, and a week before the meeting, County Administrator Lesher issued a memorandum entitled, “Budget Overview”. Highlights of Ms. Lesher’s message include:
“To achieve this goal, Department Leadership and Elected Officials are encouraged to seek innovative and efficient solutions in the following four areas to maintain productivity.
1. Expense Savings:
a. Review and reduce non-essential travel and related expenses; and
b. Work with staff on strict adherence to energy guidelines to reduce expenditures; and
c. Temporarily suspend professional development and training programs.
2. Capital Expenditures:
a. Postpone non-critical capital projects; and
b. Prioritize essential equipment maintenance over new purchases.
3. Discretionary Spending:
a. Place a hold on discretionary spending, including office supplies and furniture.
4. Personnel Expenses:
a. Prepare for a freeze on hiring new personnel; and
b. Voluntarily reduce current personnel staffing levels”
As you can plainly see, the County under Ms. Lesher’s leadership has significant and justifiable concerns about upcoming financial conditions and their negative impact on the Pima County’s budget, programs, and service delivery. I did note that the actions being taken by Ms. Lesher seem to be approaches to financial management that should have already been in place and not some newfound revelations as she announces them to be.
I know that in my own business, the steps outlined for use by Ms. Lesher were ongoing practices that were a consistent matter of routine and discipline every month, if not daily. Be that as it may, I’m glad that financial and economic conditions are being recognized, identified, and addressed by the County Administration. I’m certain there are even more stringent steps that could and should be taken.
Back to Supervisor Heinz’s agenda items, to her great credit, County Administrator Lesher issued a memorandum late in the day before the Supervisors meeting that stated:
“I respectfully request that Agenda Items #7 and #12, regarding the adjustment of the salary of the County Administrator be removed from the Board of Supervisors Agenda scheduled for Tuesday, January 23, 2024.
I believe that a discussion about my salary is not appropriate until after all of the Pima County employees have had their issues related to classification and compensation addressed.”
This, I thought, effectively ended the discussion of her potential pay raise. I was wrong.
Before the Chair gaveled the meeting to order, the Supervisors were advised that County Administrator Lesher’s salary adjustment was back on the agenda, together with the associated Executive Session item. I advised the Chair that I would not attend or participate in the Executive Session dealing with Ms. Lesher’s pay plan, that I would remain on the dais throughout its duration, and that the County Administrator’s pay, given its negative history and lingering dark clouds hovering over it should be discussed in open public session and not behind closed doors. I remained in my chair out front when the Board convened in Executive Session. Again, to her credit, Ms. Lesher did not attend the Executive Session regarding her pay raise either.
Some minutes later, the Supervisors publically returned, reconvened the meeting, and it was announced the Board would honor Ms. Lesher’s request to remove the subject of her pay raise until a later, more appropriate time. All of this could have been avoided had Supervisor Heinz honored Ms. Lesher’s request in the first place. Why didn’t he? What prompted this action by Supervisor Heinz? County Administrator Lesher displayed exemplary situational awareness by asking for the removal of any discussion of her receiving a potential pay raise, given the economic challenges facing our County. It begs the question, why didn’t Supervisor Heinz display the same leadership?
It should be pointed out that Supervisor Heinz introduced several questionable agenda items during that meeting, but his second item that must be noted is that Supervisor Heinz made an attempt (albeit a highly misguided one) to remove the Colossal Cave Road Project from the RTA Next Plan. The Colossal Cave Road Plan has overwhelming community support and certainly, there is great need for it.
In fact, it is the only RTA Next project for District 4 in the entire RTA Next Plan. Supervisor Heinz complained that the rest of Pima County is not receiving its fair share of RTA Next projects. Our District 4 is the fastest growing district in Pima County, with the vast majority of that growth in the Greater Vail/Corona de Tucson area, and is expected to remain the leader for many years to come. The District 2 Supervisor should focus on his own District – not ours. Something is not right with Supervisor Heinz’s keen interest in our community, its development, and projects. We should all take notice.
Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy, District 4
33 N. Stone Avenue, Floor 11
Tucson, AZ 85701