Mendocino County government didn’t shut up shop and give its employees the day off on Wednesday, the day that President Donald Trump declared a national day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush, who died Sunday at the age of 94.
Nor did Shasta County. Nor did Trinity County, nor Del Norte County, nor Siskiyou, nor Sonoma, nor Tehama, nor Glenn.
But Humboldt County did. At its meeting Tuesday morning, county administrative officer Amy Nilsen asked the board to place an emergency item on the agenda that would officially recognize the president’s declaration.
What was the emergency? As Nilsen noted in her hand-written report to the board on the matter, the county’s agreements with the various labor unions that represent county employees (called “memorandums of understanding,” or MOUs) require the board to ratify President Trump’s declaration of a “public fast” — a day off — in Bush’s honor. Only then could county employees be given an unscheduled paid holiday on the following day, so they might spend it remembering America’s 41st president.
“If we deny it we’re in violation of the MOU?” Supervisor Rex Bohn asked Nilsen, when the item came before the board, as seen in the video below.
“No,” she answered.
“None of the staff will talk to us for the rest of the year,” Bohn concluded.
And so, after no deliberation, the item passed unanimously.
How much did this day of mourning cost the county, both in cold hard cash and lost productivity? County spokesperson Sean Quincey told the Outpost that the county administrative office hasn’t officially totted that number up.
But it’s safe to say that local taxpayers shelled out well over six figures for this day of mourning, and probably something close to half a million dollars, all told.
In its current, 2018-19 budget, the county expects to pay out $121.4 million in salary and wages to its employees. Divide that number by 261 (the average number of work days in a year) and you get $465,134 — the payroll amount for one county work day.
For his part, Quincey suggested that the figure arrived at above — $465,134 — is likely a bit high. Though the county did not calculate the expense of Wednesday’s holiday, he said, it did figure out, earlier this year, the cost of giving everyone another paid holiday that all county employees will receive this year — Christmas Eve. In that case, Quincey said, the county figured the cost of the holiday at $354,865. It’s unclear what accounts for the discrepancy.
But pay for lost work wasn’t the only expense that the county incurred for giving everyone an impromptu holiday this week. Employees who had to work on Wednesday regardless — notably, deputy sheriffs — automatically received time-and-a-half pay, in addition to the privilege of taking their Bush day at another time. (See the deputy sheriff’s current memorandum of understanding with the county at this link. The sections dealing with holidays start on page 19.)
Deputy sheriffs weren’t the only county employees working Wednesday either. The courts remained open, so deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders, presumably along with their support staff, had to work the holiday too. Quincey said that he would have to check on each of the various bargaining agreements to be sure, but generally speaking county employees who are represented by a bargaining unit all have the same deal, as far as holidays are concerned: If you have to work a holiday, you get time-and-a-half pay, and you get to take the holiday on a different day.
In any case, it was a pricy proposition. The Sheriff’s Office fought for years for funding to get the BearCat armored vehicle that it showed off at Halvorsen Park today. The BearCat cost $298,000, and a good portion of that was covered by a federal grant. You can estimate the cost of the Wednesday holiday at a BearCat and a half or so, and the board approved it in two minutes, with almost no discussion.
Of course, apart from the time-and-a-half holiday pay for everyone who did work, the Board of Supervisors’ declaration was not an additional expenditure. It was money that the county was going to spend anyway; the board’s action just meant that the county no longer expected anything in return. The amount of money wasted by the declaration of the holiday depends on how much you expected that money to buy you in the first place.
Still, many other counties — most of which have similar language in their own memoranda of understanding with their labor unions — took a different course. The Outpost reached nine Northern California counties by phone this morning. Eight of them remained open on Wednesday. (To repeat: They are Del Norte, Siskiyou, Trinity, Shasta, Mendocino, Sonoma, Glenn and Butte). Only Colusa County closed its doors and gave employees the day off. County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler told the Outpost that her board didn’t take any action to make the holiday official in Colusa; it is written into county code, she said, that whenever the president declares a holiday that holiday is also a holiday for Colusa County government.
In Mendocino County, the board considered the notion of ratifying the holiday at the same time Humboldt County’s board did, and rejected it on the grounds that it would inconvenience people who had business with the county on that day, and who might have to travel large distances to get that business done. Only one of the three supervisors present showed any enthusiasm at all for the proposal, and the county administrative officer seemed firmly opposed to the idea.
After quite a bit of consideration, the proposal died before ever reaching a vote.
It was in definite contrast to the Humboldt County meeting, where no one, at any time, raised any objection or doubt. Supervisor Bohn, after ascertaining that the board could in fact decline to give employees an extra emergency holiday but that it might make him unpopular with the staff, asked the beneficiaries of the board’s largesse to spend at least 60 seconds doing what they were ostensibly getting the whole day off to do.
“Take a minute to think about and actually honor the man’s life and what he did,” Bohn said. “He was a World War II veteran. He was a great father figure. He was a great husband figure. And he was a pretty good man. I don’t care if you liked his politics or not, he was a good man. So I think if you’re going to get the day off, take a moment and at least relish in the thought that we had a pretty good man in there, that was a good man to lead by leadership and follow by example. That’s the only thing I would ask. That’s a motion.”