It's a straightforward enough idea, but one that has become the most emotionally charged issue in the county for the Nov. 6 ballot.
Measure 4-123 would amend the Clatsop County Home Rule Charter, requiring the county to supplement its district attorney's state-paid salary with a stipend, to maintain the salary between 90 percent and 100 percent of that of circuit court judges.
Supporters of the measure say without the stipend, the county's district attorney would have about the same salary as his county-paid assistants. District Attorney Josh Marquis provides an essential service for the county - operating a department with a $1 million annual budget. And recent activity by the county board of commissioners - requiring the DA to provide performance measures and removing his county-paid $13,900 stipend - are really covering commissioners' true desire to manipulate the DA's office, supporters say.
Opponents to 4-123 say the district attorney is a state employee, paid by the state. And the county's charter shouldn't be changed to pay a state employee. Oregon law allows counties to supplement DA salaries when the board of commissioners thinks the state isn't paying a commensurate salary for the services the DA provides. Paying the stipend will not provide any new services to Clatsop County.
Marquis now makes $84,300. His deputy DAs make $84,000. The $13,900 stipend would bring his salary to $98,200. Circuit court judges make $111,132 per year. Ninety percent of that is $100,019.
When it beganThe conflict over the DA's stipend began at the May 14 county budget hearing, when Clatsop County Commissioner Jeff Hazen moved to strip Marquis of the stipend. Budget committee members favored this in a 7-2 vote. During the board of commissioners' regular meeting June 27, members voted 4-1, with Commissioner Sam Patrick opposed, to eliminate the stipend.
Board members say they implemented countywide performance-based budgeting three years ago, and all department heads have participated, except for Marquis and one who is new. They say the performance-based budget is essential to help board members run the county more efficiently. Marquis hasn't attended any performance-based-budgeting training the county provides its department heads.
A member of the Committee to Retain the Independence of the Office of the District Attorney, Don Haskell, said considering that all indications were that things were fine, removing the stipend came without warning and was grossly unfair.
"It became obvious they were trying to control Josh's decision-making," said the retired lawyer and former Clatsop County commissioner.
Haskell said the measure isn't about Marquis at all, it is about the integrity of the office.
"To try to control the DA by salary cuts is unwise," he said. "There are reasons that division has been established for 50 years."
He said decisions have to remain with the DA about how to run the office. It's unethical - and maybe illegal - for lay persons to run an attorney's office, he said.
AnswerableCitizens for Clatsop County Charter Integrity spokeswoman Carrie Bartoldus said Marquis is a state employee, and the 6 percent raise the state recently gave DAs proves the state approves of the pay rate.
She said the county has to have somebody who is answerable to the county. Commissioners are trying to determine what services best suit their constituents.
"(Performance measures) are not being done in the way they've asked for it to be done," she said. "They have to pay somebody who is not providing them with the information in the way they have asked for it."
Commissioner Ann Samuelson said the DA was notified by e-mail three times that information he provided wasn't adequate. The county couldn't base his budget on that information.
Marquis said he is familiar with performance-based budgeting and that it can be an effective tool. He said the information he provided is appropriate for the commission's use.
All department heads are given the flexibility to provide the information they think is appropriate. He said there is no way he is going to provide conviction rates. He doesn't want his deputy district attorneys judged by how many cases they win.
When it comes to performance measures, Marquis pointed to one from Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, that he said is a good one: "the speed with which you respond to calls, not how many tickets you write," he said. "Performance measures become more important than doing the job."
Bad precedentOpponents to the measure say writing the DA's stipend into the charter sets a bad precedent.
"The DA isn't accountable to the county; his salary is independent to the county," Bartoldus said. "Which state employee are we going to next compensate?"
But the DA is in an unusual position. As an elected official, he is paid by the state. But as a county department head, he runs a department with 18 employees.
Opponents to the measure ask which state employees is the county going to next compensate. But Marquis responds that he is the only state employee who runs a county department.
But raises for DAs have traditionally come after periods of pay stagnation. Marquis said - when taking inflation into account - in his 14 years as Clatsop County's DA, he's only received a 5 percent raise.
Opponents to the measure ask, "Why do we have to change the county charter?"
Marquis answers by saying, "If county officials refuse to do what voters want, there is a mechanism to make a change."