In the alternate reality known as the twilight government zone, Contra Costa Assessor Gus Kramer has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against county supervisors, saying they reneged on a promised pay raise.
"I'm at my wit's end with this board for a variety of reasons," said an unrepentant Kramer. "I have tried a myriad avenues and approaches, directly and with emissaries, to broach this subject, but to no avail."
The frustration is mutual.
This alleged promise "never happened," said board Chairwoman Mary Nejedly Piepho. "Gus is one of many county employees who feels he is deserving of a pay increase but it's not a resource that is available at this time."
The pay flap dates back to 2006 when Piepho and her colleagues awarded themselves a 61.5 percent raise plus gave out salary boosts for a handful of department chiefs including Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir. The board based its decision on a survey that showed Contra Costa's pay in these areas lagged significantly behind other counties.
The board's largesse stopped short of the elected assessor, auditor-controller, treasurer-tax collector and sheriff.
Kramer insists supervisors individually assured him a parity raise would materialize in 2010. The assessor earned $172,150 in 2011, a rate he says ranks him 28th among his California peers.
Former county Treasurer Bill Pollacek backs up his friend's account, noting that the four electeds denied tickets to
"If I were still working for the county, I would probably be joining Gus in the lawsuit," Pollacek said. "When I asked (then county administrator) John Cullen about a raise at the time, he looked at me and said, 'The board will never let me give you more money.' He didn't say why but I knew why."
The assessor says he grew suspicious in August 2010 when he says retirement board member and Supervisor John Gioia urged him to "double-dip," or retire from the county and collect a pension and a paycheck like the sheriff, auditor and district attorney.
Gioia says he never advised Kramer to do such a thing. The retirement board that same year had determined double-dipping was illegal and had discontinued it for the other three.
Neither side is talking publicly about the elephant lodged between these warring parties, which is Kramer's protracted eight-year legal fight with Chevron over the taxable value of the oil giant's Richmond refinery.
But privately, sources say supervisors are pressuring Kramer to settle with Chevron and end the costly litigation with one of the county's biggest tax generators.
In the other camp, Kramer is reportedly holding the Chevron deal hostage until he gets his raise. And the civil rights lawsuit? That's just another bucket of sand in the supervisors' shoes.
no, thanks: Kramer and District Attorney Mark Peterson refused last year to voluntarily take pay cuts and join the supervisors and other elected countywide officials in solidarity with rank and file employees who have watched their paychecks shrink.
This year, Sheriff David Livingston and Auditor-Controller Robert Campbell have also declined to waive 5 percent of their pay.
and finally: Jury service is a civic duty but it can be a darned inconvenient one.
Called to appear on Thursday in Martinez, I was looking at a two-week trial and hyperventilating over the prospect of an implosion in my election calendar.
I begged the judge for a post-Nov. 6 deferral but it didn't look good.
He had already asked a woman if she could postpone her 45th wedding anniversary trip. (She said no, an indication of why she is still married to the same man after 45 years.)
He requested a man reschedule shoulder surgery.
The grandma whose husband was at home alone with their three grandchildren -- ages 6 months, 2 and 3 -- was advised to hang tight.
But as the day wore on, I saw the judge's dilemma.
He had excused students, those with prepaid vacations and a woman with an anxiety disorder. I presume he released the man who cried and said the case "brought back bad memories." He reluctantly excused a Buddhist, who said her faith didn't allow her to judge others.
And we all sighed with relief when he freed a lady compelled to tell the entire courtroom that her medication had a side effect -- she had to pee every half-hour.
Later, the judge dismissed me for reasons related to my personal background.
But he was unmoved by the heavy burden of bolstering democracy and representative government.
On balance, the judge said, the needs of the justice system outweigh the needs of the Contra Costa Times.
Gee, when you put it that way ...
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, Twitter @lvorderbrueggen or facebook.com/lvorderbrueggen.