Click photo to enlarge
Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer at the swearing in of David Livingston as Contra Costa's 22nd sheriff in the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Chambers in Martinez, Calif., on Monday Jan. 3, 2011. Contra Costa Treasurer Russell Watts is at left and contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff is at right. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)
Maybe, just maybe, Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer will stop his whining and focus on his job.
Kramer seems to fancy himself as the bad boy of elected officials, someone who sets his own rules and yet wants to be compensated handsomely for his work. His "I'm special" shtick has grown tiring. Perhaps the latest legal ruling will put an end to it.
We can only hope.
In July, Kramer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming county supervisors discriminated against him by not granting him pay raises other department heads had received. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer threw out the case, concluding in essence that the board can use discretion when it awards raises.
Imagine that. County supervisors don't have to pay a manager more just because someone else receives an increase, a concept we would like to see them put to greater use.
They understandably can't discriminate based on race or gender. But they certainly can discriminate based on performance -- and they should.
Moreover, Kramer, who earned $172,150 in 2011, is hardly a sympathetic figure: He filed a claim against the Contra Costa County Employees' Retirement Association alleging that he should be able to double-dip, to draw his county pension and his county salary at the same time. Fortunately, he never pursued the case. He retaliated against one of his employees, resulting in a lawsuit costing taxpayers $994,000. He demolished an asbestos-laden house he owned in Bay Point without notifying air board officials, resulting in a $5,000 fine. He didn't disclose ownership of rental properties in Martinez when he was that city's clerk, resulting in a $4,000 fine from the state Fair Political Practices Commission. When a reporter discovered that one of Kramer's own properties was underassessed, allowing him to avoid paying more than $21,000 in property taxes, he made a series of phone calls in an apparent attempt to create a paper trail justifying the valuation. He used an arcane real estate transaction known as a gift deed that allowed him to avoid paying transfer taxes when acquiring millions of dollars of property in the county. Ethics laws limit gifts to public officials to a few hundred dollars a year. After news stories about those transactions, he amended years of state ethics forms because he had failed to disclose ownership of millions of dollars of property in the county and loans of hundreds thousands of dollars to friends and associates.
We expect better behavior from our elected officials. With a record like that, Kramer didn't deserve a raise -- especially not in an era when most other county employees have made major sacrifices in salaries and/or benefits.
Fortunately, Judge Breyer recognized that the assessor did not have a constitutional right to more taxpayer money.