SAN JOSE -- By most accounts, San Jose Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell has done fine work in what is often a difficult job monitoring how the cops handle public complaints about themselves.
But in a city struggling to retain top talent amid pay and benefit cuts to close chronic budget deficits, Mayor Chuck Reed's proposal Tuesday to raise Cordell's pay nearly 10 percent to $170,446 for the next four years drew fire -- from critics and allies alike.
"Chuck Reed's public safety plan consists of pay raises to political appointees and pay cuts for police officers," said San Jose Police Officers' Association President Jim Unland. "His policies are destroying the San Jose Police Department."
The City Council easily approved the raise on a 9-2 vote, with Pete Constant and Pierluigi Oliverio opposed. But the issue ignited debate over how San Jose will handle similar demands for higher pay from its top officials and unionized workers as it approaches yet another multimillion dollar budget shortfall in June.
"Now every single person in the organization," said Constant, "is going to be raising their hand saying 'me too!'''
Reed explained that in a few months, the city manager will bring proposals for awarding performance-based pay raises throughout the city, as he called for in his June budget outline. The council will decide how much money it can set aside for merit raises and, for the top officials the council directly appoints, who should get more pay.
In Cordell's case, Reed argued, she has improved public trust in the police auditor and its working relationship with the police department.
"She's done an excellent job," said Reed, who along with Constant had opposed Cordell's appointment in April 2010. "She's been a stellar performer."
It was an assessment of the retired judge that none on the council disputed.
"She has engendered trust like no one I've seen before," Councilwoman Nancy Pyle said.
But council members acknowledge the thorny issues Cordell's higher pay raises. City leaders in recent years cut pay and benefits 10 percent throughout the workforce, all the way up to the city manager, mayor and council, to limit layoffs amid record budget deficits.
This year Reed won voter approval to reduce pension benefits -- a key deficit driver -- but court challenges have limited the savings so far. And city officials have projected a $22 million deficit in the upcoming budget.
Bargain new terms
Meanwhile, highly trained employees -- chiefly cops and wastewater plant workers -- bristling under the pay cuts have bolted to other cities, worsening staffing shortages as San Jose scrambles to hire replacements.
On Tuesday, Assistant Police Chief Rikki Goede announced she'll leave to take the chief's job in Piedmont, even as San Jose searches to replace retiring Chief Chris Moore. Unland said a half-dozen more San Jose officers left the department Tuesday to become investigators for the district attorney.
Constant, a former officer himself, argued that if the city can give out raises, it should start with the police department "where we're having most staffing difficulties." Further he noted that other top council-appointed officials, such as the city manager and city attorney, are just as deserving as Cordell.
Councilman Ash Kalra said that while he felt Cordell merited a raise, "it does bring up an interesting issue of how we move forward."
Cordell, who also took that earlier pay cut, said that because the city's council-appointed auditors serve fixed, four-year terms, "should the Mayor and City Council desire us to stay on after our terms expire, we are left to renegotiate the terms (duration and salary) of our reappointments" in a manner different from other city employees.
"I am appreciative of the nine council members who voted in favor of my compensation package," Cordell said, "and I am delighted to have been reappointed and to continue serving the city."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.