DA defends his staff, told to trim pay hike
October 26, 2011
ASPEN – District Attorney Martin Beeson was directed to reduce a requested pay raise for his employees and defended his office’s performance during a cordial meeting Tuesday with Pitkin County commissioners.
A proposed wage increase and the sanctions that a local judge handed down for the actions of Aspen-based prosecutor Arnie Mordkin were the main topics of discussion during the county’s review of the 2012 budget for the 9th Judicial District DA’s office. Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties fund the budget jointly.
Past such discussions have proven testy, mostly as a result of a state-dictated formula for funding a multicounty DA’s office. Each county shares in the cost of running the office based on its proportion of the overall population of the district; the state provides some funding, as well.
“I’m aware this issue has kind of been a sticking point, especially for Pitkin County because it seems unfair,” Beeson said. Pitkin County’s share is 21.4 percent, but its caseload represents 11 percent of the DA’s overall activities. Garfield County’s budget share is 70.2 percent; its caseload makes up 77 percent of the total.
But Beeson’s overall expenses for 2012 are down 1 percent, and Pitkin County’s share of the $3 million proposed budget remains essentially flat compared to 2011, at $640,916. Commissioners didn’t grumble about the equity issue this year but asked Beeson to back off a proposed 2 percent salary increase for his office’s employees, whose salaries have been frozen since 2009.
Garfield County, which provides the bulk of the funding for the DA’s operations, is planning a 2 percent pay hike for its own staff next year, Beeson noted.
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“I’m just asking. I’m here with my hat in my hand,” he said. “I think they deserve it. They’ve earned it.”
The three commissioners present didn’t disagree, but Rio Blanco County intends to keep its salary freeze in place, according to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, and Pitkin is planning a midyear, 1.5 percent bonus for employees in 2012 if winter revenues meet projections. Pitkin County employees won’t see a raise in their base pay next year under the county’s compensation scheme.
“We, like everyone, would love to do more,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said.
Since a pay hike requires approval from all three counties, Beeson said he would give his office’s employees whatever additional pay all three entities are willing to back. At this point, that appears to be a 1.5 percent bonus, though commissioners didn’t make the additional money contingent on a strong winter, as it is for county employees.
Beeson said Garfield County commissioners appeared OK with a 2 percent pay raise; he was headed to Rio Blanco County on Tuesday afternoon.
Commissioner George Newman quizzed Beeson on his office’s prosecutorial philosophy – a topic that has come up in the past – suggesting prosecutors have been overzealous and out of step with the community. He also noted Beeson’s recent appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court over sanctions against Mordkin that involved the handling of pretrial evidence. The high court refused to hear the case.
“The perception is the DA’s office wants to win at all costs and [is] not really looking at all sides of the issues,” said Newman, who also commended the DA’s office for generally doing a good job.
“We pursue justice, we don’t pursue convictions,” Beeson countered.
The sanctions, he said, involved four cases in four years out of some 2,700 cases, conceding that mistakes can occur and that his staffers are human. Beeson said he filed the appeal because the judge’s action locally has statewide implications.
“It’s a standard no district attorney’s office in the state is going to be able to meet,” he said.