Ventura County court administrators want to restructure operations and eliminate four staff positions, saying the changes would slice spending by nearly $90,000 annually.
The plan also includes a proposal to raise the pay of two senior staff members by 5%, a move criticized by one taxpayer advocate.
But courts Executive Officer Sheila Gonzalez defended the proposed raises, saying the increases are needed to bring the pay of her two senior assistants in line with other county officials with similar duties.
She said an independent study commissioned by the county found that the two assistant executive officers--Vince Ordonez Jr. and Florence Prushan--are underpaid.
"It is a parity raise," Gonzalez said. "They were not being compensated adequately."
Under the plan, to be considered by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Gonzalez's two assistants would each receive nearly $6,000-a-year raises over the next two years.
Gonzalez said she was not sure exactly how much Ordonez and Prushan earn. Salary for assistant courts executive officers now ranges from $54,132 to $69,562.
The new pay scale for the position would range from $59,566 to $75,478, based on experience and other factors.
Despite the inclusion of raises, Gonzalez said the restructuring is designed to save the county money. Earlier this year, five court staff positions were cut in a streamlining effort. The latest cuts would eliminate four vacant clerk positions.
"I don't call it downsizing. I call it right-sizing," Gonzalez said.
The plan would also create two senior positions to upgrade the courts' computer system and better organize the courts' civil division.
Some Ventura County legislative and judicial officials praised the plan, saying it would improve the courts' efficiency, in addition to saving the county money. But Jere Robings, president of the Ventura County Alliance of Taxpayers, criticized the proposed pay raises at a time when county residents are being asked to pay more taxes to shore up government services.
"The timing certainly isn't good for giving raises," Robings said. "It doesn't seem prudent."
However, Supervisor Maggie Kildee said she will support the proposal because, overall, it will save the county money.
"Sheila has come in with enough changes to show she is saving money," Kildee said. "That's the bottom line for me . . . I like to see our managers being creative about how their departments are organized.
"I think Sheila is reorganizing it well. This plan is very forward-thinking."
Superior Court Judge Melinda A. Johnson added, "It just really is a very sensible distribution of responsibility and authority."
Under the proposal, the court administration's senior team would increase from five members to seven.
Currently, two deputy executive officers join Gonzalez, Ordonez and Prushan as senior courts administrators.
One of the new deputy executive officers would oversee matters involving civil and juvenile cases, small claims, family law and adoptions, among others.
The other new deputy executive officer's duties would include overseeing automation and technology, records and legislation for the courts.
Gonzalez said mid-level managers now supervise the two areas slated to have new senior administrators.
The same study that showed Ordonez and Prushan were underpaid found that the two mid-level manager positions should be made part of the senior administration because of the level of responsibility they carry, Gonzalez said.
County Personnel Director Ronald Komers said that four years ago the county consolidated its Municipal and Superior Court administration, placing Gonzalez in charge. The latest proposal is the second phase in the county's redesign of its court system.
"Our courts are nationally recognized as leaders in consolidation and efficiency," Komers said. "We have been very effective in holding down costs."