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Oxnard's Mayor Criticizes Salary Review Proposal : Government: Manuel Lopez calls plan for council approval of raises for city clerk and treasurer 'a step backward.' Issue will be discussed today.

November 16, 1993|PATRICK McCARTNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A proposed ordinance to bar the Oxnard city clerk and treasurer from receiving automatic pay raises without City Council approval would make the pay issue a political football, Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez said Monday.

Basing raises for the two elected positions on a performance evaluation by the city manager would be "a step backward and would cause the loss of necessary independence for both positions," Lopez said.

The council is scheduled to debate the proposed measure at its meeting today.

But Councilman Michael Plisky, who initiated the proposal, suggested Monday that the mayor opposes the plan because he is related to City Clerk Daniel Martinez. Lopez's mother is the aunt of Martinez's father, making the mayor and city clerk second cousins.

"I don't understand his obsession with the pay issue," Plisky said. "If it's because of his close, personal relationship with the city clerk, it almost seems incestuous."

The charge of favoritism is a sensitive one because Plisky was the target of similar accusations after Martinez defeated Plisky's wife, Mabi Covarrubias Plisky, in the city clerk's contest a year ago.

When the Oxnard Police Department hired Mabi Plisky as a community representative--a position that had been left unfilled for months--critics called the hiring a favor to the councilman. Although the grand jury cleared the city of wrongdoing, City Manager Vernon Hazen fired Mabi Plisky, saying the controversy had hurt her effectiveness.

Councilman Plisky said Monday that the proposed measure is not retaliatory, but instead involves questions of pay equity between the two elected positions and other city personnel. Raises for other city staff were limited to 3.5% this year, while the city clerk is scheduled to receive an automatic 5% increase.

The proposal would require the city manager to evaluate the performance of the city clerk and treasurer in their administrative duties each year, and make a recommendation to the council for any pay raise.

The present system calls for each of the elected officials to receive an automatic 5% raise annually for five years.

"The only issue is whether the city clerk, or anyone, should be given an automatic 5% raise that nobody else is receiving," Plisky said. "I don't think it politicizes the positions."

But Lopez on Monday issued a two-page letter to the council, saying Plisky's proposal would defy instructions from Oxnard voters to keep the position of clerk and treasurer independent.

In 1987, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have made the treasurer's job an appointed position, the third time they voiced such a preference, Lopez said.

Lopez said the council then created the automatic step raises "to avoid the inherent problems and misperceptions associated with one group of elected officials, rather than the voters, evaluating the performance of another elected official."

The question whether the positions of city clerk and treasurer should be elected or appointed first surfaced in Oxnard in 1979, when City Clerk Mildred Foster was incapacitated due to illness, Lopez said.

"We tried three times to make it an appointed position and lost," Lopez said. "Why don't we accept the will of the people and keep it elective and make the raises automatic."

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