Local Paper Attacks Supervisor Ron Briggs but Fails to make Important Disclosure - Editorial
In an editorial in the Mountain Democrat called, "Goofy Gavel" the paper uses the story written by the Business Alliance as a vehicle to extract a payback for Briggs' vote to cut the Editor's wife' pay late last year.
Although the Editorial is unattributed, the Editor of the paper is Mike Raffety, the husband of Cheri Rafferty who is the El Dorado County Tax Collector.
The editorial opines that Briggs' gave unfair and misleading access to Bill Center to give a one-sided presentation to the Board of Supervisors about traffic congestion on Hwy 50. It is the correct place for a local paper to hold the feet of elected officials to the fire when they believe that the actions are not in the public interest.
The editorial quotes the Business Alliance's story, “Supervisor Ray Nutting repeatedly asked for staff to respond to questions posed by the BOS and members of the public, but no staff came forward. After Supervisor Nutting expressed frustration that no answers were provided, Chairman Briggs (District 4) reported he had directed staff not to participate in the Measure Y presentation.”
Many, this writer included, think that Briggs was wrong to give staff a positive injunction to NOT respond to facts that are in dispute about Center's presentation. But then the paper's editorial went off the track and used the story to lambaste Briggs' earlier vote to cut excessive pay bonuses to county elected officeholders.
Referring to Briggs' term as BOS Chair ending the editorial writes, "Apparently Chairman Briggs is going out in a chariot of fire. After giving county employees a 15 percent raise and chain-sawing elected department heads’ pay by up to 40 percent he justified the resolution he pulled out of a hat at a Monday meeting by telling reporter Chris Daley, 'The joy ride for some electeds is over.'”
The cut to elected pay was well covered by this publication for the better part of last year, but the local paper was curiously silent about the issue and wrote only a couple of stories about it, even as a broad range of regional and national publications covered the story.
No one stood up for the pay bonuses and they were universally condemned as a bonus that amounted to hidden pay for simply getting reelected.
One would have expected the paper to lead with the story as an public watchdog. That is normal for newspaper journalism but the Mountain Democrat has been the subject of criticise for poor journalism for the many years of Mike Raffety's helm as Editor.
What the editorial failed to disclose is that the paper's editor is married to the county's Tax collector, Cheri Raffety. Mrs Raffety is well known in philanthropic circles as she controls a large trust fund that donates to many local charities in the county. She is also known, to a lessor degree, to be one of those elected department heads that just had her bonuses eliminated.
Supervisor Briggs responded to the editorial:
I thought the Mountain Democrat stood for democracy and for the taxpayer. Instead of a sneering reference to a yearlong open dialogue about salaries for elected department heads that culminated into a November 2013 action by the Board of Supervisors who voted affirmatively, adamantly, to reset elected department office holders from a runaway system of enhanced and special pay which had an infinite compounding scheme, to a simple no-gimmicks pay schedule using the average median pay from eight of our neighboring counties
Your editorial should’ve thanked the board for their decisive action which, in fact, will save the taxpayers of El Dorado County hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, in current and future pay and retirement for a handful of department heads who happen to be elected.
In an effort to educate the readers to what was going on let’s take the Treasurer-Tax Collectors position in example. The “list price” or base pay was $135,000. On the surface this is fair pay when compared to similar size departments within El Dorado and amongst our neighbors. But, over the last couple of decades past boards decided to add extra pay differentials or “add-ons.” By the time the Treasurer-Tax Collector got out the door she was, in fact, being paid W- 2 wage of $179,000 annually. Our staff had been pouring through all past board ordinances and through personnel resolutions where all the “add-ons” were surreptitiously woven into paychecks during the past 20 years. It has taken months for staff to put all the pieces together, just imagine if a member of the public were to seek the same information and how frustrated they may be...
That's right, a $45,000 annual bonus to the Editor's wife simply because she was successful in getting reelected numerous times! Although this is a huge amount to most, those knowledgeable of the Raffety's finances understand that they need the money much less that most taxpayers footing the bill.
This disclosure may explain the near news blackout in the Mountain Democrat newspaper of the major story in the newspaper headed by her husband. It also may explain the hostile and punitive editorial.
What can't be explained is Mr. Raffety's lack of adherence to journalist standards. He should have disclosed the conflict of interest in his story before Briggs fired back.
It is well known that our local newspaper, like most others, has been struggling financially. This was one of the reasons that Mr Raffety was placed in the position of editor coming from the advertising department. It was expected that his expertise in adverting would be the foundation for a stable bottom-line for the newspaper. This may be the problem.
Over the years countless people have complained about the poor journalism of the newspaper and subscription have been dropped. Regardless of how good you are at getting advertisers, the value of the ad space is dictated the volume and quality of readers.
The value of a viable newspaper in Placerville can not be overstated. If the paper can not get its own house in order, perhaps it is time for the paper to find a new leader. One with a Journalism origin rather than an ad man at its helm.