By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
In explaining his decision to end his two-year stint of working for $1 a year as a San Mateo County supervisor and begin accepting his $120,000 annual salary, Supervisor Don Horsley cited the county's improved economic circumstances, including sales tax revenues and home prices. "The overall economy of San Mateo County is not what it was three years ago," Mr. Horsley told the Almanac. "People are bidding on houses again."
Mr. Horsley retired in 2007 after 35 years in law enforcement, including 14 years as county sheriff, for which he receives an annual county pension benefit of $215,000.
"I don't know if I said it. I don't remember," Mr. Horsley said when asked about the $1 a year pledge. The decision was based on the county's structural deficit, which "put us in an austerity position," he said.
In a Jan. 19, 2009, press release, 18 months before the June 2010 primary election, San Bruno-based political consultant Ed McGovern leads with this statement attributed to Mr. Horsley: "As a former San Mateo County Sheriff and county employee, I am fortunate that I receive an excellent package of benefits, and believe the compensation I would be awarded as a County Supervisor would be better spent elsewhere. Therefore, if elected, I will forgo my salary and benefits so that the money may be used for other County needs."
Asked if he wanted to comment, Mr. Horsley said "No, not really. It definitely was a press release."
In other news stories, Mr. Horsley cited medical bills for his mother-in-law as a reason to start collecting his salary. Asked to confirm that, Mr. Horsley said he considered the topic personal. "I do have a mother-in-law. I do pay for her medications," he added. "It's just different circumstances now than in 2009."
Asked if his no-salary pledge might have influenced voters in the run-off election with small business owner April Vargas, Mr. Horsley said, "No." The key to his victory was his track record, he said, adding, "I think I ran a superior campaign."
"I think most people didn't know about not taking the salary," he added. "I just think that it doesn't really strike home. I didn't find that the average voter knew that I wasn't taking a salary."
In November, voters approved Measure A, boosting sales taxes by a half cent and county revenues by a projected $60 million annually for the next 10 years. Measure A's passage was not a major factor in his decision, Mr. Horsley said.
Does he have a message to voters about deciding to take his salary? "Anyone who works six days a week, 10 hours a day, should be paid just like anyone else who works six days a week, 10 hours a day," he said. And his concurrent pension income? "I was in public service," he said. "I don't think that should be held against me."
Call for recall
In an open letter to Mr. Horsley, Michael Stogner, a regular critic of county government, said that if Mr. Horsley does not rescind his decision, he (Mr. Stogner) would initiate a recall. "I would invite you to reconsider and withdraw your decision on reneging on this promise within the next 30 days," Mr. Stogner wrote. "Barring this reconsideration and reversal, I will start a recall petition so voters can take action based on your broken promise to them."
On the board, Mr. Horsley represents District 3, which includes Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside and the unincorporated communities of Ladera, Los Trancos Woods, Vista Verde, Menlo Oaks and West Menlo Park.
County figures for the budget year that ended in July show lower unemployment compared with 2010-11, higher median home prices, rising personal income, more arrivals at San Francisco International Airport, and stable property tax revenues. The budget for 2012-13 projects county revenues rising by $95.7 million by June 30. "All of the key indicators are trending in the right direction," Budget Director Jim Saco said in an email.