June 6, 2014

Outgoing Merced County supervisor hires personal assistant

With five months left in office, Merced County District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis used taxpayer dollars to hire a personal assistant the day after he lost his re-election bid, the Sun-Star has learned.

Merced County District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis used taxpayer dollars to hire a personal assistant the day after he lost his re-election bid, the Sun-Star has learned.

Davis, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2010 and now has just five months left in office, confirmed his new assistant began work for the county on Wednesday. Davis was defeated by two challengers in Tuesday’s primary election, finishing in third place with 965 votes. His opponents, Merced City Councilman and former Police Chief Tony Dossetti and Atwater businessman Daron McDaniel, each earned close to 2,000 votes.

Davis told the Sun-Star he planned to hire an assistant before the election because he had no plans of leaving office. The 70-year-old is vice chairman of the board and expected to have an assistant help him when he became the chairman next year.

“Next year, I was planning to have six months to have someone give me assistance while I was chair,” Davis said. “I am the vice chair this year and I wasn’t planning to leave office. I’ve been talking about (getting) an assistant for some time.”

Davis will not get the opportunity to be the chairman next year, but he still moved forward with hiring an assistant. The assistant, Sarah Friesen, was hired as an “extra help administrative assistant” earning $10 per hour, according to county spokesman Mike North.

Davis said his assistant’s hours will vary each week but will not exceed 25 hours.

The position allows up to 1,560 hours per year, North said, and her salary will be paid through the discretionary funds for District 3. Discretionary funds comprise a $40,000 yearly allotment of taxpayer money that supervisors can use for projects within their districts.

The balance of District 3’s discretionary funds was $78,562.74 as of May 31.

When asked about the decision to hire someone with just five months left in office, Davis seemed concerned about how the newspaper found out. “That just took place today, and I’m surprised news travels that fast,” he said. “That means there’s a leak in my office.”

Davis would not answer questions about Friesen’s specific job duties, instead referring the Sun-Star to her job description. “What her job description says is what I will be expecting her to do,” Davis said Wednesday. “I suggest you get ahold of the job description on what she could be asked to do.”

According to Friesen’s job description, she’ll be working on “special assignments” in addition to responding to inquiries from the public, conducting administrative studies and preparing letters and memos.

Only one other assistant

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is the only other board member with a personal assistant. Kelsey’s assistant was hired in 2010 as an “extra help student intern.”

Kelsey’s assistant earns $15 per hour but works only a few hours a week. Her salary is also paid from discretionary funds but is budgeted at no more than $2,500 per year.

“Most of the time, she works an hour and a half for the week,” Kelsey said, adding that the assistant helps with scheduling, coordinating with county departments and preparing for meetings. Her hours vary from one hour to no more than 10 hours each week, Kelsey said.

Until recently, District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo employed personal assistants using his district funds.

His last assistant, Brenda Valenzuela-Porras, was let go in February after a Sun-Star article reported she checked out county vehicles on a suspended license following a DUI arrest and called her boss to intervene when she was stopped by police.

Pedrozo has not hired another assistant since Valenzuela-Porras.

County officials confirmed they did not run a DMV background check on Pedrozo’s assistant at the time of her hiring in January 2011. She had three points on her driving record at the time, according to DMV records.

Afterg Valenzuela-Porras’ departure, officials discussed establishing hiring criteria for Board of Supervisor assistants, but that hasn’t happened.

“That’s still being looked into, and there may be something in the future, but there have been no changes as of now,” North said. “There have been no policy changes as of yet in terms of the DMV practices, but we’re still evaluating possible adjustments to improve hiring practices.”

Davis will remain in office until Dec. 31. The winner of the November general election will begin a four-year term on Jan. 1.

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