Looking for a low-key, part-time job with great benefits worth nearly $1,100 an hour? Try running for harbor commissioner.
San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Pietro Parravano got $25,757 in cash and benefits last year for attending 21 meetings that lasted on average 77 minutes each, the analysis shows. That's $1,094 an hour.
Parravano, 64, a commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay who also serves on several national fisheries commissions, said he's never questioned receiving full benefits for the part-time office he's held for nearly two decades. The harbor commission oversees two marinas and a park and employed 27 workers in 2012.
"It's what was offered when I got here," said Parravano, whose 2012 compensation included medical insurance worth $18,500 and $7,200 cash. "I am an employee and it's part of the policy."
Parravano was among 69 elected officials at special districts in the region whose total compensation exceeded $20,000.
BENEFITS FOR LIFE — AND BEYOND
Being a San Mateo County harbor commissioner can pay even beyond the grave. When Commissioner Sally Campbell died in April 2012 during her 20th year in office, her cash pay stopped but the district continued to fund her medical insurance at a cost of more than $18,000. That's because Campbell included a grandson, whom she'd adopted to make a legal dependent, on her policy.
Campbell had a longevity benefit that made her eligible for lifetime medical coverage at commission expense after she left elected office. That benefit entitles her dependent to the insurance even after her death. The district will be responsible for it until her grandson's 26th birthday in May 2019, said Marietta Harris, the commission's human resources manager. The policy could cost taxpayers nearly another $100,000 before it ends.
It is unclear how many districts offer either longevity or lifetime medical benefits to board members, but it is not unheard of, said former Assemblyman Joe Nation, now a Stanford University public policy professor. Nation said when he began his political career on a Marin water board, he was told he would qualify for lifetime health insurance if he served two terms. He fought against the policy and it was eventually rescinded, he said. "It was wrong, just plain wrong."
CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
Agencies often give their elected officials -- even those who are part-time -- the same medical insurance that rank-and-file employees receive, but that practice is fraught with conflict, said Pleasant Hill activist Wendy Lack, a former city of Walnut Creek human resources director.
"Elected officials are most certainly not public agency employees," she said. "Unfortunately, many elected officials identify with employees and, often over time, come to believe publicly subsidized benefits are an entitlement."
For his part, Harbor Commissioner Robert Bernardo said questions from this newspaper caused him to ponder whether special districts like his should offer medical benefits to elected officials at all. When compensation like Parravano's is compared to the amount of time spent in the job, "it makes you look at it differently," Bernardo said. "It's a very large amount of money. I've never thought about it this way before, but I have to say that we shouldn't (provide benefits)."