EL CENTRO – Confusion engulfed Imperial County offices as the county assessor and county tax collector's offices closed following protests of a 36% raise for the Imperial County clerk of the Board of Supervisors.

On Tuesday, May 16, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors passed a series of resolutions that provided substantial raises for several departments within the County, including the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, county counsel child support services, and the office of the clerk of the board of supervisors.

Individuals from throughout the county protested the salary increases, primarily focusing on the Clerk of the Board’s office, including Treasurer – Tax Collector Suzanne Bermudez, Assessor Robert Menvielle, and Auditor-Controller Karina Alvarez.

“With this raise the Clerk of the Board will make more than me as Treasurer – Tax Collector, who manages your $1.2 billion accounts,” Bermudez said.

The following day, Imperial County Public Information Officer Gil Rebollar confirmed that two departments within the County – the treasure-tax collector’s office and the assessor’s office – were closed due to being short staffed, leading to widespread rumors of protests and employee walkouts.

While Bermudez could not be reached for comment, in an interview on Thursday, May 18, Menvielle said he closed his office due to a staff member testing positive for COVID.

“I was out of the state, I had a staff member test positive for COVID, and several others with cold and flu-like symptoms…," Menvielle said. "I made the decision close my office to the public since we couldn’t man the front counter.”

Menvielle added that his office and the treasurer – tax collector’s office works directly with one another, so it would not be unreasonable that they would be suffering from the same health issues his office is facing.

While Menvielle denied that the closures were an organized protest or walkout, he added that it was possible that some staff could have taken a day off after the vote on Tuesday, expressing frustration in the aftermath of the vote.

Rebollar statements supported Menvielle’s assessment, stating that the county had not receive any specific messages from staff about calling out over the raises.

“As far as the CEO’s office is aware, all of the call outs are illness related,” Rebollar said.

Yet at the same time, adding to the confusion, an email allegedly sent to County employees who took time off from work "on and/or after May 17 and sought to cover this time with paid sick leave," re-states County policies and procedures "set forth conditions for the use of sick leave," stating that County employees must present a doctor's note to their supervisor/manager "no later than two days following your return to work," according to the email.

"Absent the required documentation, the department reserves the right to deny your use of your sick leave, which would result in your time off remaining unpaid," according to the email message. "In addition, to the extent that the County becomes aware that an employee violated the conditions for use of sick leave set forth in County Policies and Procedures during their time off, the County reserves the right to deny the sick leave request," the email reads.

The meeting that decided these raises was as divisive as the days that followed, filled with protests from staff and dissention within the Board of Supervisors.

Multiple county employees reached out to the Imperial Valley Press this past week in the aftermath of the vote, but none of the individuals were willing to go on record regarding their disappointments in the outcome of the vote.

At the Tuesday BOS meeting, the raises were passed in three motions with a 3-2 split at each motion, with District 4 Supervisor and Chair of the Board Ryan Kelley voting no on every single motion.

“I strongly believe that we should do a salary study for all County staff, and address the pay issues equitably,” Kelley said.

The first two motions provided raises for all of the legal staff within the county. The argument for this was that the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office cannot retain staff because the county salary is so far below the average pay for similar positions, and it would be unfair to not offer the raises to the other legal staff.

District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelley disagreed with this logic, saying that he would support raises for the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, not County Counsel or Child Support Services, leading him to be the second dissenting vote on the first two motions.

District 5 Supervisor John Hawk was the second dissenting vote for the final motion, which provided the Clerk of the Board of Supervisor’s Office raises, including taking the Clerk of the Board’s salary range from $6,062-$7,745 monthly to $8,273-$10,561 monthly.

In addition to the Hawk, several employees and union representatives, including Teamster Local 542 Business Agent Flavio Grijalva, spoke out against the raise, citing the Board’s previous refusal to provide raises for lower paid staff members.

“You have denied other staff’s requests for raises, claiming that there isn’t the money for them … some of your staff are on food stamps," Grijalva said. "You should be looking to them first,” he said.

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