In an era of extreme cost cutting throughout government, a San Diego city councilwoman's award of thousands of dollars in staff bonuses is raising a ruckus.
Marti Emerald's 7th district constituents are especially peeved.
"Obscene, absolutely obscene. And yes, I did vote for Marti Emerald -- a horrible mistake on my part," Valorie Matthews said Tuesday morning, as she collected signatures on petitions opposing budget cuts at the Benjamin branch library in Allied Gardens.
"I don't care how good you are at your job, we're in real financial trouble," Matthews added. "Take a cut, or take a hike."
Emerald is giving four of her nine staff members a total of $5,500 in "exceptional merit" bonuses from her taxpayer-funded office budget of $1.1 million.
That's thrown fat into the political fires around City Hall, and she's getting flamed for it.
"It sounds like they're putting their hands in the jar for a little bit too much," said 7th council district resident Charles Beaver. "That's definitely very troubling."
"I think they would have to be doing something that nobody else could do. Or doing it so much better than somebody else. Or doing the job of two people,” said a woman who identified herself only as Peg.
Emerald's council staffers were spared the six percent pay and benefit cuts that she and the rest of the council approved for most city employees in 2009, and which continue next fiscal year.
Except for her chief of staff, who makes $105,000 annually, their salaries average about $55,000.
Emerald's giving one a $2,000 bonus.
And two others, $1,000.
They’re the only council members being given bonuses so far this year.
The paperwork for the awards doesn't elaborate on how they were earned.
"It indicates to me," said April Boling, Emerald's runoff opponent in the 2008 election, "that she doesn't understand -- or worse -- does not respect the sacrifices that are being expected of the citizens and the employees in the city."
Emerald declined to be interviewed for this story.
She released a statement in response to an article in the San Diego-Union Tribune saying, "While I appreciate the support the transparency provided by the UT article today, I am sorry that the exemplary public service of the staff members involved was overshadowed by the innuendo that they were receiving something they did not deserve… Nothing could be further from the truth."