MARIN COUNTY Public Works Director Farhad Mansourian is the new general manager of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District. Whether picking an executive with zero rail experience will work out for the beleaguered commuter railroad is an open question. What's not in doubt is that the appointment is terrific for Mansourian.
Combining pay and perks from both his new and old public posts could give him an eye-popping $488,388 annual take.
There's nothing illegal here.
Mansourian, 57, is playing by the rules. Clearly the rules need to be changed.
As Marin's public works director he earned $214,987. Upon his imminent retirement from the county, he's eligible to receive a $147,600 guaranteed annual pension for life and for the life of his surviving spouse, all annually adjusted for inflation.
The county is not a member of the California Public Employees Retirement System. Instead, it maintains its own retirement plan under the more-generous "1937 Act." SMART is a Cal-PERS participant.
That distinction creates a loophole. Mansourian can immediately collect his county retirement. If Marin and SMART were both CalPERS members, retirement pay on top of salary would be prohibited.
His SMART salary is $247,000, a 40 percent increase over the earnings of his predecessor. Add to that $36,900 in tax-deferred compensation plus $11,040 annually for car and telephone allowances.
As Mansourian will not need to join SMART's health plan, instead he'll receive $13,848 annually in cash for medical co-pays. That's on top of lifetime medical insurance all county retirees receive.
Mansourian will now join CalPERS for which SMART will contribute $32,000 annually, giving him a second retirement benefit. It takes five years for CalPERS to vest. That's virtually guaranteed, since he'll get $369,000 in severance if terminated within his first five years.
Thus, his annual total compensation cost to SMART is $340,788.
If the agency advertised that figure before starting its so-called recruitment process, they could have attracted a nationally ranked general manager. Whether this is all too much to pay someone to honcho a $500 million financially vulnerable, politically controversial construction project is the question. Arguably, if he delivers as promised, the agency gets its money's worth as well as an asset with substantial long-term regional benefits.
Mansourian directed the GM recruitment. He reports, "midway through the process, directors believing I was the right person, asked me to take the job."
Mansourian is a striver. What successful person isn't? The frustration is over SMART's board, Marin-Sonoma elected officials, who gave away the show.
Unquestionably, Mansourian has real talents. Managing public works, he consistently delivers difficult construction projects as promised. That's something SMART desperately needs. While some contend he is weak on community involvement and transparency, the Novatan is a first-rate project manager who knows how to satisfy his governing board.
As old-time Caltrans engineers might approvingly say, Mansourian is a "highway guy." His experience with passenger trains is zero and transit, slight. As a practical engineer, this could lead him to a fresh approach as he had nothing to do with the folks who got SMART into its over-budget predicament.
In the decades that Mansourian has been public works czar, he was noted for his mathematical skill. That talent was manifested in the Civic Center observation that "Farhad always knows how to count to three." That's the magical number given Marin's five-member Board of Supervisors.
He's now transferring that skill to SMART. Clearly, he can count to seven, the majority on SMART's 12-member board.
Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley shares his views on local politics every Sunday in the IJ. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his musings at http://blogs.marinij.com/spotswood/
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