Compensation: Fire Safe Councils across the state have different levels of pay for their directors | TheUnion.com
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Compensation: Fire Safe Councils across the state have different levels of pay for their directors

Fire Safe Council of Nevada County Executive Director Jamie Jones talks to landowners within the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone at the fairgrounds in 2019.
Photo: Elias Funez

By October, the Board of Directors of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County is expected to have voted on a new contract for Jamie Jones, the council’s executive director and CEO.

Her current interim contract, approved last month, grants Jones a base annual salary of $140,000, with an automatic 5% salary increase annually given acceptable performance. Additionally, Jones receives certain benefits, such as health care reimbursements, mobile phone reimbursements, and travel expenses.

In assessing whether a salary for a nonprofit executive is appropriate, there are certain norms that the council board should consider, said Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits.



In coming up with an acceptable figure for Jones’ salary, Masaoka emphasized that above other qualifications, the board should take into account how many years of experience Jones has in leading a Fire Safe Council.

Most importantly, as with any CEO position, for-profit or nonprofit, Masaoka said that the council board should be assessing Jones’ performance since she took over as executive director in 2018.



“You have to ask, what is the actual job this person has done for the Fire Safe Council? Have they been meeting the bare minimum, or have they been producing spectacular results?” Masaoka asked.

The varied responsibilities that different Fire Safe Council CEOs carry out can make it difficult to compare performance, as some executives fill a much more critical role in their nonprofit than others, Masaoka added.

Jones’ main responsibilities are managing the day-to-day operations of the council, assisting in putting together applications for grants, addressing budget issues, and hiring and terminating council employees when necessary, according to Terry McMahan, one of the council’s directors.

Jones is also the face of the council to the nonprofit’s state and local partners. For instance, she represents the council at the county’s quarterly Wildfire Prevention Stakeholder meetings, McMahan added.

Scott Cratty, executive director for the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council, has a similar role at his nonprofit.

Similar to Jones, Cratty said that he develops grant opportunities for his organization, manages the council’s finances, and meets every week with partner agencies in both the public and private sector to help further the nonprofit’s various programs.

Cratty pointed to constantly evolving hands-on projects he is engaged with, including overseeing his council’s chipping program, working with county road-clearing crews, and putting together various community education programs.

As in Nevada County, Cratty said that Mendocino County’s Fire Safe Council is constantly engaged in new projects and initiatives, meaning that his role changes as well.

“There is no normal week,” Cratty said of his job.

SALARY

Another aspect nonprofits should consider in approving their CEO’s contract is what directors at similar organizations make, said Elizabeth Boris, founding director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute.

“…Nonprofit boards of directors are expected to have and document a process for determining appropriate salaries of CEOs, which usually is accomplished by collecting comparable data on salary ranges of CEOs in organization with similar missions, revenues, expenditures, and number of staff,” Boris said.

Boris and Masaoka both cautioned that differences in county size, the structures of different fire safe councils, and the differing roles that these nonprofits play in their communities can make it a difficult task to compare the salaries of these CEOs.

Many Fire Safe Councils, such as that in El Dorado County, are completely volunteer operated, with no salaried employees. Other councils operate with a very limited number of staff, making a clear salary comparison difficult. Todd Lando, executive director of the Marin County council, for instance, made $125,000 in 2019 as the organization’s CEO, but was the only full-time staff member at the nonprofit.

By contrast, the Nevada County council employs nearly 30 full- or part-time staff members, Jones has said.

Compensation also varies by the revenue received by individual councils. Cratty said that he receives a salary of just under $52,000, with Mendocino Fire Safe Council reporting $650,000 in revenue for 2020-2021.

The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County receives grants in the millions of dollars, with received revenues totaling approximately $1.3 million between July 2020 and March, per its yearly statement. The council reported total expenditures of $1.4 million in this same period.

The 2020-2021 revenues represented a drop-off from the grants the council received the previous year. Between July 2019 and May 2020, the council reported an estimated $2.4 million in revenues, with annual expenditures totaling $2.36 million.

Jones and the council’s Board of Directors could not be reached for comment. Jones has previously stated that the council is hoping for an influx of additional grant funding later this year.

QUESTIONS

While Jones’ current interim contract stipulates a $140,000 annual salary, it is not clear what salary she would receive if her new contract, to be voted on by October, is approved. The council has declined to publicly release a copy of the new contract.

It is also unclear what Jones will receive in total benefits under the new contract. The interim agreement grants Jones a variety of benefits, including health care, paid vacation time, life insurance, and mobile phone reimbursements, as well as an expense benefits covering costs such as travel, vehicle costs, entertainment and meals. However, it is not clear what the approximate dollar value of these benefits is.

Eric Trygg, a director on the council’s board, said that he has made numerous requests for specifics about Jones’ benefits package, but has not yet received this information.

As with the functions performed by different Fire Safe Council CEOs, the benefits of different CEOs also tend to vary.

Cratty said his current benefits include 10 paid holidays, three weeks of paid vacation time, and limited compensation for internet and mobile device costs. He also receives reimbursements for vehicle mileage as well as some business expenses.

Elaine Himmelfarb, CEO of the Central Ventura County Fire Safe Council, said that her benefits subsist only of some paid vacation time and required sick time.

Jones and council board chairman Don Thane could not be reached for comment.

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at swyer@theunion.com

* Patricia Ciesla was replaced as CEO of Santa Clara County Fire Safe Council by Seth Schalet in 2021. Tracy Katelman was replaced as CEO of California Fire Safe Council by Hedi Jalon in 2021. Todd Lando was the only full-time staff member for Marin County Fire Safe Council in 2019; he was replaced as executive coordinator by Rich Shortfall in June 2020. All listed salaries do not include benefits unless otherwise specified. Revenue and expenditure figures for the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County were found on the council’s website. All other figures were derived from the IRS tax filings of the respective Fire Safe Councils, except for estimated figures.
Graph by Stephen Wyer

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