The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

How does a dollar a year salary work?

by Kevin Ferguson | The Madeleine Brand Show

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LA County Sheriff Lee Baca (L) introduces Reserve Deputy Sheriff Shervin Lalezary (C) talks to reporters as the officer who arrested a serial arson suspect, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (R) looks on during a press conference on January 2, 2012. David McNew/Getty Images

When the alleged Hollywood arsonist was arrested this past Monday, the man responsible was reserve Sheriff’s deputy Shervin Lalezary. A Beverly Hills based lawyer by day who—for all his hard work for LA County, makes just one dollar a year in compensation.  That got KPCC’s Kevin Ferguson wondering: how does that work?

First off: Reserve deputies like Lalezary don’t actually make a dollar a year.

"After taxes, they get 63 cents. It is paid in the form of a check," says Steve Whitmore.

He’s the sheriff’s department spokesman. And yes, no matter how small your salary, you still have taxes to pay. All deputies take home the same tiny check. Whitmore says it’s a technicality, but an important one: the checks make reserve deputies an employee. And if a one were to gets injured on job, they’re covered by the county’s liability insurance. But do they actually cash the checks?

"Well a lot of them get put aside, but most of them get cashed," says Whitmore. "Only because it’s there... they’re put into their bank accounts. Just so they can get it off their desk."

Reserve deputies aren’t the only public employees to decline salaries, we all know that. You hear about it all the time. They’re usually independently wealthy politicians.

Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t take a paycheck as governor, neither did Mitt Romney. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg only takes $1 a year, and the same went for Richard Riordan when he was mayor.

Arnold Steinberg is a republican campaign consultant; he worked on Riordan’s campaign.

"He very early on indicated before he ever announced he was going to run that if he served, his motivation had nothing to do with the salary or money," Steinberg remarked. "And we talked about a dollar a year and I think by taking the dollar a year he was once again telegraphing and reinforcing that he was doing this for true public service."

When he was named Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, Austin Beutner did the same, too. The process was a lot more complicated than you might think. In fact, it almost wasn’t worth the effort, says Beutner.

"The city sent me a complicated set of paper work—by the way I had to sign a ten page waiver to not get paid, so I had to sign away my rights to retirement benefits... They sent me a statement form, so I was entered in the system, but no check."

He says the city still owes him that diminutive amount of money.

And then you have to get the job in the first place. Whether it’s getting elected or, like Shervin Lalezary, going through training. Reserve sheriffs deputies need 144 hours of training before they can even put a uniform on. To get to Lalezary’s level, you need over 1000.

And the pay? Still $1 a year.

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