Santa Barbara County wants businesses to support county staff

By KAREN VELIE

After asking business owners to offer discounts to Santa Barbara County’s 4,600 employees, county staffers apologized for their “ill-conceived, ill-judged and poorly timed” request.

In early January, Elizabeth Muro, the county’s health wellness partner, sent out a shiny brochure promoting the Employee Discount Program. Photos on the brochure include a hamburger, a person getting a massage and a group of unmasked people working out at a gym.

“The County of Santa Barbara Human Resources Department would like to partner with you by offering discounts to our 4,600 employees across the county,” the brochure says.

Rene Kaerskov, the owner of the Copenhagen House, a jewelry, design and watch store in Solvang, quickly rejected the county’s offer.

“We are already so beaten up by COVID-19 and county closures, that government employees squeezing more discounts out of us is a stretch,” Kaerskov wrote in his Jan. 7 reply. “Yesterday, our total sales amounted to $171 for six transactions. The streets are empty here in Solvang. The ‘For Lease’ signs are going up around us.

“Our employees sent home by the county and the government pay full prices for everything they buy, including groceries. That includes the unemployed, those with pay cuts and those on furlough.”

“So NO, we cannot partner with the county and give your 4,600 county employees discounts. I will preserve that for our own employees and for people without jobs.

“However, I will say this – if you can offer an employee discount to all our employees for their county/city sales tax and property tax, I am open to discuss.”

A week later, the county sent an email apologizing for their employee discount request, while noting the intention was to promote diverse local merchants.

“The communication was ill-conceived, ill-judged and poorly timed,” wrote Maria Elena De Guevara, Santa Barbara County Director of Human Resources. “Truly tone-death and there’s no excuse. For that, I apologize and take full responsibility. The email completely disregarded the very real pain and sacrifices local businesses such as yours are experiencing every day during the pandemic.”

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