The new general manager for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district, a veteran Marin County public works administrator, has a compensation package that puts him near the top of the pay scale for North Bay public officials.
Farhad Mansourian will be paid $246,000 a year in salary, receive an additional $36,900 in deferred compensation and $29,888 in benefit and expense allowances.
It is a 40 percent increase over the $176,000 annual salary of the previous general manager.
SMART officials said Wednesday they are convinced Mansourian is the best person for the job of building the commute rail line between Sonoma and Marin counties.
They also said the pay is necessary to get someone who is qualified to do the job, even though Mansourian doesn't have a railroad background.
"What he brings is a knowledge of Sonoma and Marin counties, a knowledge of public works management and a knowledge of administration," said SMART Chairwoman and Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown. "Having someone who knows how to run a train can be brought on board later."
SMART critics question whether the compensation is fiscally responsible.
"The substantial increase in salary and benefits are a concern, especially for someone without rail experience," said Clay Mitchell of Windsor, a member of Repeal SMART.
"And it is our understanding their stated goal was to get someone with rail experience. While by all accounts he has a track record of pursing large public works projects and getting them done, the staff seems light on the rail side," Mitchell said.
The Repeal SMART group is planning to gather signatures in a bid to qualify a ballot initiative that would overturn the quarter-percent sales tax passed by Sonoma-Marin voters in 2008 to pay for the railroad.