Berkeley rent board director, deemed ‘severely’ underpaid, receives 24% raise

The new Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board director has received a 24% raise after the board decided DeSeana Williams was being “severely” underpaid in comparison to other department heads in Berkeley.

Williams was hired in November 2021 to lead the board. Her initial employment agreement listed salary as $200,366, but the rent board decided in March to push that starting salary to $247,874.

The former rent board director, Jay Kelekian, made $220,696 when he left in 2020, and the position was vacant for 18 months after he was pushed out.

The rent board met in closed session on March 17 to discuss Williams’ performance and salary, and agreed that she had “exceeded expectations” for the position. The board cited pay parity among department heads as a reason for the change. (The city human resources director receives $242,148, the parks director $251,844 and the public works director $257,184, according to public documents.)

The board unanimously agreed to increase Williams’ salary, and keep all other terms of her contract the same. Her contract will allow for additional 5% raises after six-month and one-year performance evaluations.

Several Berkeley city staff have received raises in the last year, including the City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, whose pay jumped 28% from $301,428 per year to $386,160 per year after a performance evaluation in October 2021.

Berkeley residents also approved a ballot measure last year to increase pay for Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the City Council by 75% — from $67,599 to $107,300 for the mayor and from $38,695 to $67,599 for the council.

Kelekian, the previous rent board director, left after a former employee filed a complaint alleging she’d experienced “inappropriate and harassing” conduct and later faced retaliation when she tried to report it. Berkeleyside obtained a settlement agreement in February 2021 that strongly suggested Kelekian was the person alleged to have retaliated against the employee. Kelekian retired early after nine commissioners on the board placed him on leave. He had worked for the city for 36 years, including 19 years at the rent board.