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With more than $1 million in pay, hospital chief leads list of California's top-paid public workers

March 26, 2011 |  9:07 am

The head of a San Diego County hospital who made over $1 million in total compensation in 2009 leads the list of top earners in state Controller John Chiang's growing government compensation database.

Palomar Pomerado Hospital Chief Executive Officer Michael Covert's pay is the highest out of thousands of special district employees covered so far in the database, which was launched last fall in response to the salary scandal in the city of Bell.

The database now includes compensation figures for all employees of California cities and counties and many of its special districts; it is scheduled to be completed later this year, when the final special districts will be added along with figures for state employees.

Covert, who has served as CEO since 2003, oversees close to 6,000 employees at the San Diego County hospital. In an interview Friday,  he noted that Chiang’s database didn’t take into account the various responsibilities of executives, and added that he wasn’t sure if each agency was reporting the figures the same way.

“You need to talk to a compensation firm in looking at all those,” he said. “That’s what our board does when they’re establishing wages and salaries.”

In addition to his 2009 base salary of $574,000,  Covert received a bonus of about $350,000, an auto allowance of $15,000 and a $93,000 contribution to his pension fund, according to hospital officials.

Covert said that he deferred to the hospital’s board of directors in determining wages and that he couldn’t say whether his pay was in line with others’ around the state. “I don’t really sit down and ask the other CEOs what they make,” he said.

Hospital officials strongly defended the total, however, saying that it was based on the analysis of an independent consultant.

“There's this notion that because you're a public agency you should hire less-talented people than private companies, and if we followed that idea, PPH would not be where it is today,” hospital spokesman Andy Hoang said. “We must compete for the best physicians, nurses and executives to provide the highest level of care. The community deserves that.”

Still, Covert’s pay stands out when compared to thousands of other employees in the state. He earned $162,000 more than the second-highest paid hospital executive, the CEO of the Washington Township Healthcare District in Fremont, and only four other special district executives made over $500,000 in 2009.

Besides Covert, the only other government employee to earn over $1 million in 2009 was Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, whose total compensation totaled close to $1.2 million, according to the controller’s database. Rizzo and seven other Bell officials are awaiting trial on public corruption charges.

Here is a list of the highest-paid special district executives covered in the controller’s database so far:

Palomar Pomerado Hospital District chief executive officer: $1,035,709       
Washington Township Health Care District chief executive officer: $873,598     
Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital District president/chief executive officer: $790,975     
Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District general manager, $583,021     
Marin Healthcare District chief executive officer: $581,836     

--Sam Allen

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