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Cities need to do more to make officials' pay data easily accessible, study finds

September 22, 2010 |  3:59 pm

Two months after the Bell pay scandal broke, cities throughout California are still not doing enough to make it easy for the public to find out what top officials are paid, according to a study released Wednesday by state lawmakers.

The review also found that many municipalities pay significant benefits above base salaries, in some cases giving their managers six-figure home loans.

The findings point to the need for statewide standards on the public disclosure of government compensation, said Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review. "Left to their own devices, cities are going to be as obstinate and opaque as they were before," he said.

The analysis was prepared for the committee, which held a hearing Wednesday afternoon on local government salaries and transparency in the wake of the Bell scandal.

The report found that most cities surveyed said they posted salary information online but "that city websites were often difficult to navigate and that many cities posted incomplete information, or complicated salary schedules that would be difficult for the public to understand or contain only code numbers and no dollar figures."

Burbank and La Quinta were among the cities that said they have online information but that the survey found "is incomplete or extremely difficult to locate." Very few cities posted information on the total compensation instead of just base salaries, it added. Benefits for city managers in some cities include help buying a home.

Palo Alto offered to provide the city manager with $1.5 million toward a home purchase, plus a $500,000 home loan, while Sunnyvale gave its city manager a $900,000 home loan at below 1% interest. Huntington Beach and Napa each gave their city managers a $200,000 home loan, the survey said.

Among other perks: The Long Beach city manager’s contract provides for six months’ severance pay.

The committee study concluded that city manager benefits can add significantly to total compensation, equaling as much as 40% to 245% of the base salary.

 "For example, the city manager of Riverside has a base salary of $289,864; but total compensation was more than $419,000, in part because the city pays both the employer and employee share of retirement costs," the report concluded.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento