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State attorney general probes more high salaries across California [Updated]

September 16, 2010 |  4:02 pm

A top administrator in Alameda County, the retired city manager in Vernon and a public hospital executive earning more than $800,000 are among the local government officials whose pay and pension are being cited by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown as justification for an expanded probe into executive pay statewide.

Brown announced plans Wednesday to review local government salaries of more than $300,000 and seek legislative reform that would cap public salaries and eliminate pension loopholes. He cited four examples involving managers, whom he did not identify by name, that received large amounts of compensation.

Those examples include an annual pension of more than half a million dollars for a former city manager;  a source close to the review identified the person as Bruce Malkenhorst Sr., the retired city manager of Vernon. Malkenhorst was once the highest-paid city official in California and rakes in an annual pension of $509,600, according to state records. He is awaiting trial on charges that he embezzled public funds in tiny industrial Vernon, where he rode to work in a limousine. Among the alleged illegal expenditures: massages on the public dollar.

Another example of an eye-popping salary was the $438,000 paid in a single year, including payments for unused sick leave and vacation, to a city manager in a municipality of 36,000 people. A source familiar with the investigation said the city manager retired last year from Beverly Hills. Roderick Wood stepped down in August 2009, and city records show he earned $438,571 that year.

Wood had vacation time and accrued sick leave payoffs of $140,290, according to a statement filed with the California League of Cities. After his retirement, he served as a contract employee until January 2010.

The attorney general also cited annual compensation of more than $420,000 for an unidentified county administrator. The source, who was not authorized to identify the individual, said the person in question is the county administrator of Alameda County, where Susan Muranishi has disclosed making $454,000. Muranishi did not return calls seeking comment.

Brown's fourth example was the more than $800,000 in annual compensation for the chief administrator of a public hospital. The source said the hospital in question is Washington Hospital in Alameda County, where Chief Executive Nancy Farber has been facing public criticism for months over her salary of $847,000.

Christopher Brown, a spokesman for the hospital, provided a statement by the hospital district noting that the elected hospital board found Farber's performance "exceptional'' and awarded her additional compensation.

"While Washington Hospital is a public entity, the hospital competes for its employees and executive leadership from the same labor pool as for-profit and large corporate healthcare providers,'' the statement said. "As a result, the hospital must pay market rate salaries to recruit and retain top-quality, professional staff.''

Representatives of the attorney general said that the four individuals are not under investigation and that their details were presented only to show the amounts being paid that might justify a broader review of government compensation.

The attorney general's office said the paychecks of many other government officials will also be scrutinized.

Amid the public outcry over Bell salaries, the League of California Cities has just released a survey of the compensation paid to city managers, and 16 of them, including Wood, reported total compensation of more than $300,000.

They included Robert G. Gutierrez, who retired in December as city manager of Moreno Valley and received $459,000 in compensation last year, including $183,000 in accrued leave that was paid off at his departure.

The compensation for some of those surveyed includes fringe benefits like car allowances and accrued leave, and is the amount they reported on tax returns.

Other city managers and their total compensation last year, according to the league survey, included:

-- Stephen H. Williams of Palmdale, $367,518.

-- Herbert Moniz of San Ramon, $359,669.

-- W. Craig Robinson, former city manager of Roseville, $353,000.

-- Shawn Nelson of Temecula, $336,288.

-- Jack Lam of Rancho Cucamonga, $324,582.

-- Bruce Channing of Laguna Hills, $321,550.

-- P. Lamont Ewell, former city manager of Santa Monica, $315,600.

-- Anne Montgomery of Mill Valley, $315,531.

-- Edmund F. Sotelo of Oxnard, $314,000.

-- Joseph Calabrigo of Danville, $310,029.

-- Paul Arevalo of West Hollywood, $309,203.

-- Jennifer Sparacino of Santa Clara, $303,513.

-- Linda Barton of Livermore, $302,472.

-- Gary Luebbers of Sunnyvale, $301,470 (an extra pay period was included)

Covina City Manager Daryl Parrish received $328,830 in compensation last year, but that included a "cash-out'' of vacation and sick time from a previous employer.

[Updated at 3:55 p.m.: The League of California Cities list includes city managers earning more than $300,000 in total compensation, not base salaries. The above list does not reflect those under investigation by Brown.]

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento and Richard Winton in Los Angeles

Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times