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How do L.A. County government's highest earners compare to their counterparts elsewhere?

October 5, 2010 |  4:45 pm

Tuesday’s report in The Times about the 199 Los Angeles County employees who earned more than $250,000 last year has generated scores of comments and questions, and we’d like to address some of them.

Comment: "What I would like to see is a professional analysis of TOTAL COMPENSATION for every public employee who is getting my tax dollars, and a comparison to similar positions in other government units as well as the private sector."

Answer: In order to compare the earnings in Los Angeles County to officials in similar roles elsewhere, The Times surveyed the total compensation of some key officials in New York City and San Diego County. In addition, The Times asked for typical earnings for physicians working in specialty fields in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County has a population of about 10.4 million -– more than any other single county in the United States. If Los Angeles County was a state, it would be the eighth largest by population, ranking just below Ohio and just above Michigan.

Below is a comparison with New York City, which has 8.4 million residents; and San Diego County, which has 3 million residents, making it California’s second most-populous county.

New York City and San Diego County officials said none of the officials The Times asked about earned overtime or other types of compensation beyond their base salary, with the exception of a car allowance for San Diego's chief administrative officer.

Total earnings paid in 2009:

District attorney:
Steve Cooley, Los Angeles County: $345,587
Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County: $228,858
Charles Hynes, Brooklyn, N.Y. (pop. 2.6 million): $190,000*

*Note: Each borough of New York City has its own district attorney

Law enforcement:
Sheriff Lee Baca, Los Angeles County: $325,664
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, New York City: $205,180
Sheriff William Gore, San Diego County: $202,425

Chief P. Michael Freeman, Los Angeles County: $316,296
Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, New York City: $205,180
San Diego County, which has long been the only county in California without a fire department, is in the beginning stages of creating a county fire authority.

Chief municipal manager:
William T Fujioka, Los Angeles County's chief executive: $403,140
Walter Ekard, San Diego County's chief administrator: $274,498 base salary, plus $12,000 automobile allowance
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City: $1

*Bloomberg, who is independently wealthy, has declined to take the mayor's $225,000 a year salary.

Physicians and other medical personnel made up more than 70% of the 199 L.A. County employees who made 2009's highest earners list, all earning more than $250,000 last year.  Although the list does not consistently break out the specialties of the medical professionals earning that much or more, salary.com provided The Times with average salaries for common physician specialties in the Los Angeles area:

Anesthesiologist: $366,700
Dermatologist: $300,300
Emergency room physician: $256,600
Family practice physician: $184,100
Generalist physician: $183,000
Internal medicine physician: $191,600
Neurologist: $235,100
Obstetrician/gynecologist: $274,900
Ophthalmologist: $262,500
Pathologist: $270,100
Pediatrician: $185,600
Podiatrist: $227,500
Radiologist: $411,600
Urologist: $360,200

Comments: "I don't know what the purpose is of The Times in revealing the names of random civil servants that are making more than $250,000 simply because they are highly placed professionals. It seems like an invasion of the privacy of those assorted pilots, doctors, etc., who are just going about their jobs."

"… this kind of reporting is just aimed at stirring up hate and distrust for high paid people."

Answer: The Times and other news organizations have historically published the names and salaries of highly-paid employees whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayers.

Just as Californians have the right to know what their elected officials are doing on their behalf, California lawmakers and judges have reaffirmed the right of the public to know how much money is being paid to public employees.

“Openness in government is essential to the functioning of democracy,” California Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote in a 2007 ruling that emphatically affirmed that public salary information is open to the public.

George also wrote that there is a “strong public interest in knowing how the government spends its money,” and that the transparency serves a “significant public interest.”

See the complete highest-earners list: Los Angeles County employees compensated $250,000 and up (2009)

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Sources: San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman; New York City spokesman Mark Daly; Brooklyn, N.Y., district attorney spokesman Jerry Schmetterer; salary.com marketing manager Alison Kelly; Times reporting