10:58 PM PDT on Monday, October 4, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

Just five city managers in California — and only one in the Inland area — earned more than Temecula City Manager Shawn Nelson in 2009, according to a survey.

Nelson, 51, earned $336,288 last year, an amount that includes his base salary, deferred compensation and other payouts, according to the survey released last month by the League of California Cities, an advocacy group for cities and towns. Nelson’s base pay is $291,571 a year, according to Temecula.

The league asked cities across the state what they pay their managers based on a box on their W-2 forms. Roughly 421 of the 468 cities and towns in California with managers — 90 percent — responded to the voluntary survey, the league reported.

According to the survey, the city managers of Beverly Hills, Moreno Valley, Palmdale, Roseville and San Ramon earned more than Nelson in 2009.

A different survey found that compensation for Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson cost taxpayers more than Nelson, but that study used different criteria.

For Beverly Hills and Moreno Valley, the amounts were inflated by one-time payouts to retiring managers. Roseville reported its amount for its former manager.

Nelson attributed his pay to his longevity — January will mark his 12th year in his current post — and what he’s accomplished.

“At the end of the day, it’s about performance and it’s about the value that position brings to the community,” said Nelson, who cited as examples a deal with Riverside County that he said saved the city millions while creating money for two other projects.

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Council members defended Nelson’s salary, saying he is a key reason why Temecula is in strong financial shape.

The city has roughly $20 million in reserves and has not had to resort to layoffs or cutting services to weather the recession like other Inland cities.

where does he rank?

Despite the findings, it’s hard to say where Nelson’s pay ranks compared with his colleagues.

There are two recent surveys on city manager compensation. Both look at officials’ base pay.

One, by the league, analyzes pay reported on managers’ tax forms. The other, done by a state Assembly committee, lumps in the cost of health insurance and pensions. In some cases, the surveys have different figures for the same city manager.

For instance, the league survey lists Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson’s pay at $294,525.

But the other survey puts his total cost to Riverside taxpayers at $419,254.

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The league’s survey also looked at charter and general-law cities.

Charter cities have more leeway to make their own rules and set salaries for officials.

Because the Assembly survey only included charter cities, Temecula and Moreno Valley were left out.

Both surveys came in response to the scandal this year in Bell, where the former city manager received a base salary of nearly $800,000 and some City Council members took in about $100,000 annually, far more than the average.

The ex-manager, Robert Rizzo, and other Bell officials now face corruption charges.

Neither survey included Bell.

a long tenure

As city manager, Nelson oversees a government for a city of roughly 105,000 people with a $54.4 million operating budget and almost 160 full-time employees.

He came to Temecula soon after its 1989 incorporation as its community services manager and rose to city manager in 1998.

Mayor Jeff Comerchero said Nelson’s salary started at less than $10,000 a month and he has received raises along the way.

Nelson said he’s helped Temecula make decisions that saved tax dollars and increased revenue.

For example, he talked about his work on an agreement involving redevelopment dollars that prevented Temecula from potentially owing Riverside County $103 million in 2028.

The same agreement freed money to help finance the construction of the Old Town Temecula Community Theater and a wider bridge across Murrieta Creek, Nelson said.

Nelson has been at his post longer than other managers.

The average tenure for a city manager on the West Coast is just under seven years, according to the International City Managers Association.

are they worth it?

Nelson’s pay concerns the two challengers facing Comerchero and council members Maryann Edwards and Ron Roberts in the November election. Three council seats are up for grabs.

Patrice Lynes said the city needs to re-evaluate Nelson’s salary given the economy. She noted that Temecula pays two assistant city managers and a deputy city manager more than $565,000 a year combined.

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