Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/18/2012 03:27:24 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO – A review of state Controller’s Office data shows that as recently as two years ago, executive salaries at City Hall tended to exceed those offered in municipalities of comparable size, some of which are considerably more affluent.
On their own, the pay rates for some of San Bernardino’s top executives in 2010 would not be enough to explain why the city faces a $45million deficit and has filed for bankruptcy protection.
Also, pay rates for San Bernardino’s top three appointed officials – city manager, police chief and fire chief – are now lower than they were two years ago.
But City Hall’s compensation history for top executives may still get a closer look as the bankruptcy process moves forward, since rank-and-file employees may themselves be asked to make new sacrifices related to pay and benefits.
“We’ve always said that management salaries are too high, and we’ve always contended that fact when the city is hiring (executives),” said George Swift, who represents the city’s general employees who are members of the Pasadena-based local of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
“I think it’s part of what fueled this bankruptcy,” Swift continued.
The shrinking of San Bernardino’s management ranks leading to this month’s bankruptcy filing has Swift more focused on protecting employees’ jobs and pension benefits than fighting over managers’ pay.
But City Council members Virginia Marquez and Fred Shorett both said Friday that management salaries deserve closer review.
“We need to rein in management salaries,” Shorett said. “I would prefer a performance-based salary.”
The most recent numbers in state Controller John Chiang’s database of municipal salaries are from 2010. The numbers do not always show precise salary figures, since many pay levels are shown as a range instead of a precise dollar amount.
The ranges, however, suggest that San Bernardino policy-makers were often willing to set maximum salaries at higher levels than their counterparts in other cities.
San Bernardino officials – who do not always agree whether certain former city executives should have been paid as highly as they were – offered varying reasons for the city’s somewhat lucrative pay packages.
Those reasons included the ideas that highly desired officials can be difficult to recruit, public safety commanders deserve high pay in a challenging city like San Bernardino and dozens of already highly paid city employees by necessity push top managers’ pay rates to higher levels.
“Your pay scale, as you go up the chain of command, you need to reflect that chain of command,” said Mayor Pat Morris’ son and chief of staff, Jim Morris.
More than 40 San Bernardino police officers and firefighters earn upwards of $170,000 in base pay and overtime, Morris said. Police and fire chiefs should earn more than their subordinates.
Police and fire chiefs’ salaries, like those of the rank and file, are also governed by the city charter, which sets pay rates as an average of 10 cities chosen during negotiations, Morris said.
When police and fire chiefs’ salaries rise, that can also push up the salary of their boss, the city manager, Morris said.
The 2010 salary ranges for the positions of city manager, police chief and fire chief are perhaps where a tendency for high pay levels are most clear.
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