Brown

AG to look at government salaries over $300,000
Michael J. Sorba and James Rufus Koren, Staff Writers
Posted: 09/26/2010 09:41:35 PM PDT

San Bernardino County’s chief administrator and city managers in San Bernardino, Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga – all of whom make more than $300,000 per year in salary and benefits – could come under scrutiny from California Attorney General Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown.

Brown, also the Democratic candidate for governor in November’s election, said last week he would start a statewide investigation of local governments that pay employees in excess of $300,000.

“We’re looking at whatever is potentially excessive,” said Jim Finefrock, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “I guess $300,000 seemed like a pretty good place to start.”

Finefrock indicated that $300,000 could include pay other than salary, meaning three local city managers – San Bernardino’s Charles McNeely, Fontana’s Ken Hunt and Rancho Cucamonga’s Jack Lam – could be investigated by Brown’s office. They all make less than $300,000 in base salary, but surpass that figure when car allowances and other compensation are included. County Administrative Officer Greg Devereaux makes more than $300,000 in base salary and could be investigated as well.

The city managers said they haven’t been contacted by Brown’s office. In statements, Brown has said the probe is aimed at ensuring abuses like those in the cities of Bell and Vernon – where administrators paid themselves humongous salaries at the expense of taxpayers – aren’t happening elsewhere.

“I’m OK with it,” McNeely said. “The contracts that I have are public documents that were discussed publicly by the council when they hired me, and there’s been no changes since then.”

Finefrock said the Attorney General’s Office will look at more than the size of local officials’ salaries. The investigation, he said, will take the size of local cities into account when judging whether salaries are excessive. Part of what made salaries in Bell so outrageous, Finefrock said, is that Bell is a relatively small town, home to about 36,000 residents.

The comparison of pay to population could open smaller cities to scrutiny.

Hunt, Lam and McNeely are the three highest-paid city managers in San Bernardino County, but they also manage the county’s three largest cities and earn less per capita – that is, per city resident – than managers of smaller towns.

Lam, for instance, was paid $324,582 last year, according to data submitted by Rancho Cucamonga to the League of California Cities. Divide that amount by the city’s population of 178,904, and Lam earns about $1.81 for every man, woman and child in town. By contrast, Big Bear Lake’s city manager, Jeff Mathieu, earns $32.99 for each of the city’s 6,700 residents, for a total 2009 payout of $221,000, according to data provided to the League of Cities.

Mathieu did not return calls for comment, but Eva Spiegel, a spokeswoman for the League of Cities, said comparing pay to population isn’t fair to city managers.

“Different cities provide different services,” she said, and population alone doesn’t paint a good picture of the job’s complexity.

“They have huge responsibilities, and their compensation should reflect that,” Spiegel said.

But McNeely said larger cities tend to have more departments and a bigger bureaucracy and that managers of those cities typically draw correspondingly higher salaries.

“Generally speaking, (compensation) is in large part based on the size of the organization,” McNeely said. “A bigger city means you’ve got a more complex organization. The smaller it is, the smaller the compensation.”

Hunt said population is a factor in some cases, but not all.

“As you look across the board, I don’t know that you’ll see a lot of correlation between population levels and size of compensation,” he said.

Lam said a city council will usually study the pay of top executives in cities that are similar – in terms of population, organizational size, and the level of economic activity – and use that study as a guide for their own city manager’s pay.

“The key is to stay competitive within your marketplace so you can continue to attract the best talent you can in your jurisdiction,” Lam said.

Devereaux, who was city manager in Fontana and Ontario before joining the county this year, said the organizational structure of cities varies, and some with lower populations could have several different agencies for which a city manager is responsible.

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