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How Much Are Your City Officials Paid?

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Video published August 6, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: Many people were shocked to learn that the small California City of Bell was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to city officials, although it only has 40,000 residents. We speak to Senior Metro Reporter Alison St. John about KPBS' investigation into how much officials in San Diego County's 18 cities are paid.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MANY PEOPLE WERE SHOCKED TO LEARN A SMALL CALIFORNIA CITY OF BELL WAS PAYING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO CITY OFFICIALS, ALTHOUGH IT ONLY HAS 40,000 RESIDENTS. 17% OF WHOM LIVE IN POVERTY. SO WE DECIDED TO TAKE A LOOK AT HOW MUCH OFFICIALS IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY'S 18 CITIES ARE PAID. SENIOR METRO REPORTER ALLISON ST. JOHN IS HERE TO TELL WHAT WE'VE LEARNED. WAS THERE ANYTHING IN THE RESEARCH THAT STARTLED YOU ABOUT OUR CITY SALARIES?

What Are Your City Leaders Making?

Find out what the officials of San Diego County's 18 cities are being paid.

Map of what our city leaders are making

WELL, I THINK I WAS REASSURED THERE WAS NOBODY ANYWHERE NEAR IN THE BALLPARK OF WHAT BELL CITY WAS PAYING THEIR EMPLOYEES. ONE THING THAT BECAME OBVIOUS WAS THAT THE LARGER THE CITY, THE LESS EACH INDIVIDUAL PERSON HAS TO PAY FOR THEIR ELECTED OFFICIALS, WHICH WOULD MAKE SENSE, BECAUSE IF YOU HAVE A CITY OF 1.3 MILLION LIKE CITY OF SAN DIEGO, YOU PAY LESS THAN A DOLLAR FOR ALL CITY OFFICIALS. WHEREAS IN DEL MAR, YOU PAY MORE LIKE 43. THE MAYOR'S POSITIONS IN MOST CASE ARE PART TIME. ONLY THREE CITIES IN THE COUNTY WHERE YOU HAVE A FULL TIME MAYOR. AND IN SAN DIEGO, THE MAYOR GETS A HUNDRED THOUSAND. CHULA VISTA, HIGHEST PAID MAYOR, SHE MAKES 118,000. THEN YOU HAVE NATIONAL CITY THAT ALSO HAS A FULL TIME MAYOR WITH 41,000. BUT THE CITY MANAGERS ARE THE ONES MAKING A GOOD DEAL MORE THAN THE MAYORS BECAUSE THEY'RE ALL FULL TIME.

OUR MAYOR IS FULL TIME, ISN'T HE?

HE IS FULL TIME, AND SO IS CHULA VISTA AND NATIONAL CITY.

I AM TALKING ABOUT CITY OF SAN DIEGO, WHEN I SAY OUR MAYOR. AND HE MAKES ABOUT A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS.

RIGHT.

AND HE'S ALSO KIND OF THE CITY MANAGER, TOO, ISN'T HE?

HE IS. IN THE CASE OF CITY OF SAN DIEGO, THERE'S A CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, AND HE MAKES 250. HE MAKES A LITTLE MORE THAN ANY OF THE CITY MANAGERS IN THE OTHER 17 CITIES AND COUNTIES.

BUT THERE ARE SOME IN THE 180 TO 240, 250 RANGE.

CORRECT.

WHICH IS NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT.

IT'S A FAIRLY RESPECTABLE SALARY FROM WHAT I HEAR FROM PEOPLE. I AM TOLD IT IS AN INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT JOB, EXPERIENCE MATTERS. SO IT IS WORTH PAYING SOMEBODY TO LEAD A CITY WITH EXPERIENCE.

NOW, BELL WAS A CHARTER CITY. NOW, IS THAT AN ISSUE FOR SAN DIEGO CITIES?

WELL, THERE ARE 8 CHARTER CITIES NOW IN SAN DIEGO OUT OF 18. SO YES, I THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE. THIS IS RAISING QUESTIONS ABOUT CHARTER CITIES. AND UNTIL NOW, WE HEARD OF CHARTER CITIES AS BEING A WAY OF SAVING MONEY FOR TAXPAYERS BECAUSE IT ENABLES THE CITY TO SAY WE DON'T HAVE TO PAY PREVAILING WAGE ON PUBLIC PROJECTS UNLESS THEY ARE GETTING SAME FEDERAL FUNDING. SO IT IS TOUTED AS A WAY OF SAVING MONEY. AND AT THE MOMENT, I DON'T THINK YOU HAVE ANY EXAMPLE OF CHARTER CITIES PAYING THEIR EXECUTIVES OR ELECTED OFFICIALS EXORBITANT SALARIES, BUT FACT OF THE MATTER IS THEY HAVE A GREAT DEAL MORE POWER. THEY ARE NOT CONTROLLED BY STATE REGULATIONS OR STATE GUIDELINES FOR SALARIES. SO THE POTENTIAL IS THERE FOR ABUSE.

IT IS INTERESTING THAT BELL BROUGHT OUR ATTENTION TO THIS, EVEN IF WE ARE NOT SEEING REAL ABUSE IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY. AND YET IN THE COUNTY AS A WHOLE, THERE WAS A PROPOSAL TO MAKE THE TOP INVESTMENT OFFICIAL FOR THE RETIREMENT FUND A COUNTY EMPLOYEE, EARNING UP TO $860,000 A YEAR. SO WHY WOULD THAT AMOUNT EVEN BE CONSIDERED IN THIS TIME OF TOUGH FINANCES IN ALL LEVELS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT?

THAT PARTICULAR SUGGESTION WAS SO INTERESTING, GLORIA. WE HEAR ABOUT OUTSOURCING CITY SERVICES. IN THIS CASE, THE COUNTY WAS TALKING ABOUT BRINGING INTO PUBLIC UNEMPLOYMENT THE HEAD OF THEIR PUBLIC PENSION FUND, INVESTMENT TEAM, THAT'S CURRENTLY A PRIVATE CONTRACTOR. AND TO BRING HIM IN, YOU WOULD HAVE TO PAY HIM MORE THAN $800,000, EQUIVALENT TO THE SCANDAL THAT AROSE IN BELL. THAT SUGGESTION HAS BEEN REJECTED. HOWEVER, I THINK THE VERY FACT IT WAS BROUGHT UP AS POSSIBILITY SHOWS THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTOR. EVEN THOUGH THE COUNTY'S PENSION FUND IS INDEPENDENT FROM THE COUNTY, IT IS STILL A PUBLIC AGENCY, SO THAT WOULD REALLY HAVE CHANGED THE BALLGAME FOR PUBLIC SALARIES.

WE SHOWED A GRAPHIC DURING THIS SEGMENT. I KNOW WE HAVE MUCH MORE TO SHOW. WHERE SHOULD PEOPLE GO TO FIND THAT INFORMATION?

KPBS.ORG HAS A LOT OF INTERESTING CHARTS THAT BREAK IT DOWN. AND A GOOGLE MAP TO HIT YOUR OWN CITY, FIND OUT JUST HOW MUCH YOUR OWN ELECTED OFFICIALS AND CITY MANAGERS MAKE.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH. ALLISON ST. JOHN.

MY PLEASURE.

Comments

Avatar for user 'greeneyeshade'

greeneyeshade | August 7, 2010 at 10:03 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Suggestion: the media would be doing its job even better on this subject if it would have the various civic officers post two more numbers. Be forewarned though---there are many ways to mask these expenses. Muckrakers to your marks!

One---administrators should each declare publicly the amounts they spend on travel and entertainment--i.e., the total reimbursements they receive, including the total p-card purchases they make using their own p-card.

Two---they should be required to declare the total p-card purchases made and reimbursements received by all those who report to them directly, people like their administrative aides and others on their immediate staffs. A favorite practice of administrators is to have their direct reports pay for such things as dinners and lunches which the administrator attends. That way, it appears the expenses belong to others and not themselves. Then the administrators approve those expenses and no one is the wiser.

Salaries alone don't tell the whole story of how much our public servants are feeding at the public trough.

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Avatar for user 'greeneyeshade'

greeneyeshade | August 7, 2010 at 10:22 a.m. ― 4 years ago

A good place to start a T&E and reimbursement investigation is with the civic unit's internal auditors. Get their reports. Publish their results.

And if the civic body doesn't have an internal auditor, find out why not. The function can be outsourced if necessary. The expense is well worth the money spent. Accountability is sometimes had only at the point of a sharp pencil.

( | suggest removal )