At least 200 county employees earned more than $100,000 over the past year, with some Sheriff's Department officials and county psychiatrists collecting $30,000 each in overtime and "on-call" pay alone, according to records released Monday.
Several sheriff's deputies, sergeants and investigators boosted their pay by more than 50% through overtime, which county officials said was necessary to complete investigations, work on undercover projects and fill in for absent officers.
The county pay records were released in response to a Times request under the California Public Records Act. More than 30 cities and several special districts have also provided data on their top-paid workers. The recent interest in public sector pay began last month when a court ordered Huntington Beach to release the salaries of the city's 25 most highly compensated employees.
Both city and county pay records indicate that law enforcement officials receive among the best compensation packages, with some officers earning more pay than their supervisors, who are ineligible for overtime.
The county's top-paid employee for the 1994-95 fiscal year was Sheriff Brad Gates, who was paid $164,839 in salary and benefits. Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi was next with $161,593, followed by Marshal Michael S. Carona at $154,520.
Their compensation is equal to the pay earned by several top city officials and is actually less than what a few city managers take home. Gates earned about $10,000 less than a retiring Huntington Beach police captain, even though the sheriff oversees a staff of 2,400 employees that serves more than a dozen cities.
"I think when you look at our salary structure as compared to how the cities' salary structures are, generally ours are lower and the responsibilities of our department heads are greater," said Jan Mittermeier, the county's interim chief executive officer.
The pay data did not include a salary for the top county administrator because three people have held the job over the last year.
Mittermeier said the salaries should be considered in light of the county's Dec. 6 bankruptcy, which forced the layoffs of hundreds of workers and prompted others to take early retirement. The work force reduction caused some employees to take on additional responsibilities and work longer hours.
The Board of Supervisors placed a freeze on all general salary increases and merit bonuses soon after the bankruptcy. "I don't think we're going to be giving any increases any time soon," Mittermeier added.
Law enforcement officials said that bankruptcy-related cutbacks helped account for the hefty overtime pay earned by some deputies. At least 10 Sheriff's Department employees received more than $30,000 each in overtime. Two deputies earned base salaries of about $53,000 and overtime pay totaling at least $42,000.
The Sheriff's Department has lost about 120 positions as a result of the bankruptcy and was forced to lay off 28 employees, including 13 sworn deputies. "It's been difficult for us in all areas," Gates said. "It's still a touch-and-go situation for us."
Gates and others insist that the nature of police work makes overtime a necessity.
"If you are working a homicide or in regional narcotics, your life is not your own," said Robert MacLeod, general manager of the Orange County Deputy Sheriff's Assn. "When you are there when a homicide happens, you are working until the leads dry up. In regional narcotics, you are sent on assignment and don't come home for a week. The overtime piles up really quickly."
Another factor pushing up law enforcement compensation both at the county level and in municipalities is retirement compensation. The county paid $4,000 to $8,000 a year in retirement contributions for each non-law enforcement employee, compared with $15,000 to $32,000 for each Sheriff's Department employee.
Jan Walden, the acting human resources director, said the county makes bigger contributions to police employees because officers are allowed to retire at an earlier age than other workers. She added that they are more likely than other workers to retire because of a serious work-related disability, or die while on the job.
The pay data released Monday also showed that several county psychiatrists received big overtime payments. Five of the doctors also received thousands of dollars each for being "on call" in case they were needed to handle emergency situations at hospitals, jails or other county facilities.
Walden said placing the doctors on call is cheaper than having psychiatrists on duty 24 hours a day. The doctors received about a fourth of their hourly rate for being available to work during off-hours, she said.
In addition to the psychiatrists, the 25 highest-paid county employees included several department managers and lawyers for the district attorney's office and public defender's office. The top-25 list ranged from $164,839 for Gates to $131,302 for the chief deputy director of the Environmental Management Agency.
Mittermeier, who was selected as interim chief executive officer in July after serving for several years as chief of John Wayne Airport, did not make the top-25 list. She earned about $128,000.
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Sheriff Brad Gates was the most highly compensated county employee for fiscal 1994-95. Here are the top 25, whose compensation includes salary, overtime, compensatory time, car allowance and other benefits:
Name Position Compensation Brad Gates Sheriff-Coroner $164,839 Michael R. Capizzi District Attorney 161,593 Michael S. Carona Marshal 154,520 Raul Ramos Undersheriff 154,119 Jose Gamboa Community mental health psychiatrist 152,465 Maurice L. Evans Chief assistant district attorney 147,742 Pravin J. Kansagra Community mental health psychiatrist 145,872 Alan Slater Superior Court executive officer 145,478 Loren Du Chesne Chief, Bureau of Investigation, D.A. 143,995 Carl C. Holmes Chief deputy public defender 143,321 E. Thomas Uram Director, Health Care Agency 143,139 J.P. Hewitt Assistant sheriff 139,623 Dennis W. La Ducer Assistant sheriff 139,328 Michael M. Ruane Director, Environmental Management 139,296 Agency Russell M. Moore Sheriff's department sergeant 139,164 Jerry R. Krans Assistant sheriff 138,608 Larry Leaman Director, Social Services Agency 137,664 Henry Duchene Sheriff department investigator 137,035 John Conley Assistant district attorney 135,859 Ernest Williams Medical Program Director II, HCA 135,020 Hugh F. Stallworth Director of Public Health 133,682 John Meiter Sheriff department sergeant 133,303 Thomas Backus Community mental health psychiatrist 132,274 Diana H. Burns Community mental health psychiatrist 131,898 John W. Sibley Chief deputy director, EMA 131,302
Source: County of Orange