City’s Payroll Is Unusual for Its Top-Dollar Salaries
Los Angeles pays most of its top executives far more than any other major city in the United States, exceeding even such expensive areas as New York and San Francisco, according to a new internal city report.
When shared with observers inside and outside the government, the report drew starkly different reactions: City leaders responsible for the salaries defended them, saying money is needed to attract talent. Government critics responded by calling the salaries outrageous and a waste of taxpayer money.
The council’s chief legislative analyst, Ron Deaton, tops the list with a salary of $239,849. Deaton’s counterpart in New York City earns $109,540, according to the report, which is expected to be presented to the council in the coming weeks.
Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks earns $228,678--tens of thousands of dollars more than the chiefs of police in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Parks also earns more than the Los Angeles County sheriff, who at a salary of $214,726 was long considered one of America’s most richly compensated public officials.
Other city officials earning more than $200,000 include the fire chief, the airport and harbor administrators, and the head of the Department of Water and Power. Some 30 city executives are making an average of $150,000 a year.
Many people credit, or blame, Mayor Richard Riordan--who was a multimillionaire lawyer and deal-maker before he ran for office--for pushing for salary increases during his eight-year tenure. Riordan also has supported lucrative buyouts to help smooth the departures of some top city officials, and he has encouraged generous salary and benefits packages in order to lure top managers away from private companies.
“As a general rule, the mayor strongly believes in recruiting top people to run the city,” said Deputy Mayor Ben Austin, Riordan’s spokesman. “In order to recruit top people, you have to pay top people.”
Another top city official agreed.
“Some of us are running agencies that are as large as any Fortune 500 company,” that official said. “I don’t think the compensation is out of line.”
Others were not so generous.
“Those salaries are off the scale and outrageous,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Assn. “It’s not like running a private organization. They are not selling a product. They are not subject to competition from the private sector. Since market forces don’t come into play, they’re way out of touch.”
The 18-page report was prepared at the request of the City Council by William Fujioka, who heads the city’s Office of Administrative and Research Services and whose report lists his own annual salary at $194,163. Council members asked for the survey in July to get a better idea of how Los Angeles compares to other jurisdictions. Twenty agencies were surveyed.
“Overall, individual general manager salaries in the city of Los Angeles are higher than the salaries in other public agencies, including Los Angeles County, which is the agency most comparable to the city, and San Francisco, which has a higher standard of living than the Los Angeles area,” Fujioka wrote.
Nor does Los Angeles skimp on other benefits, Fujioka found. In fact, he concluded that the city’s benefits package for its top managers is as “good or better” than in other jurisdictions.
For example, of the 20 agencies surveyed, five have severance pay policies. Generally, the policy is six months of pay for involuntary termination, Fujioka noted. City executives also receive a car allowance of $500 a month, while their East Coast counterparts are given a city car. In addition, Los Angeles also offers merit pay increases of 5% a year.
Councilman Mike Feuer said the council has generally agreed with Riordan’s approach to offer generous pay packages to city officials.
“There is a lot of money here, there is no question about it,” Feuer said of the salaries. “Obviously, many of these jobs are very difficult jobs.’
Although Riordan has tried to take into consideration salaries in the private sector, in many cases the city simply cannot compete--despite its generous packages by the standards of public service, officials said. Take, for example, David Freeman, the head of the city’s Department of Water and Power, one of the few utilities that does not plan on raising its rates for electricity.
Freeman is earning $225,233 a year. His counterpart at the far more troubled Southern California Edison makes $593,000 a year, the report states.
Officials also say that the council would have a difficult time functioning if it were not for the guidance of Deaton, a longtime city employee who is charged with analyzing and navigating complex problems. Deaton is so influential at City Hall that he is often referred to as the 16th member of the City Council.
If so, however, his salary sets him apart: The other 15 earn $133,051 a year.
Deaton also outranks his bosses in terms of seniority. According to the report, the city’s chief legislative analyst was paid $131,377 in 1989--just before Deaton took over the job. In 1997, five years after Deaton took the position, his salary was set at $185,728. He has had nearly $55,000 in salary increases in the last three years.
“I think they need a little dose of reality in Los Angeles,” said Coupal. “They need to hold the line on these salaries. There needs to be some political pressure and outrage by citizens. I suspect we are not about to see a hue and cry as long as the economy is going well. But, you can bet these overly generous salaries will come under scrutiny once the economy turns.”
At least one Los Angeles public official is not earning more than his counterparts in other governments or the private sector. Although he is entitled to an annual salary of more than $150,000, Riordan, his millions long ago secured, accepts just $1 a year.
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Heads Above the Rest
Los Angeles pays more than any other major U.S. city for top management positions, according to an internal city report. Salaries for top city and county managers in major U.S. cities:
General manager L.A. Orange San positions Los Angeles County County Francisco Airports $215,941 n/a $120,016 n/a Chief legis. analyst $239,849 n/a n/a $93,641 Clerk’s office $159,753 $132,849 $104,770 $96,232 Fire dept. $212,036 $178,900 n/a n/a Police dept. $228,678 $214,726 $156,166 $179,915
General manager positions New York Chicago Philadelphia Airports n/a $133,992 $114,000 Chief legis. analyst $109,540 $91,764 n/a Clerk’s office n/a $118,650 n/a Fire dept. $150,500 $136,104 $115,644 Police dept. $150,500 $139,524 $140,000
Source: City of Los Angeles
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