What city managers usually earn

Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo in court.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The average pay of a city manager in Los Angeles County is about $209,000 -- far less than the compensation received by former Bell Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, according to a Times analysis of compensation data.

The total taxable compensation cities reported paying their administrators in 2009 -- including base salary and other routine, taxable components such as bonuses; housing, car and cellphone allowances; and cashed-out sick leave and vacation time -- ranged from $106,600 in tiny Bradbury to about $315,000 in Santa Monica.

As of Friday, 80 of the county’s 88 cities had provided this information to the Times. The paper launched the survey amid public outcry over the salaries of Rizzo and other top city administrators in Bell.

FULL COVERAGE: High salaries stir outrage in Bell

In light of that city’s salary scandal, numerous California cities have moved to post the compensation of their top officials on their websites, and the League of California Cities has launched a compensation survey of its own. Lawmakers in Sacramento are discussing possible legislation that would make it easier for the public to review how much city officials earn.

But the Times survey found that full compensation can be complicated to determine and is often higher than the base salary that some cities have made public. The survey did not include such items as health and retirement benefits.

In Bell, Rizzo’s salary was nearly $800,000. Documents reviewed by The Times on Saturday found that his total compensation was $1.5 million when benefits and insurance were added.

The Times survey found that despite vast differences in cities’ budgets and population sizes, most city managers’ pay fell within a narrower range. More than three-quarters of the cities surveyed paid their managers $160,000 to $263,000.

A number of factors come into play in determining pay, benefits and perks, including the city’s location and population as well as the range of services the city is responsible for. Political factors may also play into the equation.

But experts in public employee compensation said the most important -- at least when hiring a new city manager -- is what other cities with similar needs are paying.

“Most often, we see that it’s market-driven,” said Bob Murray, president of Roseville-based executive recruitment firm Bob Murray & Associates. “Typically, cities look at the salaries of cities in what they determine as their labor market.”

The analysis found that cities with more residents and larger budgets tended to pay their chief executive more, but there were major exceptions. And several moderate-size cities such as West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Bell Gardens also paid high salaries in proportion to their size.

Los Angeles and Long Beach, whose mayors oversee much of the executive staff, paid their administrators comparatively low amounts, considering the size of their populations.

Some large cities, including Pomona and El Monte, had lower-than-average compensation packages overall.

Cities with wealthier residents did not necessarily pay their executives more. Bradbury, Rolling Hills, Hidden Hills and Sierra Madre all paid less than average.

The fringe benefits varied considerably as well. Most cities offered their managers either the use of a city car and cellphone or an allowance to cover those costs. Monthly car allowances typically ran $300 to $600 but went as high as $1,100 in the case of Bell Gardens.

Housing benefits were less common but do appear in some instances. Palos Verdes Estates’ city manager lived in a home owned by the city, and Beverly Hills provided a low-interest loan to its manager.

Cities also have varying policies on how many hours of unused sick leave and vacation time an employee may accrue. In some cases, retiring employees collect substantial cash-outs.A In October, James Mussenden retired as El Monte city manager after being arrested in a prostitution sting. He cashed out on $242,835 in unused sick leave, vacation time and other payouts accrued in his more than 30-year tenure.

Ken Pulskamp, president of the League of California Cities’ City Managers Department, said some city managers disagreed over whether those types of benefits and payouts should be included in the league’s survey.

Ultimately the league decided to use Medicare wages -- also known as “Box 5" W-2 wages -- which do reflect deferred compensation, he said.

The league planned the survey at a meeting last week and hopes to receive responses from every city manager in the state by Friday, he said.

“From everything I have seen and heard, it is my belief that Bell is an outrageous anomaly,” Pulskamp said.