City makes salary information easier to find

Huntington Beach has created an easy-to-read list of top city officials' salaries online, including benefits and two forgivable loans given to the city administrator and police chief for housing costs to move to Huntington Beach.

The city has long posted city officials' base salaries online, but after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed top city officials in Bell were making exorbitant salaries, including nearly $800,000 a year for the city manager, Surf City, along with others, has made the information easier to access than ever, said Laurie Payne, city spokeswoman.

This month the city posted a list of executive management's annual figures, including salary, any auto allowance and benefits for council members, department directors and other top officials.

"It's the result of the unfortunate incidents that have happened in Bell," Payne said. "I think it's our way of showing we have been good stewards of the public's money."

The information was already online, but interested parties would have to dig through the website or contact city officials to help them find it, Payne said. While officials will go out of their way to help the public or the media find information, the compilation of information in one place will make it even easier, she said.

"We aren't trying to hide anything," said Councilman Joe Carchio. "I think we're fair in the salaries we pay."

The list also shows that City Administrator Fred Wilson and Police Chief Ken Small were given Housing Assistance Loans on top of their $247,208 and $204,880 annual salaries, respectively, to live in Surf City.

The loans, $200,000 for Wilson in 2008 and $100,000 for Small in 2004, don't have to be paid back while they remain in service to the city, according to city documents. Wilson gets $28,571 forgiven for each year of employment and Small gets $15,000, according to the documents.

Carchio, who was seated when Wilson's loan was given, said the city administrator was the best candidate for the job. To get someone of his caliber, sometimes you have to make loans, he said.

"It's kind of part of doing business," he said.

The loans help officials move to Huntington from areas with a significant difference in costs of living, Payne said. Wilson came from San Bernardino, Small from Daytona Beach, Fla.

Having officials live in the city they work in makes sense and is especially important for key officials like the city administrator, Payne said. Living in Huntington Beach allows them to interact with residents and take pride in the city, she said.

"It makes sense to have your city officials live in your city because they take ownership," she said. "It's really developing that sense of connection in the community."

Past city administrators have been criticized because they weren't out among the residents, Carchio said.

"It's really difficult for you to get the feel and flow of your city" without living in it, Carchio said.

Small also receives the highest benefits package at $83,262, according to the list. The benefits package is nearly double all other executive management except his public safety counterpoint, Fire Chief Patrick McIntosh, at $75,781.

The two qualify for a higher level of benefits as public safety officers than other city employees.

Other top earning officials are City Atty. Jennifer McGrath at $214,864 and McIntosh at $204,880.

The city salaries are in line with those of similar cities, like Irvine and Santa Ana, based on their base salary figures.

Small's $204,880 a year is more than Irvine's police chief's $131,304 to $195,072 a year, but in line, if not less, than Santa Ana's $158,004 to $223,284.

Wilson's $247,208 yearly salary is less than the Irvine city manager's $257,816 and Santa Ana's $262,272.

The rest of the city's executive management are also generally on par with their counterparts.

City Clerk Joan Flynn is pulling in $134,784 a year compared with $140,028 in Santa Ana and $104,700 to $155,580 in Irvine.

Director of Public Works Travis Hopkins makes $182,000 a year compared to $117,504 to $165,996 annually in Santa Ana and $124,632 to $185,196 a year in Irvine.

The situation in Bell was unethical and unfortunate, said Carchio, who now has residents tell him jokingly that he should have worked in Bell and made more money.

While the situation in Bell seems unbelievable, it could never happen in Huntington Beach — there are too many watchdogs, Carchio said.

Payne echoed his sentiment, saying the city regularly gets public information requests from an active group of citizens who are always digging, she said.

"The reason things like this wouldn't happen in Huntington Beach is because we do have a citizenry that monitors us," she said.

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