City responds to Grand Jury report on salaries

Information about city employees' salaries are easier to find after the Orange County Grand Jury in June dinged the city for its lack of transparency.

The information, which was formerly available but scattered on the city's website, has been consolidated into a single-page format, with hyperlinks to help folks more easily find salaries and benefits.

But that doesn't mean the city agreed with all of the Grand Jury's conclusions or recommendations.

"It is important to question the amount spent on personnel and municipal services to ensure they are appropriate in the light of a city's particular service demands, the market, local economy and community preferences," said City Manager John Pietig. "However, to effectively compare personnel costs, the Grand Jury would have to undertake a more in-depth analysis of services provided by each city in Orange County."

Pietig's comments on the Grand Jury findings and recommendations were included in a response to the Orange County Superior Court, as requested by presiding Judge Thomas J. Borris.

The recommendations included conducting a review of the need for what the jury deemed a relatively high number of upper-level — or highly-paid — positions in relation to the city's population of less than 25,000.

Pietig responded that staffing and service levels are subject to annual review in the budget process.

Moreover, in the last three years, 10 positions have been eliminated, three of them with salaries of $95,000 or more a year, he said.

Pietig also took exception to the jury's conclusion that population was a proper basis for evaluating staffing levels. Pietig said an equitable evaluation must take into consideration the types and numbers of services provided and the number of people for whom the services are performed.

He pointed out in his response to Borris that Laguna is the only city in South County with its own year-round municipal transit system, among other services that many other cities do not provide.

"Residential population does not represent service population," Pietig said. "Laguna Beach frequently serves over 100,000 people a day."

The Grand Jury report also focused on possible abuses related to compensation paid to elected officials in the wake of the Bell financial scandal.

None were found.

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