City Life: Time for overdue thank yous

At Saturday night's Tchaikovsky Spectacular at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, Pacific Symphony Orchestra Music Director Carl St. Clair received a proclamation from the Orange County Board of Supervisors for his 20 years of conducting the PSO.

Once or twice in this space, I have been critical of St. Clair. One pet peeve was his addressing the audience before and during performances. I had written about seeing many of the great conductors perform but never hearing them address an audience. To me then, this seemed to be showboating.

My other observation was how images of St. Clair dominated the promotional material produced by the PSO's marketing department.

What I have failed to do is give St. Clair credit for taking an unknown and underachieving orchestra to national prominence. Under his leadership, the PSO has achieved numerous milestones, including its first European tour five years ago.

St. Clair has also strongly advocated music education in our schools and has been a strong supporter of the symphony's Class Act program, which introduces classical music to children who may not otherwise be exposed to it.

Plus, I doubt that the Segerstrom family would have built a new concert hall for an orchestra that it did not deem worthy. The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is a vote of confidence in St. Clair and the orchestra he has helped assemble.

Carl St. Clair has become the face of the PSO, an element crucial to its success.

I owe St. Clair an apology for being so small-minded and a "thank you" for the work he has done. Here they are.

The scandal in the city of Bell, in which city officials and members of the City Council were discovered to have been receiving outrageous salaries and benefits, is already having a positive effect on taxpayers.

In an effort to provide more transparency in government, Costa Mesa will start posting the salaries of employees on its website. This is a good development and I hope it will include their benefit packages as well. As Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Jim Righeimer, a candidate for the City Council, noted in a Sunday letter to the Daily Pilot, no complete compensation assessment can be made without including the retirement, health care and other benefits.

Transparency is important. For example, the salary of Costa Mesa City Manager Alan Roeder is $207,291 a year. Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff earns $225,000 annually.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District has had transparency of sorts for awhile, but you'd have to dig a little to find it. Until a few days ago, the district's website included School Accountability Report Cards for each of the local schools. Among other valuable information, each report card showed the salaries of teachers for different levels of achievement as well as the superintendent's salary.

But the reports cards have disappeared, with no indication of when or if they will return.

From the website for the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, the teachers' union, one can see that district teacher salaries range from $45,566 to $103,052, depending on length of service and other achievements.

Salaries are paid for a total of 186 working days.

More transparency is needed, without taxpayers having to work to get it. The salaries and benefits of anyone who is being paid with tax dollars should be posted on each government website now.

I have spent many recent mornings on the beaches in Newport, long before the crowds arrive, even on these gray days. So here is a long overdue "thank you" to the city of Newport Beach for their high standards of beach maintenance and patrol. The beaches in Newport are outstanding and the city is to be commended for its role as stewards of this great natural resource.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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