A surprising salary for one California city manager explained

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

One of the many golf courses in the desert resort community of Indian Wells, just east of Palm Springs (photo: Flickr/rocor)

It’s the holiday season, so in the spirit of giving, California State Controller John Chiang released some new data on workers compensation via his new website Government Compensation in California.

The site is intended to let Californians know just how much our public servants in state and local government are making, it’s a step towards more transparency.

“Real accountability begins with empowering the public with easy access to the budgeting and payroll decisions of our civic leaders,” said Chiang.

If you’re wondering who the highest paid public employee in a city, in 2011 was, here’s the answer: the former city manager in Indian Wells. In a city with just 5,000 people, made $677,172.

According to the data, Greg Johnson’s salary was $230,697. He made an extra $446,475 in “other pay.”

Indian Wells interim city manager Roderick Wood clarifies the numbers.

“Greg’s actual salary was $254,625. The city paid him $65,064 in accrued vacation, executive pay and overtime. The remaining balance was his severance package that was a part of his mutual separation agreement. Part of that package included 12 months salary and all benefits paid,” said Wood. “For the size of the city, that’s too high.”

“The city council just decided to pay him that much money,” said Fred Silva, Senior Fiscal Policy Adviser. “It comes out of the city’s general fund. That salary level for a city manager is pretty consistent with others in the state, even in a city that small, I’m not surprised.”

Wood came to the city in October 2011, the council has yet to decide his salary. Right now he’s paid $122 an hour. State law requires he works no more than 960 hours in a fiscal year, from July 1 to June 30.

“But you have to understand, Indian Wells is a city built on their redevelopment program. They’re big on economic development and it has very few citizens. The city was created to produce services for economic investment, it wasn’t created to produce a lot of municipal services. Indian Wells is a prime example with their golf courses and hotels and resorts,” said Silva.

“The city was basically a no property tax city after prop 13 which meant it received no money so they had to form a redevelopment,” said Wood.

The interim city manager is quick to come to the city’s defense when explaining the state controller’s website.

“The city also laid off five employees last year, they got severances and pay outs that skewed their salaries, so if you look at that and the controller saying that we’re the highest average pay per employee in the state, when you only have 28 staff well, you push up that average pretty high.”

The new information on the controller’s website isn’t all shocking. In fact, many cities cut public workers pays significantly. Cities in the state spent more than $17.6 billion on wages to public employees in 2011, down from $18.2 billion the year before that. On average, employees were paid a bit more than $61,000.

When it comes to vacation and leave time accrued, cities paid $285 million to workers last year. Californians paid a whopping $275 million in lump sum checks to state workers.

“Cities are now relooking at their pay packages. It may also mean cities have been doing a lot of lay-offs  and so their pay structures may not have changed.”

Thanks to the controller’s website, you now are armed with the information. It’s up to you to get involved and engaged by going to city council meetings, and let your elected leaders know if you agree or not with their decisions. 

“When the city council makes any major decisions, like workers’ pay, they need to make sure the citizens understand it,” said Silva.

California Forward reached out to Indian Wells Mayor Mary Roche, however she did not respond to emails or phone calls requesting comment on this story.


Cheryl Getuiza

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