California state payroll transparency site reveals interesting city data

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

That’s it, I’m moving to the city of Indian Wells.

No, I’m not a gambler or a tennis fan. And I actually sunburn rather easily. But, according to a completely redesigned website showing wage and benefit data for public employees across California, at an average annual salary of over $100,000, Indian Wells city employees have the highest average wages compared to any city in the state.

Now I’m starting to make a bit more sense.

State Controller John Chiang created the original website in 2010, after ordering cities and counties to report payroll data to the state in response to the Bell salary scandal. 

“Real accountability begins with empowering the public with easy access to the budgeting and payroll decisions of our civic leaders,” said Chiang in a statement. “Through innovation, California can strike a blow against abusive compensation practices that thrive on poor transparency.”

The revamped site,, tracks payroll data for city, county, state, community college district, and California State University System employees. The new user-friendly interface is intended to make the data much more accessible to the public and thus easier for residents to hold officials accountable.

Users can create and download custom reports, track trends, view compensation information overlaid on a map, or my personal favorite, browse top 10 lists.

“This site is completely data-driven, and allows users to dive right into the numbers they want. But it does remain a work in progress, and my office will continue to improve and expand this public pay project,” said Chiang. 

Video tutorials are also available for those that may feel a bit overwhelmed by the vast amount of information, data for 1.5 million public positions around the state to be exact, now just a few mouse clicks away.

The site, which has already registered nearly 6 million page views since its initial launch two years ago, is an essential tool to deter government corruption. 

The largest proportion of any public budget is often spent on staff, salary, and benefit expenditures.  As agencies at all levels of government have felt the pressure to tighten their budget belts and reduce services, it’s of critical importance that the public knows how taxpayer money is being spent. 

As an organization committed to promoting government transparency and accountability, we at California Forward hope that the public will feel empowered to utilize this resource to ensure government agencies account for how they spend public money on compensation. 


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg