What San Luis Obispo County's city managers average: $218,000

Local officials’ compensation ranges from $164,302 to $311,420, well below Bell’s scandalous salary numbers

clambert@thetribunenews.com and acornejo@thetribunenews.comAugust 29, 2010 

The average pay of city managers in San Luis Obispo County is about $218,000 a year, a Tribune analysis of compensation data has shown.

When taking into account benefits as well as base salary, city managers of the county’s seven cities take home a wide range of compensation — from about $164,000 in Grover Beach to more than $300,000 in San Luis Obispo.

That’s far less than the nearly $1.5 million received annually in salary and compensation by Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo of Bell, a city of more than 38,000 residents in Los Angeles County that has come under fire for the excessive salaries paid to city employees and City Council members.

Still, the average salary of city managers in San Luis Obispo County outpaces the average wage earned by workers overall in San Luis Obispo County.

According to data from the state Employment Development Department, the average wage of 99,740 people surveyed working in the public and private sectors during the first quarter of 2010 — not including benefits — was $43,981.

However, the average pay for local chief executives — the survey reported there were 160 — was $172,059. Chief executives would be employees with a high level of responsibility.

For 1,450 “general and occupational managers” in San Luis Obispo County, the next step down on the survey, the average was $102,640.

The average compensation for all city managers in California is unknown. Dave Mora, the West Coast regional director of the International City/County Management Association, said there’s no current way to calculate the average.

In San Luis Obispo County, several cities already post some salary information on their websites. A range of salaries for city employees in Morro Bay, for example, is available online.

Paso Robles officials recently posted a form under “Hot Topics” with the current annual salaries of all its administrators, City Council members and mayor.

The cities of Atascadero, Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo recently went one step further. After The Tribune’s request, officials posted not only the base salaries but the total compensation for its city administrators, including health insurance, retirement contributions and vehicle allowances.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Atascadero resident David Broadwater, a watchdog who urged the City Council to post total compensation. “It’s really important for citizens to be able to easily access a complete picture of the taxpayer commitment to these city employees.

“The salaries only tell a part of that picture,” he said, adding that the difference between the employees’ base salary and total compensation in Atascadero ranges from $36,000 to $97,000.

The data requested by The Tribune through public records requests included a base salary plus other forms of compensation, including health benefits, retirement contributions, and cell phone and vehicle allowances, for all top administrators and department heads.

As part of this project, The Tribune has created a database at www.sanluisobispo.com that shows compensation for managers and department heads at the region’s cities.

San Luis Obispo

City Manager Katie Lichtig earns $80,000 more in salary and compensation annually than any other city’s chief executive in San Luis Obispo County, according to The Tribune’s analysis. Her base salary is $221,520, but her total pay increases to $311,420 when other forms of compensation are included.

The City Council offered Lichtig $2,500 a month for up to eight months to pay temporary rental expense to assist in her move from Beverly Hills to San Luis Obispo.

She was also offered a loan of up to $125,000 to purchase a home within city limits, but Lichtig said she didn’t take the offer because her home in Southern California hasn’t sold yet. The offer is still available.

Lichtig worked with city staff to make salary information and her own contract more accessible on the city’s website.

The city has posted salary ranges for all city positions but now posts links to that information on the city’s main Web page. It also shows salary and compensation breakdowns for heads of the city’s departments.

“We assessed the situation and felt that being transparent to the public about the pay and benefits for executives was consistent with the city’s overall values,” said Lichtig

Paso Robles

As city manager of the county’s second-largest city, Jim App’s total compensation of $214,201 is surpassed by executive officers of smaller cities, including Atascadero and Pismo Beach.

In recent years App has declined salary increases — bringing his annual salary of $155,744 within $10,000 of all employees serving as department heads in Paso Robles.

All city staff and unions deferred annual increases in 2009 through June 2011 to help save more than $750,000.

App’s current salary became effective in 2007. In 2008 he was entitled to receive an increase to $164,120, which he deferred. Again, in 2009 he was entitled to a salary increase to $173,768, which he also deferred. App said he will again decline an increase this year.

App’s salary, under his current contract, will increase to $173,768 in September 2011. All other city department heads who also deferred the increases will receive an increase to $153,768 in 2011 unless further negotiations are done.

“The city is struggling financially, as are our residents,” said App. “Beginning in 2009, our employees offered to defer contracted wage adjustments. It is only right and proper that I do likewise.”

The city recently revamped the way it posts salary and compensation information on its website, posting the maximum salary range for the city’s executive team, mayor and council members.

Salary ranges by job title and employee union agreements are also available under the human resources tab on the city’s website.

The city manager’s contract is not separately posted on the website, but is searchable in City Council documents.

“We always knew the information should be there, but it is now apparent that we need to make it easier to find,” said Marlaine Sanders, human resources manager. “I think sometimes we think it is easy to find because we are in it, but didn’t realize that it might be more difficult for the general layperson.”


Atascadero City Manager Wade McKinney is the second-highest paid in the county, earning $230,779 in total compensation.

McKinney and all administrators took a 3 percent pay cut in 2009 — reducing his base salary to $157,173 from $162,034.

McKinney was offered a $200,000 loan to purchase a home in 2004 when he was hired. He took the loan and has since paid it off, he said.

McKinney is the only administrator to receive an annual stipend of $572 for health club dues. The city recently began posting detailed salaries and compensation on its website — following a request by The Tribune for the information. Before the change, Atascadero only posted salary ranges.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach City Manager Kevin Rice is the third-highest earner in the county, receiving about $224,000 in total compensation.

However, he makes more than $161,000 in base salary — a wage that puts him second only to Lichtig.

“You’re only the fifth person to ask me about my salary,” Rice said.

Rice said the city has posted on its website salary ranges, agreements with its employee unions and resolutions outlining benefits for its nonunion employees for at least four years. That information can be found through links on the city’s human resources department home page.

There are no current plans to add any additional information.

“We’ll comply with whatever the state tells us to do,” Rice said, adding that he has also filled out a survey with his compensation requested by the League of California Cities.

City staff will receive a 2 percent increase this fiscal year, but did not receive an increase in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay City Manager Andrea Lueker’s total compensation of $196,244 puts her in the lower half of annual earnings.

Lueker, along with all management-level employees in the city, opted not to take a 3 percent salary increase in the 2009-10 fiscal year, said City Attorney Rob Schultz. The increase was deferred, and it’s unknown whether it will be added to city manager and other employees’ salaries later.

City administrators started looking for ways to save money several years ago, while dealing with a loss of revenue because of fewer fees from the Morro Bay power plant, the decline of commercial fishing and the economy’s affect on tourism.

For example, nearly all city employees do not receive a cell phone allowance.

And instead of receiving an annual $4,200 vehicle allowance, the city gave Schultz a 1998 Ford Taurus with 150,000 miles on it.

Lueker receives an annual car allowance of $4,200.

The city has offered an updated list of salary ranges for its staff online on the human resources department Web page, as well as agreements between the city and its unions. Those include information about retirement and health benefits, education incentives and salary increases.

City officials last week added a link to the home page that would take users directly to the information, Lueker said.

“We want to make sure it’s very easy to find,” she said. “Certainly the public has a right to know, and in light of the situation with Bell, it’s important that we provide this information.”

Arroyo Grande

City Manager Steve Adams’ compensation ranks sixth countywide. He receives $186,404 when including salary and all benefits. His base salary is $136,596.

He earns more than any other Arroyo Grande employee in base salary but receives less than police Chief Steven Annibali when benefits are included.

Arroyo Grande provides a salary range for all its employees on its website, and has recently added a link to the total compensation breakdown for the city manager and other department heads.

“We believe the more open and transparent government (is), the better,” Adams said.

Grover Beach

City Manager Bob Perrault is the lowest paid among his peers locally, earning about $22,000 less in total compensation than the next closest.

Perrault, who was hired in 2006, makes less than the city’s police chief and the administrative services director. That’s because Perrault has only taken two cost-of-living increases, one of which was 2 percent in July 2008.

According to his employee agreement, Perrault received a signing bonus of $9,600 when he was hired in Grover Beach in 2006. He was also reimbursed for moving expenses of up to $4,368.

In 2008, his contract was amended to include a monthly cell phone allowance of $75, which is on par with cell phone allowances received by some other city managers in the county.

However, he has declined to take an additional $7,500 a year in deferred compensation, which is included in his contract, for personal reasons. Perrault said recently that he has no current plans to take it.

Perrault, like all other city employees except those in the city’s police association, has taken a 5 percent cut in an effort to save $185,000 in the 2010-11 fiscal year budget.

Budgeted revenue in the city’s general fund is expected to drop to about $7 million in fiscal year 2010-11 from $7.4 million in fiscal year 2009-10, which ended June 30.

Changes under way

Earlier this month, in response to the Bell controversy, State Controller John Chiang announced a new salary disclosure obligation, requiring salaries of all city and county elected officials and administrators be posted on the state’s website.

State officials are still determining what portion of public employees’ compensation will have to be reported.

“We are still defining the parameters,” department spokesman Jacob Roper said. “We are interested in more than salaries alone and we hope to issue instructions by the end of the month.”

Existing government code allows the state to make the request but limits it from requiring that cities and counties post the information on their own municipal websites, he said.

In the future, other local governments, such as special districts and redevelopment agencies, will be required to report the same information, said Roper.

The League of California Cities is lobbying the Legislature to support a bill that would lead to more transparency of salary and benefits paid to elected officials and government workers.

The flurry following the Bell scandal led to dozens of internal discussions, task forces formed within the League and brainstorming among city managers on how to best deal with the issue, said Dan Carrigg, the organization’s legislative director.

“What happened in Bell is an embarrassment in a much broader sense,” Carrigg said. “There are a lot of very good people up and down the state that are involved in all levels of government who feel this example that everyone is focused on does not reflect their careers in public service and the seriousness and ethics with which they conduct themselves.”

The League’s proposed legislation, currently being reviewed by the legislative counsel, targets all elected officials and public employees earning more than $100,000 a year. That information would have to be posted on the reporting agency’s website.

The League’s push for more transparency has received support from Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate, and from Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

The Legislature is discussing the proposed bills now — which include amending the Brown Act to require government agencies to give more advance notice of agenda items, make salary provisions applicable to charter cities as they currently are to general law cities such as those in San Luis Obispo County, and require all public officials to annually submit a compensation disclosure form.

“This has been a whirlwind,” said Carrigg, adding that now is the time to ask for more transparency at all levels of public employment.

“If we adopt a standard of transparency, it ought to apply across the board,” Carrigg said. “The broad concern in the wake of what happened in Bell is about all of government and the compensation levels, not just local government.”

Web developer Daniel Thorogood created the online database for this project.

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