Hyperlocal public employee salaries

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Jan 18, 2012—Sunshine Review released its first state government salary report, which analyzed public sector employee salaries in 152 local governments spanning eight states. Taking data from the last four years, Sunshine Review investigated benefits information as well as information on government perks, such as car fleets and cell phones for public sector employees in California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Wisconsin.

Sunshine Review's study showed that of the states analyzed, California had the largest number of public sector employees making over $150,000, with 1332 employees. Illinois followed in second with 867 and Texas was third with 194.

California also had the highest paid public official during the last four years. Robert Rizzo, former city manager of Bell, California, made $787,637 in 2008, or $1.5 million when taking other government benefits into account, the highest of any public employee surveyed since 2008. The next highest salary of the governments surveyed was the Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare in Cook County, Illinois, who earned $500,000 in 2011.

Looking at specific job fields, the study showed that three of the top eight salaries were related to law enforcement. These comprised of a Sheriff-Coroner in California, a Superintendent of Police in Illinois and a Detective in Wisconsin. High earners in the medical field earned more than most governors. For example, the average governor's salary was $130,595.10, while in Jacksonville, Florida, the top salary for 2011 was $208,119.00 for an employee in the Medical Examiner's office. Lastly, fire personnel high earners made salaries in the high $100,000s.

Sunshine Review's analysis clearly shows where taxpayer money goes and how much of it is allotted on salaries and government perks. "This information is vital to ensuring that government remains open and accountable to the people that it represents," said Mike Barnhart, President of Sunshine Review.

To complete this study, the editors of Sunshine Review focused on the most populous cities, counties and school districts, as well as the emergency services entities within these governments. The salary information garnered from these states was a combination of existing online resources and state Freedom of Information Act requests sent out to the governments from 2008 to 2011.

California local government salary

Illinois local government salary

Florida local government salary

Michigan local government salary

New Jersey local government salary

Pennsylvania local government salary

Texas local government salary

Wisconsin local government salary

Salary disclosure and corruption: Bell, California 2010

In July 2010, The Los Angeles Times uncovered that officials in Bell, California were making remarkably high salaries.[1] Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo was earning a yearly $787,637. It was later uncovered that Rizzo's total compensation after taking benefits into account topped $1.5 million dollars a year.[2]

For comparison:[1]

  • Manhattan Beach, with about 7,000 fewer people than Bell, paid its most recent city manager $257,484 a year.
  • Long Beach, with a population close to 500,000, paid its city manager $235,000 annually.
  • Los Angeles County paid its Chief Executive William T Fujioka $338,458.

Solution: open government, transparency, proactive disclosure

After this report was released, governments began to proactively disclose salary information of their employees. Before the end of the summer of 2010, more than a dozen cities in Orange County, for example, posted salary information on the front pages of their websites.[3]

The cost of transparency websites maintaining such information ranges from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. These websites also save money, and this often is not taken into account when measuring costs.

Citizens upset about the breach of trust and armed with information formed a group called the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, which pushed for an independent audit of city salaries and contracts.[4]

Citizens, empowered with information, are key to keeping government free from corruption and efficient. A study published by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia revealed that the city of Philadelphia has a problem with the efficiency and costs of public employee pensions.[5] The amount that Philadelphia pays to pension recipients limits the city’s ability to use its budget effectively.

The report revealed that there were more individuals receiving pension benefits—33,907 claimants in 2006—than workers in the city—28,701.[5] The authors of the study recommended three steps towards addressing the problem of high costs in pensions.[5] First, improve data collection so that decision-making in terms of pension policies is more informed. Second, promote transparency for better accountability to citizens. Third, reduce costs and use the savings for developing Philadelphia.

Resistance to disclosure

The idea of disclosing public employee salaries is relatively new. In 2008, several local government employee associations and unions protested the posting of state employee salaries by newspaper The Sacramento Bee.[6][7] At the time, it was seen as a safety risk and invasion of privacy.