California releases more data on highly-compensated state employees; 15 earn over $300,000

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Following up on his commitment to provide more transparency on salaries paid to state employees, California State Controller John Chiang released data on Tuesday disclosing the compensation paid to employees in 693 local agencies including transit, waste disposal, and fire and police protection districts.

Chiang began the project last year after information became public in the city of Bell scandal, in which the top city administrator paid himself $1.5 million to run the blue-collar suburb outside of Los Angeles.

Last October, Chiang’s office posted data online reporting salaries for over 600,000 city and county officials throughout California.

The current report is phase one of a four-part undertaking to document salaries paid to employees of special districts. The next update to the data base will include government employees in land reclamation and levee maintenance, health, hospital and water agencies.

The current report covers more than 40,000 state workers, and shows that at least 15 special district employees earned over $300,000 in 2009. Heading the list was Dennis Diemer, general manager of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which provides water for several Bay Area cities, including Oakland and Berkeley. His total compensation for the year was $420,220.

When contacted by the Los Angeles Times, Diemer, who is retiring this month, said his pay was larger than normal in 2009 because he elected to cash in unused vacation pay amounting to $107,000. In 2010, he said his pay dropped to $315,000.

In the Los Angeles area, two transportation officials made the list. Expo Line Construction Authority Chief Executive Richard Thorpe was paid $371,917 and former Metrolink Chief Executive David Solow received $340,381.

Water executives were also among the highly-compensated. Cucamonga County Water District’s executive director earned $344,466, the general manager of the Santa Margarita Water District earned $376,297 and the assistant general manager of the Coachella Valley Water District earned $350,503.

The list includes a police commander in the Bay Area Rapid Transit District who earned $355,000, and several police and fire chiefs who made over $250,000.

In contrast to the highly-paid employees of the special districts, the top-ranking official in the state, Gov. Jerry Brown, makes only $175,000 per year.

Chiang said “I thought this type of reporting was necessary four years ago, pre-dating Bell,” he said. “You can’t have failing cities and counties and special districts. It will take down your infrastructure.” He said the database would help the public “get a better sense of compensation and decide if it’s fair.”

The compensation reported by the districts include all the wages that are reported on employee W-2 forms in “Box-5 Wages”, meaning total wages subject to Medicare. The total includes all cash compensation including salary, overtime, and payments for unused vacation and sick days.

Chiang demanded salary information from over 900 of the state’s local agencies and more than 172 refused to provide data or provided inadequate information.  Those agencies may be subject to a $5,000 penalty, according to the controller’s website.

Information from: Los Angeles Times

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