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SPECIAL REPORT: City salaries

Submitted by on 1, May 1, 2009 – 6:00 am10 Comments

As part of The Island’s ongoing look at the fiscal condition of our fair Island city, I’ve obtained a list of city workers’ salaries for 2008.

I just got the list yesterday so I don’t have a fancy database for you to search, but I retyped the spreadsheet from the PDF the city sent. (Eight hours of data entry. Don’t ever say I don’t love you.)

The numbers I have are total gross earnings – basically, all cash compensation, including overtime – for each of the 661 employees who worked for this city in 2008. Here’s the broad brush:

*Roughly 41 percent, or 269 of the city’s 661 employees last year, earned salaries of $100,000 or more. The top earner? Former police captain (and onetime acting chief) Craig Ojala, who left the city with earnings of $286,336.05. Ojala was one of eight city employees who earned more than $200,000; the rest of that list includes former city manager Debra Kurita; Corey Merrick, a former division chief for the fire department; Police Chief Walt Tibbet; Assistant City Manager David Brandt; Police Captain James Brock; AMP General Manager Girish Balachandran and Fire Chief David Kapler.

*The city paid around $60 million last year in salaries and other cash compensation, including overtime, deferred compensation, retention pay and more. (Benefits are a whole other ball of wax I’ll get into next week.) Of that $60 million, the city paid out $3.6 million in overtime, roughly two-thirds of it, or $2.2 million, to the Fire Department. Another $780,000 went to police personnel.

The top overtime pay getter was firefighter Louis F. Donati Jr., who earned $92,566.79 in overtime, which is just a little more than his annual salary. He earned $195,446.32 in 2008, which makes him one of the 10 highest paid employees in Alameda.

I asked Domenick Weaver, head of the local firefighters union, how someone could earn that much overtime in a year. “You live at the station,” he said. Weaver said fire staff don’t want to have to work the hours that earned many of them $30,000 and more a year in overtime, but that the department is chronically short-staffed. “We kept telling (the city) over and over again, it was not fiscally responsible. It never worked right,” he said.

*By way of comparison, I checked the Chronicle’s Data Center to see what employees were earning in some other East Bay cities. Alameda had the same number of employees earning six figures as bankrupt Vallejo (and Richmond had more). But the top-paid public safety employees in both cities earned far more than their counterparts here, with some fire staff in Vallejo in particular taking home $60,000 and $70,000 a year just in overtime. (Our fire staff averaged $20,362.06 in overtime last year.)

That said, the money we have is the money we have, and it ain’t looking good for right now: Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant has told city workers to expect layoffs of 5 to 10 percent. A list is due Wednesday.

As I always say … stay tuned.

10 Comments »

  • dave says:

    What does the “PY” in the far right column mean?

  • Neal_J says:

    The average annual compensation for the 659 city employees listed is $92,000. Hmmm, what’s wrong with this picture?

  • phastphill says:

    How should one expect these salaries to compare to San Francisco? I would expect the SF Fire Chief and SF Police Chief to make quite a bit more than their Alamedan counterparts, since they’re running a city 10 times as large.

    Not so, though … look here:

    http://tinyurl.com/cbjvty

    SF Fire Chief made $270k (Alameda $200k)
    SF Police Chief made $275k (Alameda $220k)

    Though the 50-70 grand difference is nothing to bark at, I wonder why these things don’t scale a little more linearly.

  • David Kirwin says:

    Thanks for the research Michelle.

    Wow, many eye-openers. After taking the file and organizing it by city dept, then gross salary and benefits, I found it interesting to just scan the info.

    I wonder if some of what I observe is just human nature (Whatever sex the dept’s top wager earner is; the next half dozen (or most of that dept) is the same sex.) As for the 77%, or 88% rule – that you wrote about last week, it is not so evident in our city’s payroll, or I was not evaluating correctly.

    Also the number of workers in a department seems to be irrelevant as to what the top dept manager earns. I wonder why this is so. Look at the difference between Parks & Rec and PW for example.

    Also there is an incredible ‘giant leap’ of a difference between top two steps in each dept. Often this differential between the top two dept earners is in the $50k/yr range. This is likely symptomatic of a very real problem. Often contract language ties increases to various considerations on a percentage basis. Thus, over time the gaps between related workers become exponentially large. As a general rule this is one of the first places I would want to see personnel modifications made, it would correct the inequity of unforeseen consequences of long term percentage increases and have less impact on city services than cutting positions and work hours of our city’s workers..

    Another problem the City may need to address is that wages get tied to titles rather to an individual’s ability to optimally meet all the challenges of that position. Of course as in any other body of public employees, it would be interesting to consider how to have meritorious pay without the ugly hand of politics.

    Of course there are also some positions I just had to think WTF? Interesting that only one dept had a “Fire/building code compliance officer”. Maybe you guessed which one – the GOLF dept!

    Anyway, thanks for day-lighting these costs, I wish the whole city budget was so open and ‘readable”.

  • Scott says:

    Was it really important for you to post the employees names? Couldn’t you just list job titles?

    • Hi Scott,

      I’m glad you asked, because to be honest, I wrestled with whether to include the names. To do so may seem to some folks an undue invasion of privacy; to not do so, to others, an act of cowardice. Ultimately I ended up applying two tests.

      The main one was answering this question: If this were any other kind of story – from a man-on-the-street interview to a piece on a murder victim – would I use the names? And the answer, for me, was yes. These are real people, like anyone else I would report on. (And between you and me, I’m hoping also that listing the names instead of just positions will prompt people to be a little more charitable in their thoughts and comments because these are real people they’re thinking/talking about, instead of just job classifications.)

      The second test was, how would I feel if someone published the same information about me? And the answer to that one is that I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

      And all this is beside another point that I think is fair to make, which is that these are public dollars that we’re talking about and that the expenditure of public money should be done in as transparent a fashion as possible.

  • TD says:

    By way of comparison, I checked the Chronicle’s Data Center to see what employees were earning in some other East Bay cities. Alameda had the same number of employees earning six figures as bankrupt Vallejo (and Richmond had more). But the top-paid public safety employees in both cities earned far more than their counterparts here, with some fire staff in Vallejo in particular taking home $60,000 and $70,000 a year just in overtime. (Our fire staff averaged $20,362.06 in overtime last year.)

  • CambridgeCourt says:

    Would be interesting to see the latest data and check out if we are the next Oakland (cutting loose officers) or the next Bell, CA (cutting loose city manager, police chief, ….)

  • Mark says:

    I would love to see the Alameda Journal make the comparison to Bell County. It’s nothing less than corruption to pay government workers double and triple market rate (and worse when you add the obscene pension contributions). The people in Bell County have taken action and made a difference. The same voice needs to ring out in Alameda. Ripping off the citizens of a city to pad your wallet can hardly be called “civil” service.

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