The Madeleine Brand Show for September 23, 2010

What is a Fair Price for a City Manager?

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Residents of the City of Bell who are calling for the ouster of city officials line up to enter the community center for a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California.

A new survey shows that compensation for the people who run California’s cities varies widely.  And sometimes managers running the smallest cities have the highest pay. Our own Steve Proffitt crunches the numbers for us in this report.

What’s a city manager worth?

It might depend on what city you’re running, but a new survey shows the average city manager in California earns just under $200,000 per year.

Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo’s salary of almost $800,000 was an aberration, according the the League of California Cities. It just released a survey that details the compensation of almost 400 California city managers.  The poll reveals a broad range of pay rates, from $30,000 to as high as $450,000.

The survey was voluntary, but according to the League, about 90% of city managers in California responded.  (Some cities, such as Los Angeles and San Diego, don’t have city managers.)  Respondents were asked to enter the income reported on their IRS W-2 forms.

One would think that city managers pay would be tied to the size of the city they manage, but an analysis of the survey data shows that not to be the case.  Dividing the compensation of the manager by the population of the managed city offers at least a crude view of efficiency.  And by that score, City Manager Debra Figone of San Jose is managing the most people for the least amount of money.  Although her salary, at more than $273,000 is above-average, she has more than a million citizens to deal with.  At just 27 cents per person, she can claim the title of most efficient manager in California.  

At the other end of the scale, Mark Witworth of the LA County city of Vernon.  He makes about $211,000 per year.  But he has a population of only 96, making his cost per person $2,201.79.

Most of the very highest-paid city managers took advantage of the survey’s offer to allow them to attach notes explaining their compensation.  And interestingly, five of the top ten highest paid managers are in cities in Los Angeles County, and eight out of the ten are from Southern California.

The king of city manager compensation, Robert Rizzo, did not respond to the survey.  In fact, he may not have even received it.  He resigned well before the League of California Cities sent out their poll.


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