Pay isn’t the problem; transparency is

Ever since those pictures in the news a few weeks ago of the former city manager of Bell, Calif., being escorted by police from his front yard — his loose black jersey unable to disguise a prominently protruding paunch — we’ve seen a spate of numbers about the pay in the upper tiers of the ranks of civil servants here in North County.
While we trust that no city manager or hospital district chief administrator would be taking home the kind of paychecks that Bell’s top gun, Robert Rizzo, did as city manager — $1.5 million, give or take, in salary and benefits in a city of 37,000 — better be safe than sorry and hope for no big surprises yet, as Ronald Reagan said, verify.
So it was that the city of Escondido became the last holdout in releasing a copy of its contract with the city manager, Clay Phillips. The delay, reading between the lines, suggests something unorthodox might be discovered if the public could only gain access.
It’s not so much to me about whether the Mandarin class is being paid too much — although San Marcos City Manager Paul Malone has $408,000 a year in salary and benefits, putting him at or near the highest echelons in his peer group throughout the county, even though his city, population around 37,000, is smaller than so many of its neighbors.
No, it’s something about an attitude that all of this is none of our business. (“Those reporters should just keep their noses out of City Hall!”). What does it say, for example, when the city of Escondido obstructs and delays access to this vastly public document, the contract with its city manager? Your guess is as good as mine, but one of the headlines said Phillips gets the equivalent of 14 weeks off a year. Hey, look for me in three months … no, make it three-and-a-half.
The Union Tribune listed 30 vacation days, 13.5 sick days, 20 management leave days and 10 paid city holidays for a sum of total 73.5. Divide that by five, the official days of the work week, and it’s actually 14 and seven-tenths weeks a year untethered to the municipal building; relatively, at least.
And what of the top managers of the public hospital districts, the Tri-City Healthcare District serving especially the cities of Vista, Oceanside and Carlsbad and Palomar Pomerado Health, which is poised to open what’s professed to be the hospital of the future in Escondido?
Last April, in the space of a week, at another rough-and-tumble meeting of the Tri-City board, Chief Executive Officer Larry Anderson (salary and benefits worth $625,000) got both fired and re-hired. Some of the tumult there involved a cadre of doctors who decided to send their patients to Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas instead of Tri-City. The hospital posted a $22.7 million operating loss for 2009.
In January, the cash-strapped institution had entered the fitness market in earnest, officially opening a “wellness center” on 5.7 acres along El Camino Real, just south of Palomar Airport Road. To compete with clubs like Bally’s and 24-Hour Fitness, the center targeted a niche of Boomers who might need health advice and maybe even the services of the physicians who would fill a medical office building next door. A Boomer overdoes it, as many I guess are wont to do, and the doctor is in.
Today, it looks as if Tri-City has saddled itself with a white elephant in this uncertain economy. At $270,000, the monthly rent looks to be a substantial nut. Does a purchase option that’s up in 2013 look better than a long-term lease? How about any takers? Where to start the bidding?
According to my calculations, the district could take the equivalent of two month’s rent on its albatross on El Camino Real and thus add some $540,000 to the CEO’s current $625,000. He’s reported to be pursuing a formal salary review, and why not? Over at Palomar Pomerado, the chief executive, Michael Covert, is pulling down an annual package worth some $1.1 million.
If you can link the success of a ball club (no need to mention names) to its payroll, you could say that a couple month’s rent on the be-well, get-well and stay-well center on El Camino would bring Tri-City’s top exec $540,000 plus the current $625,000. That will put the compensation for whoever becomes the next great hope to lead Tri-City, be it Larry Anderson or someone else, to $1.165 million, right around counterpart Covert at Palomar Health.
It’d then be about a draw in comparison with the deal the Palomar Pomerado board has sealed with Mr. Covert. Would some added cash flow ease the sturm and drang from a tough year at Tri-City? How much work does one need to do to actually earn that kind of dough? Don’t ask me, but please ring a bell and catch my attention when we know that the salaries are in line with some sort of standard and the perks are not extravagantly abundant. What’s the ratio between the chief’s pay and the “average” worker, by the way?

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