California Cities Paid Two Dozen Workers More than President Obama's Salary

Retiring city managers boosted pay by cashing in accrued leave, including a Buena Park city manager who made more than half a million dollars

At least two dozen employees of California cities collected more in government pay last year than President Obama, according to data posted online by the state controller's office.

The highest total wages reported for any employee were $545,394 for one of two listed city manager positions in the Orange County city of Buena Park.

The "Government Compensation in California" spreadsheet lists pay by job title, rather than by name. Searching the spreadsheet revealed that 24 other city employees also collected more than $400,000, which is the president's official salary.

"When somebody earns more than the president of the United States, that's an eyebrow-raiser," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

The regular pay for the Buena Park city manager position was listed at $239,277. The controller's data shows that was augmented by a lump sum payment of $293,050.

Scheduled to retire at the end of the year, City Manager Rick Warsinski departed instead in July, according to an agreement which provided him an "early retirement incentive benefit" of $106,114.

He was also entitled to cash in more than 3,000 hours of unused and accrued vacation and sick leave, according to his successor James Vanderpool.

In Vanderpool's contract, time accrual is limited to 480 hours, Vanderpool said. Five of the top 10 in "total wages" are departing city managers who received lump sums in addition to their salaries, according to the controller's data.

In Fountain Valley, where Ray Kromer retired, "other pay" of $223,651 raised total wages for the city manager's position to $459,144.

In the Riverside County city of Menifee, where Bill Rawlings retired, the data shows a lump sum payment of $234,561 brought the annual total to $440,415. Total wages for Vernon's current city manager Mark Whitworth hit $400,839 in 2012.

Whitworth cashed in time acrrued while he simultaneously served as Vernon's Fire chief, according to city spokesman Fred McFarlane.

Firefighters dominated the top ranks of overtime earners, led by a San Francisco Fire Suppression lieutenant with $220,909 in OT alone.

On top of regular pay of $128,809, that brought the lieutenant's yearly total wages to $362,844.

Looking at overtime by city and by department, the largest total amount of OT was paid by the Los Angeles Fire Department -- $114,177,871. That was attributed to a longstanding hiring freeze that the department and City Hall allies hope to lift next year.

Looking strictly at base salaries, five of the 10 highest reported were in the city of Los Angeles. At the top was the general manager of the Department of Water and Power, with a $343,678 base and $349,136 total haul.

DWP is supported by service fees and does not rely on tax dollars from the city's general fund.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck made total wages of $311,991. Yet the data showed a LAPD detective making significantly more regular pay, $343,678. A spokesman for the mayor's office said that appeared to be an error.

Other typos have also been reported since the data was posted Monday.

Originally, the data showed that apart from the Buena Park city manager, the most total wages went to a city of South Gate police sergeant, mainly due to a lump sum payment of $339,999. But a clerk had mistakenly added an extra digit, according to city spokesperson Nellie Cobos.

She said a sergeant with 27 years of service had in fact cashed out his available sick leave for $33,999, one-tenth what was listed. Later Tuesday the figure was corrected on the website.

The Controller's Office relies on data submitted by local governments, and does not guarantee its accuracy.

The online spreadsheet is organized alphabetically by city. Feng urged citizens to see what their local government is doing.

"Figuring out whether that makes sense for each city is an important thing for citizens to engage on," Feng said. The site also lists data for county workers.

The ranks of the highest paid were dominated by medical doctors at county hospitals, led by an orthopedic surgeon at Kern Medical Center whose total wages topped one million dollars at $1,040,651.

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