State Controller John Chiang

California State Controller John Chiang started releasing data on city and state employee salaries and compensation last fall. His office is steadily adding to the database: last week data for transit, water, hospital and other agencies was added to the publicly available information.

Whenever Berkeleyside writes about city government, it’s a certainty that a number of commenters will remark on high salaries and overstaffing. The State Controller’s database provides a chance to compare how Berkeley does against other cities.

At the top of the scale, Berkeley’s ten highest paid employees are roughly comparable to neighboring Oakland and Richmond:

The total wages includes overtime, bonuses and vacation pay (everything reported in Box 5 of the employee’s W-2 form). Berkeley’s police chief’s salary in 2009 was $220,242 — so there were nearly $150,000 of additional payments to Douglas Hambleton, who retired in 2009. Five of Berkeley’s top 10 are police, compared to eight of the 10 in Oakland. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson recently pointed out that police officers and firefighters comprise 440 of Oakland’s highest paid 500 employees. In Berkeley, police and fire make up 299 of the top 500.

The figures make clear the importance of the current negotiations between city officials and the Berkeley Police Association. What the data doesn’t show, however, is the weight of retirement benefits on the city budget. Unfunded liabilities have been cited by City Manager Phil Kamlarz as the key issue for the city’s finances going forward; police and fire make up a large percentage of those liabilities.

What’s striking looking at the data is how closely Berkeley tracks to comparable cities. Kamlarz’s total wages in 2009 of $245,324 compares to $257,777 for his Richmond equivalent, and $246,936 for his Oakland equivalent. The similarities proliferate in other areas. Berkeley’s director of library services had total wages in 2009 of $179,891; Richmond’s had $161,937 and Oakland’s $177,470. Berkeley’s city attorney had wages of $173,313 in 2009; Richmond’s $171,834. Oakland’s, however, was considerably higher at $211,528.

“We try to stay around the median in total compensation,” explained Kamlarz. “When we do salary negotiations, we do salary surveys of comparable cities in the Bay Area. And not just salaries but total compensation.”

Kamlarz said comparability is important for the city so that it can recruit qualified staff. “We look at those places we compete with for employees,” he said.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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61 Comments

  1. waww! I’d like to be a manager in the city of Berkeley! a lot of the salaries + retirement packages paid to city and state employees are off the chart. This is just one example; same goes for top administrators of public colleges. This is not to say that the the lower and middle-level public employees are over-compensated and don’t need a union to fight for them but the top could use a trimming. I can’t believe how I have to save in order to pay my property taxes so I can support these fat cats.

  2. As a former member of my union negotiating team, I know from experience that parity is a basic method of establishing salaries, but the job description categories need to be equivalent. Also, georgraphy is not the only determinant in comparisons; the district or cities should be similar sizes. Even so, comparisons often mask other structural inequities and problems.

  3. I wish Berkeleyside luck with the very, very hard problem of presenting a more detailed analysis of the numbers in a way that soundly analyzes and informs rather than inflames innumerate and operationally naive interpretations. (This isn’t meant as a criticism of the current article. I’m looking at Lance Knoble’s intention to “have a go at” looking at the data in other ways and at some of the comments. I think we have a tendency to want these issues to be much simpler than they actually are. It’s all too easy to hang an abuse of sketchy “statistics” on any particular political agenda.)

  4. Wow…guess Berkeley is o.k. Competitive with the neighbors! It’s always good to qualify through a comparison…so, I called my cousin who’s a police sergeant in Chicago. Told her the salary in Berkeley…seems she makes WAYYYYYYYY less – but then she only has a decade as a sergeant.

    sorry, missed one key word in first posting

  5. Lance:

    I don’t know if you ever read this deep into an article’s comments, but if you do…

    Please just run at least ONE additional statistical analysis. Your story here is that “salaries track neighbors closely.” Would you try to find out if our “size of city government” (as measured by number of employees per resident) similarly “tracks” our neighbors? As I recall, when those numbers were computed 8 years ago THAT was where the real story lay.

    Thanks in advance…

  6. @lifelongberkeleyan: An absolutely brilliant disquisition on our failed local politics (I comment as a fellow long time resident myself). Unfortunately, we are just a few aging “radicals” (we are the real heirs to Berkeley’s once venerable radical tradition) here talking to each other. We are not a threat to the power structure in the slightest degree. At best, we are Lenin and Trotsky in a café house in Geneva hatching plots. I agree that it will take a “WWI” level crisis/melt down for this corrupt junta to be overthrown body and soul, although, doubting the wisdom of my fellow citizens I am not necessarily optimistic that what will come to replace our current political machine will actually be an improvement. Stalin was as bad as the Czars, if not worse.

    In essence, you have mapped the blueprint to what Jefferson foresaw in the Declaration:

    That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

  7. It seems odd to me. For years, apparently, the City paid less money into the pension plans than it was obligated to, racking up debt. Various market downturns hurt Berkeley revenue and pension fund values, accelerating the day when the breach of obligation comes to a critical pass. And a lot of people look at that say that it’s the greed of employees that is the problem.

  8. @George Berkeley – Take heart friend…

    The remarkable thing about Berkeley’s governance is not its progressive agenda, or the colorful way it manages to draw attention to itself. It’s how we arrive at the same or worse results as any other town around here…a small random sample:

    – The headline of this story is: “Berkeley city salaries track neighbors closely” really means: “Lemmings neck and neck approaching cliff!”

    – Test scores show our public schools are no better (and some are arguably worse) than other cities around the Bay Area.

    – We’ve have more than our share of empty store fronts despite innovative attempts at social engineering commercial use.

    – The city’s new business and housing architecture is much less interesting than what our architects actually design. Evidence of the heavy hand of our nobel amateur’s, the design review committee.

    – The streets are either breaking up or blockaded with traffic circles (a ‘keep the flow going’ design) at four way stop intersections (an ‘everybody stop’ design). The result is rolling stops, near accidents and someday a fatality caused by the sustainable vegetation blocking sight of the little ones in the crosswalk ahead.

    – Our recycling programs a) send plastics to China where it harms children forced to process it. b) spews bin blight and diesel fumes c) Is no more sustainable than the ice rinks in Dubai.

    Generally, the tax payer’s perception is that we’re paying way too much for way too little. And what little we get, is delivered with a sneer, not a smile.

    It is impossible to shatter the influence of decades of petty patronage and self assigned entitlements without the passion for change. The passion for change is what put the current regime in power nearly forty years ago and the passion for change will eventually repeat that cycle.

    Discontent with the status quo is a start, but hardly enough. We’ve plenty of discontent with political descendants of the original reformers. They’ve morphed into “aristo-bureaucrats” whose noblesse oblige equips them with the vision to determine what’s best for us without the inconvenience of asking.

    But not until they start stepping hard on our kids, e.g. the suggested closing of the science labs; Not until our home ownership and financial security is truly threatened by endless property tax assessments and ad valorem taxes; Not until we see our own retirement dreams float away to bailout the city’s unfunded pension obligations; Not until then will we have the pain level necessary to convert discontent into passion, passion into action, action into change. 50 is the new 30, I may live to see it yet.

  9. @lifelongberkeleyan: I couldn’t agree more that there is no hope for change unless/until real pressure is actually applied to City Councilmembers & candidates. However, the prospects are bleak. Even the weakest of the weak you mention — Worthington in D7 — managed to win a campaign against a experienced challenger who was endorsed by everyone (including most of the sitting council) and ran a superb campaign. The experience shows the extreme privilege that incumbents enjoy, and the fact that the “awareness” of the average berkeley voter is painfully easy to overstate.

  10. “…But no amount of carping on Berkeleyside or any other forum will actually make one whit of difference until the ruling junta in Berkeley is tossed out…”

    Start with weakest of the pack.

    The incumbent in District 7 won by 5 votes over the collective opposition.
    per: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Elections/Summary%20Results%20Nov.%202010.pdf

    The incumbent in District 5 won by 401 votes over the collective opposition.
    per: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Elections/Summary%20Results%20Nov.%202008.pdf

    FYI

    80,000 registered voters in Berkeley.
    per: http://www.dailycal.org/article/111020/berkeley_voting_numbers_still_likely_to_exceed_sta

    eight council seat districts = 10,000 voters per race.

    Apropo this current thread: The victorious council member from district seven reported a campaign contribution of $250 from the “Santa Clara Firefighters” on a CA Form 497, dated 10.20.2010, filed 11.18.2101

    per: http://nf4.netfile.com/pub2/AllFilingsByCandidate.aspx?id=6813102&candidate=Kriss+Worthington

    corrections encouraged…any factual errors apologized for in advance.

  11. @ Deb — WOW! Overall I don’t agree with the Daily Planet’s stance on the library issue, but that’s some extremely suspicious activity from our elected Councilmembers. If you don’t want to have a public meeting, why pay to rent a public place to hold it? Extremely suspicious, and a definite appearance of impropriety.

    @ sz underwood — I’d like to get rid of the back-scratching porkers feeding at the public trough as much as anybody else. If someone sensible runs for public office in Berkeley I’ll be more than happy to vote, campaign, and volunteer for them. Berkeley needs some Fiscal Responsibility candidates who can discuss the issues without going off the deep end, and who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and compile evidence of the misdeeds or ineffectiveness of the incumbent politicians they’re running against.

  12. Regarding the effectiveness of our police services, in our case, we once witnessed a neighbor’s house being burglarized and called the police who did show up fairly quickly (5 min.?), just as the “perp” was fleeing the property. Not only was the perp not charged, he was not even arrested on the spot since he was not actually found on the neighbor’s property (he was collared about 20 feet off while running away). He did have in his possession what appeared to be various items of stolen property, but since the neighbor wasn’t home (at work) to i.d. the property as stolen, they could not hold the suspect even then. The police officer did interview a family member who witnessed the break in, but that was not enough and we were told that there almost certainly would be no follow up arrest in this case. Later that afternoon, I happened to come across the same police officer, presumably on break, enjoying a scone in front of the Cheese Board while shooting the bull with some other officers on the public dime.

    Unfortunately, since the public sector is something of a sacred cow in our local religion/ideology, it’s highly unlikely that any political will could be mustered to confront these problems squarely. As the well runs dry and the unsustainable promises, pension obligations and bloated/absurd salaries mount inexorably, the only option will be to go back to the local tax payers for more and more piecemeal bonds and special assessments, to raise fees and fines whenever possible and to nickel and dime the citizenry to death. Since each new bond measure or tax increase is marketed as a fairly small financial imposition by itself (“for the cost of one burrito per month, you can keep our city service running,,,”), a gullible public will fall for this rhetoric without questioning the base salaries and benefits which is where the vast majority of local tax dollars is squandered.

    As several others have noted, in a state with 12.5% unemployment, a city could offer most of these $100,000 + jobs for half (or in some cases even a third or a quarter) of the current salary structure and there would be literally hundreds if not thousands of well-qualified applicants lining up to get these generally cush public sector jobs, even at a lower pay scale.

    But no amount of carping on Berkeleyside or any other forum will actually make one whit of difference until the ruling junta in Berkeley is tossed out en masse and replaced by a new breed of local politician who actually represents the interests of his or her constituents and not the dictates of the city employees and their union, the vast majority of whom, by the way, do not reside in Berkeley or pay its local taxes.

  13. re: The city’s talent for union negotiations:

    When my elderly neighbor fell in his bathroom his wife called 911, clearly stating it was a medical emergency. Shortly a fire engine arrived. It was long enough to require the “driver at the back” cab. Five firemen ascended the hillside staircase, one stayed with the truck. Fifteen minutes later two EMT’s showed up in another very much smaller truck. The EMT’s (one male, one female) carried my frail neighbor down to the street unassisted, and sped away. The six fireman eventually left in the big fire truck a half an hour later.

    Why don’t two EMT’s in ambulances respond to medical emergencies instead of big fire trucks with crews of six? Particularly when their were 263 calls for fire and 8,256 for emergency medical attention in 2009 (see: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=4280)

  14. I, too, was really annoyed that fire and police cuts were not on the table in Wisconsin. I don’t get why they are spared from “cuts across the board”. No one’s denying that they’re doing an important job, but so do the rest of the folks taking cuts… Yeah, they’re “our heroes”, but so are the teachers.
    Anyway, I don’t mean to point fingers and demonize any one group esp. since the issue of unsustainable benefits runs across the board. In general all gov’t workers get pensions while making very little contributions towards said pensions. We should ask for realistic and sustainable contributions on their part (or otherwise provide them the option to opt out of pension programs and go to an IRA or whatever other investment they consider suitable to their situation). As it stands, pensions are simply unsustainable and taxpayers should not be forced to bail out a City’s pension obligations through property taxes – while having to pass Mello-Roos taxes to fix sewers, pave streets, pay for schools, etc.

  15. Unfortunately Lura’s story echoes my own involvements with the BPD.

    Unless they manage to catch a perpetrator in the act of the crime, they simply do not care and have no interest in doing any actual detective work to try to find criminals responsible for assaults, robberies, property theft, etc.

  16. “he told me I should just that being jumped”

    one word was dropped inadvertently, should read just “accept” that being jumped

  17. Thank you George.

    In 2000 one of my sons was the victim of a violent crime, this was my introduction into the
    “Berkeley Way”. While the responding cops at the time did the best they could because of the blotched job by dispatch, dispatch scolded me for calling twice and then hung up while I tried to tell the information about which block the assailants were running towards. But worst when after two weeks time they finally invited me to meet with the lead detective (who happens to be one of those top paid Sgts over $200,000) he told me I should just that being jumped is a normal part of growing up. My son was stomped in the head repeatedly. I was stunned, and after suppressing my tears, I found my voice and openly disagreed. I still disagree, and while plenty of Berkeley cops do a could job, plenty do not. Ask the charging DA how many cops send in cases, it is the same cops. The rest are sliding by.

  18. Bravo!

    In 1964 Mario Savio jumped on top of a police car and catapulted Berkeley to international fame as a center revolutionary thought and action. Berkeley’s City Council, which enjoys parading around in this mantle might deserve it, if they jumped on top of the police and fire dept. budgets with equal fervor.

  19. [FWIW: i’m a government employee (elsewhere), and a union member, and a lifetime berkeley resident]

    — I’m surprised that voters & reporters resist tackling the extraordinary discrepancy between fire/police and everyone else. (Talk about political timidity — they weren’t even on the table in Wisconsin!) But look at ALL the data being discussed here: there is a stunningly clear portrait that police and fire and treated radically differently from everyone else. Are they, in fact, untouchable? I know the BPD well, and I can tell you applicants would LINE up to work there at a fraction of these wages — it is one of the most cushy urban assignments around. Well funded, lots of resources, plenty of staffing, and way more property crime than violent crime.

    — No one has mentioned the retirement TERMS for police and fire, which are (again) completely different. I believe Berkeley has had the “3 at 50” package in place for awhile: at age 50, officers can retire and receive 3% of their “final salary” for every year they’ve worked, plus nifty health benefits. So…25 years of work = 75% of salary for life. “Final salary” is then boosted via many (legal) games: police & fire are allowed to roll over vacation and sick time, then sell it all back in the final years, producing a “final salary” grossly higher than the base salary. And don’t forget the overtime games. I also understand (someone correct me if i’m wrong) that the health benefit is provided for officer AND significant other (even if none) in the form of cash, whether or not needed. True?

    As a result, our police & fire can often spend more years in retirement than on the actual force (think about it: 50 + 25 is only 75 years old), earning waaay more money than they ever did while working. And many of them will turn right around at 51 and go back to work for a neighboring agency like the Sheriff or UCB, allowing them to double- or even triple- dip.

    — As many have noted, unions and collective bargaining don’t CAUSE these packages. They are negotiated — but the negotiators on the city side are compromised. Neither voters nor councilmembers hold them accountable. And hell hath no electoral fury like the Holy Firefighters Union deciding to throw their weight against a candidate.

    — Size, size, size. We must compare apples to apples. Of COURSE fewer police/firefighters in Berkeley are in the top 500 compared to Oakland. There are fewer of them! (The whole police department is in the low 200s, isn’t it? In Oakland it’s in the 800s!)

    — Many of the overpaid managers are not unionized at all. Responsibility for their pay and productivity rests 100% with the City Council and City Manager.

    — Compensation would be much less of an issue if citizens felt that city services were actually being managed well. But…see every other Berkeleyside article about planning, permitting, business development, etc. It would also be less of an issue if the Council didn’t repeatedly demonstrate a preference for spending & taxing over managing for efficiency. See the recent stories about the Ecology Center, as just the most recent example…

  20. @Sharkey, what needs to be changed? You’d rather not see the buck stop with City Council? What alternative do you have in mind?

  21. @Sharky: I wrote “The elected officials ultimately control who gets hired to what positions and, while they do have to cooperate with unions, they are the ones who ultimate ratify the deals for the City.” and you asked:

    I was under the impression that these City Government positions were open positions that anyone could apply to. I often see the listings of the open positions on the City of Berkeley website.

    Really and for true.

    Looking at the “top 10” salaries above, note that each either required Council’s approval to be hired, or a direct report to someone (also in the top 10) who Council hired.

    As to any lower level positions where hiring may be governed solely by union contracts, Council had to sign those contracts. (Lower level positions with fully discretionary hiring ultimately would flow back up to the City Manager, hence to Council.)

  22. From the City Auditor’s report (PDF). Here are average annual mid-range
    salaries and average annual compensation (salary plus benefits)
    :
    Police Officer
    Salary: $105,941
    Benefits: $64,243 (60.64% of salary)
    Total Compensation = $170,184

    Workers’ Comp: $8,963 (8.46% of salary)
    Total Labor Cost = $179,14

    Firefighter/Transport Paramedic
    Salary: $100,849
    Benefits: $49,144 (48.73% of salary)
    Total Compensation = $149,993
    —-
    Workers’ Comp: $8,754 (8.68% of salary)
    Total Labor Cost = $158,747

    But don’t worry, we can form a Mello-Roos tax district for anything that no longer “fits” in the General Fund after paying these compensation rates.

  23. Jeff Adachi is an inspiration. I would gladly vote for any candidates here in Berkeley that espoused similar views.

  24. FYI

    In the 2009 calendar year, the City of Berkeley had 477 employees with total pay over $100,000. Find out who they were, what departments they worked for and how much they made by searching the database below.

    To perform a search, you can leave the fields blank or on “select” if you want broad results. For more narrow results, you can enter a person’s name or select from the drop-down menus.

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/04/28/BerkeleyPay2009.DTL#ixzz1GtAVI1AS

    p.s. We often read that to question the bloated salaries and perks enjoyed by city or state employees is an “attack on the middle class.” I would suggest, rather, that these bloated salaries which put many city workers into the top tax brackets are more of a war ON middle class citizens who stuggle to pay the tax base which funds the gravy train…

  25. all at the cost of reduced funding to other programs including education, social services, parks, etc…
    And don’t forget the pools. They start with the pools. You have to appreciate SF public defender Jeff Adachi. He can do the math and knows his department will not be able to serve his clients adequately if the status quo continues.

  26. Well said, Lifelongberkeleyan.
    I loathe the American right-wing, and pay attention to them only so that I can mock their stupidity.

    The desire to see fiscally responsible Government is not a quality solely possessed by Republicans.

  27. @ Chuck Stones — Why can’t someone be outraged BOTH by the disgusting excess of Wall Street and the waste of public money on overpaying administrators?

    In all these cases, the question people are asking is simply if we really NEED to spend that much money to attract employees. If someone competent would be willing to do the same job for less, why are we paying so much?

    Non-governmental employees are expected to make ends meet without pensions. Why shouldn’t government employees be able to do the same? And if pensions are really that important, why aren’t government employees out there working hard to fight to get pensions for the non-government employees whose taxes are paying their salaries?

  28. “…It has become very easy to rage against the public sector employees…”

    – This is true, for a lot of good reasons.

    “…ever since the Right has begun diverting attention..:

    – The right has never had my attention, let alone diverted it.

    “…from the real criminals in this corrupt economic system.”

    – Translation: Go waste your time tilting at windmills and leave us alone.

  29. @Sharkey: My understanding is that although the jobs are posted, they almost always go to people already employed by the City of Berkeley.

  30. Actually, this whole story should be under the crime section…because these salaries are criminal…

  31. Its funny to watch Berkeley awake to the nightmare its created, and that most have known about for decades….Do any of you get 100% of your health care paid? Have a pension? I always think the lefts blind support of public employee unions, by people who pay those costs but do not get the benefits, is as blind as the rights blind support for its own policies…

  32. It has become very easy to rage against the public sector employees, ever since the Right has begun diverting attention from the real criminals in this corrupt economic system. Ask yourself why are Republicans/Tea Partyers so rabidly pursuing unions, and actively maligning collectively bargaining? They don’t want us to go after the truly rich fat cats on Wall Street. Does it seem fair to begrudge a police officer who works 80 hours a week (the only way you could earn that much as a officer or sergeant is working ALOT of overtime) his salary of $200,000, when he actually worked to earn it? That guy was on the street protecting YOUR house, YOUR car, YOUR family. How much work did you get out of the Wells Fargo CEO who made $10 million last year? It’s a shame that the debate has shifted away from the people that destroyed the economy in the first place, and who are clearly trying to destroy the middle class. People that work for a living should not be begrudged their salaries. They are middle class. Ask yourself how much would you need to get paid to run towards the crazy guy with the gun in his hand shooting people? If you want meat heads as cops pay them $50,000 a year. If you want educated, intelligent people with compassion, common sense, AND bravery pay them $100,000 a year ($200,000 when you include benefits).

  33. “…The elected officials ultimately control who gets hired to what positions and, while they do have to cooperate with unions, they are the ones who ultimate ratify the deals for the City.”

    “Cooperate”?! Entrenched supporters of the status quo work tirelessly to elect entrenched incumbents supporting the status quo. Which explains why the public employee legislative action groups from outside Berkeley contribute to our city council candidates.

  34. For all the evils of giant box stores, like Walmart, it’s worthwhile to point out that the extremely low wages Walmart pays its staff have not prevented it in any way from being extremely effective at carrying out its charter and the interests of its shareholders. In fact, those low salaries are what made it THAT efficient.

    Granted there are major troubles with Walmart that we certainly do not want to imitate but surely the comparison begs the question as to whether we should be attracting the so-called “top talent” who is likely to want to line their pockets at the price of better services to the public they’re entrusted to serve.

  35. “The elected officials ultimately control who gets hired to what positions…”

    Really?
    I was under the impression that these City Government positions were open positions that anyone could apply to. I often see the listings of the open positions on the City of Berkeley website.

    What elected officials are making the final decisions on who to hire to City Management positions?

  36. The current data seems to suggest that the management of this city is a near-complete disaster. It’s a wonderful place to live in spite, not because, of the management by the government. We have no viable local economy, and our rates of commercial real estate vacancy are obviously stunningly high — so why the heck are we paying these guys these salaries?

    Isn’t the real problem, therefore, political (who gets elected) rather than budgetary? The elected officials ultimately control who gets hired to what positions and, while they do have to cooperate with unions, they are the ones who ultimate ratify the deals for the City.

  37. @Alina – Interesting points, but that begs the question of whether we need top graduates running our city or whether we can do just fine or even far better with lower-paid staff and more staff overall as a result of lower per-person costs.

    The current data seems to suggest that the management of this city is a near-complete disaster. It’s a wonderful place to live in spite, not because, of the management by the government. We have no viable local economy, and our rates of commercial real estate vacancy are obviously stunningly high — so why the heck are we paying these guys these salaries?

    It’s worth asking the kind of people we want to attract — those truly committed to making this city great, or those truly committed to lining their own pockets. Seems we got a ton of the second kind right now.

  38. @ Alina — Good points. It’s the combination of the ridiculously high pay PLUS ridiculously grand pension benefits for bureaucrats that really gets my goat.

    They say that they have to pay these guys a lot to keep them from fleeing to the private sector, and then on top of that they shower them with these golden parachute pension plans that let them retire at 70%-100% of their highest salary! Ridiculous!

    One of my relatives was a high-level accountant for the State who retired recently, and now that he’s no longer working his annual distribution from his pension is higher than his annual salary was 95% of the time that he was working! How is it sensible or sustainable for the City of Berkeley or State of California to be paying such high wages to people who aren’t even working?!?

  39. This salary is comprable with the city of Chicago! I do think it is a wee bit high when you think of Chicago v. Berkeley! I am new to this town but this is a lot of moola! No -I do not think unions should be upturned and all city employees must retain their right to collective bargaining.

  40. @Vladislav In terms of paying public employees the median salary of their citizens, I think that’s nice in theory, but hard to do. If the industry salary for an engineer is 75K, or 120K for an attorney, or whatever the going rates are for various professions, then that’s how much the City needs to offer, too. Otherwise all the good professionals will go to work in the private industry and City Hall will end up hiring from the bottom of the graduating class.

    On the other hand, I do agree that the City should also have the right to fire inefficient workers, to downsize their work force in hard times, to ask employees to fairly contribute to their retirement, and perhaps to even offer bonuses and other incentives when justified (just like a private company would to reward efficient workers).

    The pension issue is a biggie. It’s a completely unsustainable model – mostly asking for 2 to 3% contribution, but guaranteeing that you will retire with upwards of 70% of current pay? How? On very rosy predictions of the stock market? That’s crazy! Totally unsustainable! Nothing should be guaranteeeed. Retirement benefits are a nice idea, but not if they bankrupt local/state government. Contracts should have a clause that if the market performs you get X amount at retirement, if it doesn’t but you still want X amount, then your contribution will automatically increase to make up the difference or you can opt out all together and find a better place for your money.

  41. I think one of the clearest things is that there is something wrong with the way salary scales are set and in the end how retirement benefits are calculated. I would like to see what the median salary is for the various employee job categories or departments. I don’t begrudge anyone a middle class salary with benefits however there needs to be more equity within departments and job categories. I doubt that teachers in the school district has such a wide range of salaries.

  42. @Bruce Love – that’s an interesting perspective. Perhaps we need to target the excesses themselves, very specifically. Thanks for sharing that.

  43. Careful what you wish for. Collective bargaining rights as a legal concept weren’t created because workers hoped for the right to strike and wrote nice letters to their representatives asking for a new law. They were created because unions don’t need permission. Dissatisfied workers formed activist unions and through actions like strikes and fighting back against union busting thugs, made collective bargaining laws desirable to all as public policy. If they can’t strike lawfully, workers strike unlawfully. Which they probably should given the political implications of wealth distribution in this country.

    Some may say that union membership has declined and that was then and this is now and that kind of thing won’t happen any more. I’m not sure that the teachers, the police, the prison guards, the transit workers, sanitation workers, clerical workers and so forth are likely to share that theory. Nor that their friends and family will. Governments negotiating with unions (because they had to) pre-dates the legal institution of collective bargaining rights.

    Heh. Here, this guy is pretty old school:

    http://tv.gawker.com/#!5781998/watch-a-wisconsin-farmers-inspiring-speech

    If the workers are prevented from organizing, who is left to dominate politics but small bunch of kleptocrats?

  44. @kim – Recent studies show that you need to pay $65,000 to attract top-tier teachers. There was a great article recently by Nicholas Kristoff in the NY Times about how we should pay teachers more.

    There may well be other positions where we want to make exceptions above median income (currently $58,000 I believe in berkeley) but those exceptions still shouldn’t result in anyone being paid 4x what the median employee makes. That pay could be easily set up as “hazard pay” or something similar for police officers (still FAR less than $200k!). Regardless, most bureaucrats shouldn’t be paid more than median wage without REALLY REALLY good reason.

    What we see here is pretty clear-cut corruption where the very same union workers are setting salaries for other union workers. It’s unsustainable and needs to end.

  45. I don’t agree with the notion that employee salary should be no more than the median salary of the constituents. I think we need to take into account how much is needed to incentivize the quality of employee needed to do the job at the level we want done. Isn’t this the way the private sector does it?

    Is $371k necessary to get a quality employee? It seems very unlikely. But I’d like to see our teachers paid more, regardless of what the median constituent salary is. I’ve had too many dedicated friends leave the field of public teaching because they couldn’t make ends meet once they started a family.

    And I’ve worked with civil servants who worked 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, and emailed me from their hospital beds in order to get the job done.

    Yes, costs should be controlled, but it should be done in a way that balances economic efficiency with productivity and reaching our public policy goals.

  46. I’m starting to think that public employees (as in city, county, state — salary paid by taxes) perhaps should not be able to bargain for their wages (and pensions and other benefits.)
    I also feel strongly that our legislators should be taking as large a decrease (at least) as the decreases they are implementing for others.

  47. @Alina – we absolutely must ban the notion of collective bargaining in government, and it’s pretty clear that it will be happening across the nation. We cannot have effective government without city employees knowing that they can be fired if they fail to perform their jobs to the satisfaction of their customers. No more crazy salaries, no more perks, no more lifetime job security. We deserve better than that — and we can truly create efficient, effective governments across the board.

    We can all agree that certain positions should be compensated higher — teachers for sure (numerous studies show that higher compensation for teachers attracts better teachers and increases performance far more than smaller class sizes). But really, do we need to pay $200k to department heads of our city? Can’t we get the same services at 1/4th the cost — probably delivered better than the incompetence we’re getting now?

  48. As usual, misleading information gets reported. The reality is even worse than it appears. Total compensation for these positions needs to be calculated and shown. When public contributions for medical insurance and retirement (plus other hidden goodies) are considered, you can add roughly about 50% to the “total wages” shown. So if people are outraged about the forgoing numbers, they should be ballistic about the true total outlays for these positions.

  49. I picked Richmond and Oakland as comparisons, but if you look at the data, the picture is pretty much the same for all larger cities (more than 80,000) in terms of total wages.

    Let’s just take city manager positions (Berkeley’s population in 2009 is listed as 107,178 and, as seen above, the city manager had wages of $245,324)): Daly City (pop. 107,099), $281,730; Antioch (pop. 100,957), $221,243; San Mateo (pop. 96,557), $242,808. Even if you go a notch lower, you have Palo Alto (pop. 64,484), $260,614.

    The picture is pretty much the same in other positions.

    I agree with the commenters that suggest other ways of slicing the data. We’ll have a go at that.

  50. I am torn on this issue… I don’t know that ‘our finances’ will be fixed if we slash local/state gov’t workers/salaries/benefits, but I would welcome some level of change. Seems wrong that the starting teacher salary at Berkeley Unified is $45,714 (middle and highschool, with clear credential, as posted on the BFT website) – same as a city janitor ($46,477 as reported in the link from the state controller).
    But I don’t think that extreme positions (like strikes on one hand, or banning collective bargaining on the other) are helping anything. I am tired of all the shouting.

  51. The City of Oakland is at least 4 times larger than the City of Berkeley. They are in no way comparable except that that they are next door to each other.

  52. I’m extremely torn on this issue.

    Teachers, as a rule, are not paid anywhere near as much as they ought to be.
    But administrators, as a rule, are paid far more than they are worth.

    What can we do to swat down the salaries of these overpaid administrators while improving the lives of the rank-and-file workers like teachers?

  53. I am a true-blue democrat on most issues including health care, environmental and consumer protection, foreign policy and taxation. However, Governor Walker is 100% correct in the actions he is taking against the corrupt public employee labor unions in Wisconsin. It is not right that Berkeley has some of the highest taxes in the state, and while teachers are getting pink slips and class sizes going up, we pay city workers six figure wages along with lifetime pensions and 100% health coverage. Public servants should be paid fairly, but Berkeleyside is wrong to justify our employee compensation programs by saying that Richmond and Oakland do it to.

  54. Peter has a great point. It’s more illuminating to compare total administrative costs per capita or per total city budget. Can anyone take a stab at this?

  55. So would the city of Berkeley be crazy to go Wisconson in order to reduce these bloated salaries? Or will the citizens of Berkeley go to the mat to defend the public employee unions who’s collective bargaining power has directly resulted in such bloated salaries and pensions, that now the citizens of Berkeley have to pay, for decades, all at the cost of reduced funding to other programs including education, social services, parks, etc…

  56. Vladislav Davidzon says: “No city employee should be paid more than the median income of the people they serve, under any circumstances.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  57. WHen Kamlarz’ salary was up for review a couple of years ago, the Council said that Berkeley was comparable to Oakland (population 400,000) and San Jose (population 900,000). They used that to justify giving him a salary of $300,000+.Oakland is NOT Berkeley. Richmond has a population of about 100,000, close to Berkeley’s.

    So now let’s see total city payroll for comparable cities. Number of staff, total pay + benefits, number of employees by department, etc.

    PS, did you know Kamlarz lives in Rockridge? Do you think he give a sh!t about Berkeley? He’s just pumping up his retirement plan, and I guarantee you THAT’S a ton of money, too.

  58. This is appalling. I imagine there is also a fat retirement benefit to go along with those inflated salaries? Most people have salaries less than half that size and no retirement benefits. It only indicates how wide-spread the abuse of public money is. Just because Richmond and Oakland overpay their public employees doesn’t mean Berkeley should too. When will the corruption end?

  59. Yup, this is what ugly corruption looks like. They’re asking the wrong questions to protect their comfortable salaries.

    Why precisely should we compete with nearby towns? Is the controller seriously telling us that it’s not a good idea to replace each of those those $210,000 police sergeants with four $50,000 ones? Is he truly wanting us to believe that we cannot find good people who would be willing to do the job just as well for $50,000 given the economy — and that four times more police officers on the streets wouldn’t be better for the city?

    No city employee should be paid more than the median income of the people they serve, under any circumstances. If they want to see higher wages, they need to focus their work in ways that creates wealth for the people they serve — and until we tie compensation directly to performance, we are going to see no results.