Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 15, 2007

Stratospheric pay for city clerk just a symptom of a much larger problem

When it comes to the City Hall salaries brouhaha, I’m having a difficult time wrapping my brain around tying increases to increases in other cities. The best word I’ve heard to describe this practice is incestuous. It’s a system with no external, “real world” checks and balances on the salary increases that taxpayers are forced to cover.

That lack of checks and balances is enhanced when the resulting salary increases end up on City Council’s consent agenda. It’s further enhanced when Craig Gartman, the one council member with enough guts and sense of duty to ask uncomfortable questions, is criticized for asking them.

It’s raised to Karl Rove-ian levels when the stunning increases – from $107,876 to $122,856, or nearly 14 percent for current City Clerk Rhonda Pellin – are presented to City Council members before in-depth news of city financial difficulties is presented.

That, in my opinion, is why Gilroyans are paying an astonishing $92,148 to $122,856 per year for a city clerk.

This column is not meant to address whether Pellin or Shawna Serna, currently a City Hall office clerk who will become city clerk in July after Pellin retires, are good at their jobs.

Rather, the point is to evaluate the salary paid for one Gilroy City Hall position – city clerk – with external checks and balances to see if it’s reasonable in the real world.

One external check and balance I’m using is to compare the Gilroy city clerk salary to the salary offered for a similar position outside the world of municipal government, sometimes referred to by taxpayers as the real world.

According to Serdar Tumgoren’s recent story, a city clerk’s duties include assisting citizens with passport applications, keeping minutes for city council meetings, managing requests for public records, coordinating elections and training candidates.

As far as I can tell, the city clerk’s position is very similar to that of an executive assistant. The city clerk supports the public sector equivalent of a private sector board of directors – City Council – and CEO – the city administrator.

Of course, city clerks need specialized knowledge to work in municipalities that private sector executive assistants don’t need. But private sector executive assistants need different specialized knowledge for their industries that city clerks don’t need. I suspect it all evens out in the wash.

According PayScale, which specializes in “providing reliable and accurate compensation data for both employees and employers,” an executive assistant in the San Francisco Bay Area earns a median annual salary of $55,139.

Gilroyans pay between $52,737 to $67,717 more each year to their city clerk than a typical company pays in the Bay Area for an executive assistant.

That’s stunning: Gilroyans pay double the salary offered to real world executive assistants.

But the reality check got even starker when I reviewed median salaries for other jobs.

The minimum Gilroy city clerk salary ($92,148) is more than the median salary earned by mechanical engineers ($71,179), software engineers ($82,207) and biotechnology research scientists ($84,212) in the Bay Area, according to PayScale.

The median Gilroy city clerk salary ($115,366) is more than the median salary for earned by IT project managers ($93,235) or attorneys in the San Francisco Bay Area ($100,253).

Of the seven jobs on PayScale’s chart of Bay Area median salaries, not one had a higher median salary than Gilroy city clerk’s median salary.

Median Salary by Job – People in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States (United States)
Median Salary by Job - People in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States (United States)

Compare your salary: Get a free Salary Report

Consider the fat benefit packages that government employees enjoy – especially retirement packages, which are nearly extinct in the private sector – and the difference takes my breath away.

Here’s a comparison to another government job right here in Gilroy: public school teacher. According to a February 2007 Dispatch article, the Gilroy Teachers Association and the Gilroy Unified School District negotiated 6.425-percent raises that bring annual salaries to “$42,588 for teacher with a bachelor’s degree and … to $79,701 for a 25-year veteran with 75 credit units.”

Should a starting city clerk earn more than double the salary of a public school teacher? Should a starting city clerk earn more than 15 percent more than a teacher with 25 years of experience?

I have time and space in this column to evaluate one City Hall job with real world checks and balances. I’ll bet similar results would be found for most City Hall positions.

Gilroyans: Is this a wise way for elected officials to spend your scarce tax dollars? It’s a key question for the upcoming City Council election.

NOTE: The PayScale chart embedded in this blog entry updates dynamically. I have a PDF of the chart as it appeared when I wrote this column. Contact me and I’ll email a copy of it to you.

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  1. […] I frequently highlight problems with the pay and benefits that taxpayers provide to public employees, people have jumped to the […]


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