Laguna Hills City Manager compensation highest in county

DATE: May 17, 2010


CONTACT: Barbara Kogerman (949) 855-9889, (949) 422-6203 (cell),

What were they thinking?  Laguna Hills City Manager compensation highest in county

Laguna Hills, Orange County’s seventh-smallest city, compensates its City Manager more than any other city in the entire county, topping his nearest “competitor” by $105,000, according to a study commissioned by City Council candidate and Laguna Hills Term Limits Initiative Chair Barbara Kogerman.

“The Laguna Hills City Council voted in 2009 to compensate City Manager Bruce Channing a whopping $460,809 in salary and benefits, including a $60,000 4-wheel-drive Toyota Sequoia they purchased for his ‘personal use.’ This is a stunning extravagance in any economic environment, but a particularly outrageous expenditure of taxpayer assets in the current economic crisis,” Kogerman says.

Channing is compensated over $233,000 in salary and another $170,000-or-so in benefits—including $60,630 to his various pension plans, an apparently annual 10% “performance bonus,” and a “Cadillac” medical insurance plan costing over $20,000 in premiums. And that’s in the years when they don’t buy him a car.

The “Orange County, California, City Managers Compensation Report,” by Brandman University (a part of the Chapman University system) Public Administration graduate students Cynthia Smith and Janice Voshall, reveals that Laguna Hills funds a city manager compensation package that is totally inconsistent with those of the remaining 33 county cities. All figures have been supplied by the cities themselves.

Here are some interesting comparisons.

With a City Manager compensation package totaling $460,541, 33,811 residents to serve, and only 27 full-time employees to supervise, the Laguna Hills City Council apparently thinks it should compensate its manager $13.63 to manage the needs of each resident and $17,067 to supervise each full-time employee, including himself.

On the other hand, Anaheim, with a population of 348,467, compensates its City Manager $317,923. He manages 1,987 full-time employees. The cost of his management services averages about 91 cents per resident and $160 per full-time employee. These figures are in line with other large cities in the county, and they mean that Laguna Hills pays its top manager 15 times as much per resident and 107 times as much per employee versus great-big Anaheim.

On the smaller side, San Juan Capistrano is closest to Laguna Hills in population, with 36,782 residents. Their staff numbers 92 full-time employees. At $204,300 total compensation, their City Manager costs $5.55 per citizen and $2,280 per full-time employee. That means Laguna Hills pays its manager almost 2 ½ times as much per citizen and nearly 8 times as much per employee versus San Juan Capistrano. The average small-city total compensation is $262,196.

“Why does the Laguna Hills City Council think they have to spend so much for management? It surely isn’t for prudent oversight of the city’s economic development: that’s non-existent,” says Kogerman.

If elected, will Kogerman look to replace Channing as City Manager?

“Not at all,” she insists. “It’s not about the City Manager; it’s about the policy makers who decide his compensation—the City Council. But I do intend to insist that top management contracts are renegotiated to make them commensurate with responsibilities. That includes the Assistant City Manager as well, whose total compensation tops $320,600 a year, which is more than what all but four Orange County City Managers make. When you add the Deputy City Manager, Laguna Hills’ top management liability is nearly $1 million a year—to manage 24 other people.

“And I will require that the true costs of employee benefits are clearly presented to our taxpayers.”

Kogerman says other city spending priorities also need to change.

“The Council recently authorized the installation of 52 ‘way-finding’ signs throughout the city at a cost of over $220,000, or more than $4,000 per sign. It’s hard to justify the foolishness of this expenditure in a city with almost no infrastructure changes in decades. Likewise, the Council has spent more than $1 million on elaborate monuments on a one-block stretch of El Toro Road.

“Yet despite these financial excesses, this City Council decided to eliminate two sheriff’s deputies. As a result, our citizens lost our increasingly-needed Special Enforcement Team (SET) undercover operations. Public Safety should be our first priority, not inflated staff salaries and benefits, or fancy monuments,” Kogerman adds.

Also high on Kogerman’s list is increasing the city’s coffers with an economic development and business retention plan. “One of the major problems is the City Council, acting as the city’s ‘Planning Agency,’ over-regulates and nit-picks businesses rather than encouraging them. We need a Planning Commission made up of citizens who understand how to run a business.”

Kogerman advocates unedited broadcasting or streaming City Council meetings. “Citizens are shocked when they find out how our funds are being squandered. Streaming meetings will provide the transparency we need so people can hold their elected officials accountable.

“We should be providing the services, transparency and citizen participation our neighboring cities offer. There is so much more we could afford to do if we concentrated on increasing revenues and eliminating wasteful spending.”

In addition to public safety and economic development concerns, she cites services for Seniors, youth, and humane animal care, as examples of what other cities responsively provide their citizens.

Which brings Kogerman to the topic of term limits.

“The Laguna Hills City Council comprises the same five people elected when the city was incorporated in 1991. Out of the almost 100 cumulative years of City Council service, only 8 of those years have been served by anyone else.”

“Channing has been the City Manager all that time. An important reason for term limits is to replace Council Members who base their spending decisions on long-standing relationships, rather than the needs of citizens,” adds Term Limits Initiative Co-Chair James Vaughn.

Voters registered in Laguna Hills have until May 31 to sign a petition to place a Term Limits measure on the November ballot.

Smith and Voshall have been pouring over data since early February as cities throughout the county have responded to Kogerman’s Public Records Requests that provided the comparison figures for the just-released report. Additional graphics were supplied by Pepperdine MBA student Amy Wilson.

Kogerman can be reached by email at, or on her web site at Go to the “City Hall Watch” page and click on the button next to the report title to view the entire report.

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