Benchmarking City Manager wages between cities is a flawed concept

Many years ago members of an electronics association where I served on the Board engaged in the practice of worldwide industry “benchmarking.” Our objective was to look at various industries around the globe as well as our competition to find effective tools to improve our process and raise the bar of our performance and bottom line.

From the Internet it reads: “Benchmarking is the process of determining who is the very best, who sets the standard, and what that standard is.”

Today’s Register report of city manager wages in Aliso Viejo is a dangerous example of the downside to taxpayers of comparing one city’s compensation benchmarked with another. In fact two months ago the Register had a similar report that pointed out the total compensation of Laguna Hills City Manager Bruce Channing, the highest in Orange County, at $460,809, that resulted in a debate on the accuracy of the data. They reported his base salary of $233,592. the Register reports an average city manager package at $281,281.

Most South County cities contract out services. As a result the city of Laguna Hills has only 27 full time equivalent employees, known as FTE’s.

I just contacted the city clerk of Aliso Viejo as a follow up to today’s Register and was told that they have 14 FTE’s. However that 10 square mile city of 46,123 residents has just rewarded their city manager raising his salary to around $190,000.

Let’s now look at the governor of CA. with approximately 34-36 million residents living in 164,000 square miles Arnold reportedly has 154 people working directly for him as he governs, or tries to govern this state where his 2007 salary is listed at $206,500. Note: He does not accept any salary.
TX governor Rick Perry has 267 staff members yet his salary is only $150,000.
There are over 25 million people living in the state of Texas.

My point is that it is a cop out for local city council members to benchmark their staff benefit packages with other cities to justify excessive compensation no matter how efficient the city manager. According to the Aliso Viejo City Clerk she told me their city budget is $34 million dollars while our state budget, ultimately under his gubernatorial leadership hovers between $80 billion to over $100 billion dollars.

So if you continue to compare city manager compensation packages let me suggest looking at equal staffing, duties and responsibilities in the private sector. Don’t try to convince us that we are below the top packages in Orange County to make us feel any better about your failure to engage in due diligence as you spend our money.

Bottom line. Sorry Phil (Mayor Tsunada). There is no way anyone can justify that Aliso Viejo City Manager Mark Pulone should earn $190,000 in wages when there are only 14 FTE’s in that small city.

This is not personal. Phil and I have had some productive discussions when I visited with him at Chris Norby’s BOS office.

About Larry Gilbert