By JORDAN GRAHAM AND JESSICA KWONG
SANTA ANA – Orange County’s public city employees earned $144,817 on average last year, amounting to a 3 percent raise from the year prior, according to data released Tuesday by an open-records advocacy group.
The records, which include public data for all but two of the county’s 34 cities, revealed that much of that pay often comes from total compensation packages, not base pay, with 41 percent of average total annual pay coming from benefits, overtime and other payments.
Tuesday’s report was released by the conservative-leaning group Transparent California.
At $453,092, Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos’ compensation package was the highest of any city worker in the county and the sixth-highest among city managers in the state, according to the data. His $341,710 base salary is top among all city managers in the state.
The average total pay for a city manager in Orange County was $279,000 last year.
Cavazos received a 5 percent, $17,000 bonus from Santa Ana in January amid reports he was being investigated for having a relationship with a subordinate city employee. The following month, the City Council extended Cavazos’ contract until February 2019 instead of October 2017.
The city manager said he hasn’t been able to analyze the report, “but obviously I am very grateful for the wages and benefits that I have.”
“I’m glad that I’m so important,” he joked, adding that his base salary is “pretty much equivalent” to what he earned as Phoenix city manager prior to being hired by Santa Ana.
Cavazos also said his lifetime pension from Phoenix is the second-highest retirement benefit in the Arizona city’s history. But he said his ex-wife gets 45 percent while he gets 55 percent – his portion being $125,000 annually
Though overtime pay dropped 5 percent countywide from 2014, the report notes several city employees who earned more than double their base salary by working large amounts of overtime in 2015.
In Anaheim, firefighter Daniel Lambert earned $156,693 in overtime on top of his $102,065 salary, and fire engineer Brian Pollema made $156,191 from overtime in addition to his $113,218 salary. In all, 18 Anaheim city employees earned more than $100,000 in overtime last year.
Robert Fellner, Transparent California’s research director, said such high overtime was dangerous for public safety workers.
Sgt. Daron Wyatt, spokesman for Anaheim police and fire departments, questioned Fellner’s knowledge of fire department operations, pointing out that firefighter shifts are 24 hours long but typically include time to rest and that the city doesn’t allow firefights to work more than five straight shifts. He said “high fire seasons” and minimum staffing requirements provide many opportunities to work overtime and that some firefighters volunteer more than others.
“We are not going to put someone in a position that is dangerous to them or endanger the public’s lives,” Wyatt said.
Santa Ana’s 27 percent increase in overtime payments last year was the highest of any Orange County city, according to the report.
Among all city employees, Costa Mesa workers had the highest average salary, earning $165,388 in total compensation. Newport Beach employees were second with $165,025 on average, followed by Huntington Beach workers, who earned $162,713 on average.
Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero called Fellner’s analysis an “apples-to-oranges comparison,” because Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa all have their own police and fire departments, while many other Orange County cities contract out for those services.
Police officers and firefighters tend to have higher benefit packages than other employees and to work more overtime.
Transparent California also released reports Tuesday on employee compensation in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, though the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego were not included in those reports.
In Los Angeles County, public city employees earned $131,600 on average last year. In San Diego County, they made $122,614.
Among Orange County cities, employee payment records for Placentia and Laguna Beach were not available on Transparent California’s website.
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