Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We Really Don't Do It For The Money

In the wake of the City of Bell compensation scandal, I suggested that the best way for public officials to be accountable to the voters on compensation is simply to reveal everything in public. I began my professional life as a journalist and I know that “sunshine” is often the best remedy for back-room deals.

Many others, including Gov. Schwarzenegger and the League of California Cities, have reached the same conclusion. And so has our city. I’m proud to say that Ventura has now posted an entire package of material about our own city compensation online. Much of this information was already public – we approve our salary schedules, our union contracts, and our contracts with the city manager and city attorney in public session – but it wasn’t readily available. Now it is. So please take a look if you’d like. As I say, sunshine is often the best medicine.

Given the controversy in Bell – where City Councilmembers made upwards of $100,000 per year by serving on various commissions that did nothing – many people have been asking how much we on the City Council make. The answer is simple: As mayor, I bring home about $12,000 per year, all in. That’s down about $2,400 from the last fiscal year. And that’s a lot less than what our colleagues in the other large Ventura County cities (Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Oxnard, and Camarillo) make. It’s a little hard to compare apples-to-apples, but all of them seem to make somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 per year.

Here’s how it breaks down:

-- The Mayor makes $700 a month, or $8,400 per year. This is established in the City Charter and it has been the same for about 40 years. (Councilmembers make $600.) These amounts can’t be changed without a vote to change the charter.

-- All councilmembers also get a $100 per month local travel allowance. This used to be $300 for the mayor and $200 for councilmembers, but we cut it back to $100 starting on July 1 to help meet the City Council’s budget reduction goal of 10%.

-- I am on two boards for which I receive a stipend. Both have to do with transportation – the Ventura County Transportation Commission and Gold Coast Transit. For each, I receive $100 per meeting and there are 10-11 meetings per year of each, so that’s another $2,000-$2,200 per year.

I’m also on the county Library Services Commission, but there’s no stipend associated with that (just a lot of headache!). And although some cities compensate their councilmembers additionally for serving as Redevelopment Agency commissioners and so forth, we get no additional compensation for things like that.

So that’s about $12,000. As for travel beyond the $100 per month for local travel, the council’s overall travel budget for travel outside of Ventura County is $17,500, which is about half of what it was three years ago. Each councilmember gets $2,750 and can choose their travel, though they can trade back and forth if they want.

Councilmembers also participate in either Social Security or the California Public Employment Retirement System, whichever they choose. In either case, the city’s share of the contribution is a pittance. And we are permitted to participate in the city’s health insurance program, but we must pay 100% of the cost. I choose to participate in the dental and vision insurance programs at my own expense, but I get medical insurance through my day job.

We recently checked around with the other cities in the County to see how we stack up. We were actually a little surprised to discover how poorly we are compensated compared to our peers.

In most larger cities in Ventura County, the Mayor and City Councilmembers get paid between $1,000 and $1,750 per month -- essentially, double to triple what we get. In almost all these cities, they also get additional compensation – things like city-paid medical insurance that they can cash out or flexible spending accounts, bigger travel allowances, and sometimes even contributions to a 457 retirement program (the public-sector equivalent of a 401k) or a deferred compensation program. As I mentioned above, as near as I can figure it’s between $20,000 and $30,000 per year, compared to $10,000 to $12,000 per year for us in Ventura.

I won’t lie: I certainly wish we made more money. In addition to being mayor, I hold down a full-time job (which, fortunately, I also love). I think fair compensation for a councilmembers would be somewhere around $40,000 a year, which is about what our colleagues in Santa Barbara make.

But I’m not complaining. I knew what the pay was when I signed up for this job and I have certainly never asked for or expected more than that. I don’t know about Bell, but here in Ventura the mayor and the city council clearly don’t do it for the money.


  1. Grateful for this explanation. Grateful for your service.

  2. If it makes you feel better, as a City Council member in Owosso, Michigan I am compensated $10 per meeting; the Mayor gets an additional $240 per year. As our Mayor notes, he uses all his pay (and then some!) to participate in the many community events and fundraisers to which he is invited. As an elected official we all want to buy the raffle ticket, show up at the annual pancake breakfast, be a sponsor and do all the other things to visibly support the community organizations that make our City better. Being compensated appropriately allows us to do so.

  3. Sunshine is good...particularly this year. Thank you for being forthright with the facts. I am sure it was surprising to many, including myself that our Council members and Mayor are compensated so little for such important leadership. I'm frankly impressed that you can hold another full-time job and also be involved in everything Ventura. You have my respect and thanks for your service to our community, particularly during such a challenging and fast-changing period for Ventura.


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