By Larry Kinley
This week, the Upland City Council is not only considering making a final selection among a number of applicants to serve our city as city manager, but two of its members are also determining in conjunction with a consultant how much this next city manager is going to be paid in salary, perks, and benefits in addition to the pension he or she is to receive, which in the end is determined by a California Public Employees’ Retirement System formula that takes into account the highest salary paid to that manager throughout his or her career.
Right now is as appropriate of a time as any for me to share my thoughts on the issue of what we are paying our city officials, in particular our city managers. I do not think it is too bold, nor do I think it unreasonable, to state that I do not believe any manager of the 482 cities and incorporated towns in the state should be provided with compensation greater than that which is paid to California’s governor.
Let me explain the reason I feel this way.
The city manager of Upland has nowhere near the span of responsibility as our state’s governor. Upland has a population of 77,754, according to the 2020 Census. California’s population, as counted during the same census, was 39,538,223.
Upland is a wonderful city, and it has many things that recommend it as a great place to live. It has a wonderful hospital, a top-flight school district and a general aviation airport. It is host to the corporate headquarters for Lewis Homes, Cherokee Wood Products and ISDG Security Systems. The San Antonio Water Company and other water companies have joined with the city to provide us with quality water. Upland has some of the nicest residential neighborhoods in San Bernardino County. Euclid Avenue is the city’s showcase. South of Foothill Avenue, it is lined with classic Craftsman-style and Edwardian homes that date from the early part of the 20th Century. North of Foothill, Euclid on its east and west sides is host to increasingly impressive dwellings that evolve into mansions. With its distinctive urban forest median that includes the Madonna of the Trail, Euclid offers a breathtaking vista that terminates at the Foothills below Mount San Antonio. Upland is populated by hardworking and good people.
163,696-square mile-California comprises everything that 15.65-square-mile-Upland does, and much more. California’s geographical size ranking among the 50 states of the Union puts it in third place, exceeded only by Texas and Alaska. It boasts San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento and Redding within its confines. It has 840 miles of coastline, 33.4 million acres of forest and 42 mountains with peaks higher than 10,000 feet. California’s population represents 11.6 percent of that of the United States. Encompassing 58 counties in which there are a total of 3,320,977 businesses, if California were a country it would have the fifth largest economy in the world, behind the United States, China, Japan, and Germany, and ahead of India, Great Britain, France, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Russia, South Korea, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia.
To suggest that the governor of the State of California merits less pay than the city manager of Upland falls outside the scope of rationale thinking. Yet, that is the case. Our governor is provided with a salary, before benefits, of $209,747. Rosemary Hoerning, before she was asked by our city council to leave in March, was being paid $236,900 per year in salary.
This defies common sense. I don’t see how any city can justify paying its city manager more than the State of California is paying its governor, and I challenge any city manager of any city in the state to debate me on that topic.
People should note that the loss to the taxpayers represented by overly generous salaries to city managers does not end with the paychecks they are receiving. Overpaying those serving at the top of a city’s managerial echelon causes inflation at the levels below that. Paying city managers too much money results in runaway salaries for municipal department heads such as the director of development, the finance director and the director of public works. And then those working in those departments are also being overpaid because a city’s pay scale is out of balance.
Paying too much for city personnel in Upland, where the employees have already been reduced to a four-day work week, has resulted in a reprioritization in how municipal money is spent. Cities exist for the provision of municipal services. Cities exist so we have police departments to keep the streets from being overridden with crime, so we have fire departments to put out fires, so our streets are paved regularly to prevent potholes, so we have quality and safe drinking water when we turn on the tap, so our traffic lights work and so our parks are maintained and our streetlights come on at night. City Hall’s priority is no longer the provision of those services but making sure that our city employees are well paid, which means they receive compensation that is well above that paid to workers in the private sector for comparable work. If a city keeps spending money on high salaries, pretty soon the quality and integrity of those services diminish and, eventually, the reason for the city’s existence is defeated.
I would like to see a proposition go before the voters of California asking if they believe that it should be written into law that a city manager cannot be paid a higher salary than the governor. I think that proposition would pass. I don’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to qualify a proposition like that for a statewide ballot, so I think I will instead work at the local level to see if we can put a measure on the ballot just for the voters in Upland to find out if they support putting a cap on the city manager’s salary of no higher than what the governor is paid. After all, I think it is only fair that the residents of Upland, who are the ones paying the salaries of everyone down at City Hall, have a direct say in how much those people get paid. I think that is an understandable concept most residents will agree with.
In the meantime, if the city council is going to consent to paying the city manager a salary of more than $209,747 annually, I think there should be a requirement that the mayor, each member of the city council and the city manager explain to the people of Upland why they think the city manager deserves to make more money than the governor of the State of California.
Larry Kinley was formerly a vice president of the Bank of America. He oversaw for more than 15 years that institution’s problem loan department. He was Upland’s elected treasurer from 2016 to 2020.
By Larry Kinley