City Manager Salaries Should Not Exceed The Compensation Paid To The Governor

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 is also negotiating among themselves how much this next city manager of ours is going to be paid in salary, perks, and benefits in addition to the pension he or she is to receive, which is in the end determined by what his or her salary is based upon a formula used by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
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 within the state of California, 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 city manager of any of the 482 cities and incorporated town 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 had 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 and a top-flight school district. It is host to the corporate headquarters for Lewis Homes. The San Antonio Water Company and the city itself provide us with quality water. Upland has some of the nicest, if not the nicest, residential neighborhoods in San Bernardino County. With its distinctive urban forest median that includes the Madonna of Trail, Euclid Avenue and its lined with stately homes that range from classic craftsman-style and Edwardian homes that date from the early part of the 20th Century south of Foothill to the increasingly impressive digs north of Foothill that evolve into mansions lining both sides of the resplendent vista that terminates at the Foothills below Mount San Antonio. It 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, exceed by only Teas and Alaska, and It boasts San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San155,959 Francisco and Sacramento within its confines. It has 840 miles of coastline, 33.4 million acres of forest, 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 be 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. On top of that she was receiving $107,068 in benefits, which set Upland’s taxpayers back by a total of $343,968 annually.
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 director of development and 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 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 so crime is not rampant on the streets and so we have fire departments to put out fires when our building catch on fire and so our streets are paved regularly to prevent potholes in our roads and so we have quality and safe drinking water when we turn on the tap and our traffic lights work and 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 or reach 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’t put a measure on the ballot just for the voters in Upland to see 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 who oversaw for more than 15 years that institution’s problem loan department. He was Upland’s elected treasurer from 2016 to 2020.

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