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Editorial: Better public-pay data is a deterrent for abuse

By   /   Friday, January 4th, 2013  /   Comments Off

Getting more transparency on pay is a small but important step to toward accountability

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Shortly before Christmas, California State Controller John Chiang handed out one of the greatest gifts of all to Californians — the gift of transparency when it comes to public employee paychecks.

In a detailed report (on the Web at publicpay.ca.gov) that’s been issued since 2010, he listed the 2011 compensation of some 14,000 officials, including many city and county executives. This year’s report also included overtime pay, an important category when you consider that overtime figured prominently in making a police sergeant in Port Hueneme the most highly compensated official in that city, with earnings of something like $214,000.

The report shows that some fiscally responsible cities, including Fillmore, Santa Paula and Thousand Oaks, are in the process of reducing overall employee compensation.
Although the report does not attach names to specific positions, the Ventura County Star was able to figure out that the highest paid public servant in Ventura County isn’t even in the office every day.

Oxnard City Manager Ed Sotelo has been on paid administrative leave since January 2012 but he did earn $313,000 in 2011, the date of the last report.

A criminal corruption probe by the Ventura County District Attorney’s office prompted Sotelo’s leave. That probe didn’t result in any arrests or charges, but it did involve a dramatic raid on City Hall. Several Oxnard officials have paid fines to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

The bottom line on public employee compensation is that sunlight is a terrific deterrent to abuse. At a time when California is lurching leftward toward one party rule by Democratic super-majorities who like to spend more and tax more, getting more transparency on pay is a small but important step to toward accountability. Given that it’s practically impossible to fire public employees, it’s all the more important to keep close tabs on their compensation.

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