In the Friday, February 14 Daily Post there were two articles dealing with Town issues I wanted to take a moment to comment upon. The first dealt with Animal Shelter Services and addressed an upcoming item on the City Council agenda for February 19. The second dealt with the Post's regular reporting of agency salaries and benefits. Both reports included some inaccuracies to which I responded directly to the reporters. I wanted, however, to provide the public with that same corrective information and some additional resources for their use.
Animal Shelter Services
The article notes that at the February 19 City Council meeting, the City Council will be deciding whether they want to keep the Peninsula Humane Society for animal care services. On Wednesday, the City Council is not going to decide if the Town still wants the Peninsula Humane Society to provide animal services. That’s not the issue before the City Council. The Council is approving an agreement to assist the County with building a new shelter not a decision on whether animal services should be continued.
Additionally, Atherton is not being asked to pay $50,000 toward the new shelter, plus an additional $4,297 to $5,749 annually. The Town presently pays approximately $52,000 per year for basic animal control services through the County’s contract with the Peninsula Humane Society. That remains unchanged. The Town is only being asked to pay an additional $4,297 to $5,749 (depending on the cost of the new shelter) annually as part of a 30-year amortized zero-interest contribution toward the cost of building the new shelter.
Salaries and Benefits
For the complete report, take a look through the staff report available on the Town's website.
Next, the Daily Post printed an article as part of their series on public employee salaries and benefits - an excellent opportunity for public awareness. However, the article contained several inaccuracies related to the information presented. I took the opportunity to respond directly to the reporter, but wanted the public to be aware of the same information as well as other resources on the Town's website.
The article noted that the Town has 47 employees. The Town does not have 47 employees. The 2013/2014 Budget reflects a total of 34 authorized positions. This is the same as the 2012/2013 budget. The Town has not had 47 employees since 2011.
The Post requested salary data via for the period of January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013. Over the years employees come and go within specific positions. Sometimes simply totaling up salary data for a period of time will result in an overlap - for example, an employee may have left employment in March 2013 and the Town filled the position in June 2013. That does not count as 2 employees thus raising the number count for employees. That’s only one position. When this occurs with several positions over a year it can be over-counted if you count people not positions.
The article also addressed the housing/transportation allowance that I received as City Manager in the 2012/2013 fiscal year. The housing allowance/transportation allowance for my position was negotiated for one fiscal year only - 2012/2013, not two as stated in the article. The article states that it was negotiated because I declined to live in the Watkins House. It was not negotiated because I declined to live in the Watkins House. As I mentioned during my telephone conversation with the reporter, during hire negotiations the Town and I “split the difference - $30k of 60k” as a housing/transportation allowance because at the time I was still determining when I could move into the house and was commuting in the interim. It expired in June 2013. Unfortunately, I had to advise the Council that due to a personal situation I could not relocate and we negotiated a base salary going forward. My salary as of July 1, 2013 is $196,650 - flat. No allowance for auto, transportation, phone, or housing. This was discussed over the course of several City Council meetings.
Next, the article spoke to the number of employees in the police department (and Town) and their earnings level - to include any overtime - particularly for police department personnel.
While the Police Department is authorized 25 sworn positions there have been vacancies over the last couple of years that have been hard to fill. As a result, in order to maintain a minimum level of deployment, existing officers must often work overtime. When you report salaries of officers and their use of overtime I think it is important to mention that during periods of recruitment due to vacancies (for whatever reason) there will be overtime. A more accurate and informative statement might have been, the base salary at the top step for a police officer is $101,633.52 per year. The entry level step is $87,794.88 per year. The Department cannot “over hire” to fill non-existent vacancies - that's a waste of public money. In order to begin a recruitment process there must be an actual vacancy. Because of background investigations and the required testing and evaluation, it often takes 4 to 6 months to hire a new police officer. During that time, some officers will end up working overtime to ensure a minimum level of deployment in the community. In particularly challenging years (injuries, retirements, etc.), overtime will be higher. Some of these events are predictable. Some are not.
A complete list of salaries and salary ranges is included in the Town’s Budget document available online. Of the Town’s 9 non-police staff, there are 5 that, at their top step, will make more than $100,000. These are: City Manager, Finance Director, City Clerk, Civil Engineer, and Public Works Superintendent. Of the Town’s police staff (sworn and non-sworn), All sworn staff (officers, sergeants, lieutenant, and chief) can top out at more than $100,000. Non-sworn staff (dispatchers, community service officers, trainees, and executive assistant - 6 positions) do not.
In short, I think the efforts of the Daily Post and other news outlets to print salaries and benefits of public employees is worthwhile to shine the light where some folks simply don’t bother looking. It’s public money after all. However, I think in printing the information, news agencies have a duty to print accurate and timely information that is not misleading to the public. Simply stating that overtime is higher one year over the last doesn’t address the root issues of why. Calling attention to numbers of employees is great so long as there is a balanced look at service needs, levels, and demands in that particular community. From that information, the public can do a better assessment in answering and asking the right questions about their local government and the services provided. Transparency is important not only to you but to us as well.
The Town's website has a host of information accessible to the public to make informed decisions about their local government and the services provided. Here's a few links to some of that data:
Town of Atherton
91 Ashfield Road
Atherton, CA 94027
(650) 752-0504 - Office