It is cruel irony, or at least bad timing, that as the Board of Selectmen is about to review the results of the salary study and consider how employee wages and benefits fit into the upcoming budget, the national media have been reporting on the corruption and abuse of power by public employees and elected officials in Bell, California.
For those of you who have not followed the story, in July the Los Angeles Times broke the news that the City Manager and Deputy City Manager of Bell were bringing home almost $800,000 and $400,000 in annual salary respectively, and the Police Chief was making over $450,000. As if that’s not enough, the City Manager and Deputy Manager employment contracts contained an annual 12% salary escalator in this day of sub-2% CPIs. The investigation also found that city councilors were being paid over $100,000 for their part-time positions.
One might assume that the City of Bell is a well-off West Coast city, where high salaries and luxury homes are the norm. In fact, according to the LA Times, the population of this small city of 37,000 is 90% Latino and 53% foreign-born and has a per capita income that is about half of the United States’ average. The Bell salaries make the city manager salaries in Manhattan Beach and Long Beach look like small potatoes.
What started as a news exposé has turned into a criminal investigation, with charges being brought against both the elected and appointed city officials for misappropriation of public funds, falsifying contracts, and conflict of interest. This is good news for the citizens of Bell who were unaware of the fraudulent behavior of those who were supposed to be working on their behalf. But where does it leave the public officials who are conscientious and careful, who honor public meeting laws and public information requests, and who conduct annual audits of financial records and practices?
Just as sex scandals should not overshadow the good works of clergy, this pay scandal should not be taken as an example of public officials’ behavior. It does, however, emphasize how important it is that public officials act as stewards of the public’s interest and not take for granted the trust that we are given, and honored to have.
|I have previously mentioned my membership
in the International
City/County Management Association (ICMA), a membership organization
with the mission of creating excellence in local governance by
developing and advancing professional management of local government.
ICMA has responded to this controversy in partnership with California
public management organizations. ICMA West Coast Regional Director and
retired Salinas, California, city manager Dave Mora said it best:
media dialogue that has resulted from this controversy underscores the
critical importance of full disclosure and transparency when discussing
local government manager compensation. It also provides a lesson to our
profession that we need to work proactively
and cooperatively with the
media throughout all operations of local government.”
As for how the California scandal relates to New London, rest assured that there is significant oversight of New London salaries from the Board of Selectmen, Budget Committee, the Treasurer, our auditors, and any member of the public or press who seeks more detailed information.
In preparing for the 2011 budget, we compared New London full-time positions with similar positions in towns that range in size from 3000-6000. Although there are a few outliers with significant longevity in New London, on average New London employees are paid 60% of the high range of the comparable towns. One-quarter of our employees, including me, are at or above the 80th percentile for pay of these smaller towns. When compared to the larger group of New Hampshire managers, I am in the 68th percentile. Doug Lyon, former chair of the Board of Selectmen, once calculated that the $3,000 stipend the Selectmen receive for their hard work equates to approximately 12 cents per hour when all of the homework, meetings, and appearances are taken into account.
A rumor has circulated periodically that suggests that some of our employees are paid based on similar positions in Concord and Manchester. That is only partially true. In 2006, which is the last time a salary survey was conducted, we did include Concord and Hanover in the study for certain positions -- such as dispatcher or full-time firefighter -- that are not commonly full-time in smaller towns and that are drawn from the same regional talent pool. The salaries of the larger communities were averaged with smaller communities and were there not the sole basis for establishing salaries. The study just completed, which focused only on the smaller towns, reassured me that these positions are appropriately paid, if not even a little low.
At Monday night's meeting, the Board of Selectmen reviewed the results of the salary study and discussed what compensation level is appropriate and where New London should fit in among similar communities. The Selectmen also reviewed responses to our request for proposals for health insurance coverage. In the interests of transparency, I will post the background information on the Town website on Tuesday, and as always, feel free to contact me if there is information or documentation that you believe should be made available to the public.
Jessie Levine, Town
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