Many South Bay city officials are optimistic that a state ballot proposition to limit their annual salaries to $64,000 will be defeated in the Nov. 4 election, but at least one city manager is not taking any chances.
Lawndale City Manager Paul Philips this week secured three-year contracts for himself and his four departments heads just in case voters approve Proposition 61, which would limit the annual salaries of elected and appointed public officials to 80% of the governor's salary, currently $80,000.
Philips, 35, said he also is negotiating with the city's two unions to extend the length of their contracts to protect their benefits. Proposition 61 would prohibit the accumulation of vacation and sick leave from one calendar year to another for all public employees.
Some Issues Unclear
Lawndale City Atty. David J. Aleshire said it is still not clear whether existing employee contracts would be honored if Prop. 61 passes because the proposition does not address that issue.
He said there are also legal questions over whether the proposition would affect only salaries--generally considered to be base pay--or whether it would apply to total compensation--which usually includes vacation, health benefits, retirement and car allowances and other benefits.
Cal-Tax Research, a Sacramento-based nonprofit corporation working to improve economy and efficiency in government, estimates that public-sector fringe benefits constitute between 40% and 60% of payrolls.
Most of the South Bay's city managers work without a contract. Salaries and other perks are negotiated at the beginning of each fiscal year, but city managers generally work at the whim of their councils, who can fire their city managers anytime.
Philips, who makes nearly $60,000 a year but whose entire compensation may add up to more than $70,000, said the contracts are a statement against losing local control as much as they are an acknowledged effort to skirt the proposition.
"I just don't want to have to go through the unexpected changes the proposition would bring," he said.
"I also don't agree that local changes should be taken out of local control. It is clear to me that the City Council is better equipped to determine staff salaries than any statewide group which is many times removed from the issues confronting Lawndale."
Philips had originally asked for a five-year contract, but the council reduced it to three years, saying five years is too long to make a commitment without knowing what the city's future financial state will be. Cost-of-living raises are included in the three-years contracts.
Philips acknowledged that at the end of his contract he could face a pay cut if the proposition passes, but he is not worried.
"Legal issues may be more clear at that time," he said. "The City Council, of course, also has the option of extending the contracts."
Philips is not among the majority of his colleges who believe the proposition will be defeated.
"I think it's possible that it could pass," he said.
Hawthorne City Manager R. Kenneth Jue, who has an annual salary of nearly $77,000, said he is also trying to get a contract, but he said it is not related to the proposition.
Seeking a Contract
"I've been thinking about getting a contract for the past 10 years," he said. "But if I don't get one, that's all right, too. I'm optimistic it's not going to pass."
John Longley, city manager of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, has a one-year contract that expires in January. He said he is not sure if he will seek a renewal of the contract, although he intends to continue working for the city.
However, Longley said he does not think it is appropriate to seek a new contract before the Nov. 4 election because "if the people decide there should be a limitation on compensation I don't think it is appropriate for me to try to do something to frustrate their will."
Longley has an annual salary of $45,000 and total compensation package of about $52,000.
Redondo Beach City Manager Tim Casey is among the few South Bay managers who has a contract. In fact, the Redondo Beach city Charter has required a contract for its city manager since 1949.
Casey said he believes his contract--which calls for an annual salary of $81,000 this year--would not be affected by Proposition 61.
However, if the law passes and is interpreted differently, Casey said, "I don't think I would have any choice but to update my resume and actively seek other employment" rather than take a pay cut.
Casey recently sent a memo to all city employees explaining the effect the proposition might have on them. He did not tell them how to vote, but urged them to register to vote.