PASADENA — A $3,585 pay raise given the city manager by the Board of Directors in a closed meeting three weeks ago has sparked a controversy over whether Pasadena taxpayers have a right to know the salaries of public employees.
City Director Chris Holden says yes.
"The city manager, the city clerk and the city attorney are hired by the board," Holden said. "They are public servants, not private, and the public has a right to know."
But Mayor Jess Hughston, City Director Rick Cole and Deputy City Atty. Larry Newberry say no.
"None of these numbers are public, nor have they ever been public," Cole said. "What is public is the maximum" salary for the job categories.
Holden disclosed the raise, which takes City Manager Philip Hawkey's annual salary from $119,500 to $123,085, an amount he confirmed.
The issue will be discussed at Tuesday's board meeting. But changes appear unlikely because of a legal opinion by Newberry and sentiment on the board to continue following a practice used for years in Pasadena.
"What can I do?" Holden said. "I can only raise the issue."
Holden, who sat mum through closed-session salary adjustments for the past two years, said he objected when a pay raise for Hawkey was brought to the board in closed session Jan 15.
Hawkey on June 18 replaced 17-year City Manager Donald McIntyre. Holden said he felt it was too soon for a raise.
In addition, controversy surrounding Hawkey's appointment made Holden leery of raising Hawkey's salary without letting the public know, he said.
Hawkey, who is white, was selected in a 4-3 board vote over two black finalists for the post. Holden, Hughston and Cole voted against Hawkey, whose selection prompted protests from Pasadena's minority community.
The controversy continued when Hawkey received the $119,500 annual salary, a $500-a-month automobile allowance, generous severance benefits, plus 60 days annual sick leave and 20 days annual vacation. In July, the city became part- owner of Hawkey's home by investing $377,500 when he bought a $615,000 home on the East Arroyo.
When Hawkey appeared before the board Jan. 15 for his annual salary and performance evaluation, Holden said, the raise was casually brought up and casually approved.
"It was supposed to be a token pat on the back, saying he's doing OK," Holden said, adding that he was the only board member who objected to the raise. "Here we were modifying his salary, and the public would never know."
Holden wants the board to change its procedures and make public salary decisions that are now made behind closed doors.
But Newberry said the city's procedures are legal and designed to protect the privacy of city employees. Because pay raises are linked to job performance, knowledge of the salaries could reflect job performance and evaluations, information protected under state privacy laws, Newberry said.
Under the city's system, the public is provided information about the maximum salary for each job classification. Specific salaries are withheld.
Hawkey's beginning salary was made public because the board publicly approved his job contract. But any further raises would not have been made public. Instead, the maximum city manager salary, now $133,157, is the only information that would have been made available.
Similar procedures are followed for the city clerk, city attorney and other city employees in top management posts.
Pasadena is allowed to use this system under a 1983 state appellate court ruling on the Brown Act, California's public meeting law, Newberry said. That case, filed by the San Diego Union against the San Diego City Council, outlined a system whereby salary ranges could be provided instead of specific salaries, Newberry said.
But Pasadena attorney Dale Gronemeir, who has filed Freedom of Information actions against government agencies in the past, said he believes Pasadena's practice violates the California Public Records Act.
"Salary documents for public employees are a matter of public record, and there's no exception to that," Gronemeir said.
But Newberry said the public records law provides an exemption for disclosure of information that would be an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Los Angeles County used to provide salary ranges rather than specific salaries, in a system similar to Pasadena's. But after the Los Angeles Daily News filed a lawsuit against the county in 1988, specific salaries were made available on request, said Assistant County Counsel Donovan Main. "It's a matter of public information," Main said.
Newberry, however, said the county case is not applicable to Pasadena because it never went on to an appellate court, where decisions have broader impact.