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Torrance Cuts Perks of Top City Officials : Revenue: Leave days are reduced from 24 to eight. However, most of the savings will be spent on retirement plans.

June 03, 1993|ANTHONY MILLICAN and DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Moving to end a long-running controversy, the Torrance City Council is limiting perks for top city officials. But in taking the action Tuesday, city leaders partially offset the cutbacks by using the savings to help the administrators with their retirement plan payments.

The council slashed the number of administrative leave days--a form of overtime for salaried employees--from 24 days a year to eight. Starting June 27, when the new leave policy takes effect, 33 administrators will only be allowed to use the leave days as time off. The council also eliminated bonuses for top administrators that had ranged from $250 to $2,500 a year.

Officials say the city will save only $12,746 from the moves, however, because most of the $226,500 in cutbacks will be used to help cover the employees' contributions to a retirement plan.

The council approved the cuts, 6 to 1, with Councilman Bill Applegate dissenting. Applegate has said that using the funds to help reduce employee retirement payments amounts to "memorializing" the money rather than cutting back.

Mayor Katy Geissert, however, praised executive staff members for voluntarily proposing the cuts.

"The executive staff recognized that the burden has to be shared in the city," said Geissert, pointing out that such benefits played a role in attracting many top administrators to Torrance. "I think it's a very rational thing to do." The administrative leave policy came under fire last June, when the city's public works union said it illustrated a double standard in the city. While managers would continue earning lucrative perks, union leaders said, rank-and-file employees were being denied across-the-board raises.

Under the program, the city allowed 66 department heads and other managers to cash out 24 to 36 days of administrative leave annually in addition to vacation time. That cash-out policy cost Torrance nearly $500,000 in 1991 alone, according to figures provided by the city. While salary surveys had assumed that managers were cashing out 50% of their leave time, further city research showed that managers were cashing out nearly 88% of their leave.

City figures showed that the Torrance program's cash-out costs had increased steadily since 1988, when city employees were first permitted to cash out their entire cache of leave time. The cost to the city totaled $338,545.71 in 1989, $429,476.95 in 1990 and $498,499.84 in 1991, city officials said.

At the time, council members who supported the leave program defended it as a means of compensating managers for time spent at night meetings, working on weekends and on emergency calls.

Last July, the council shaved leave days for top managers from 36 to 24 and suspended the bonus program.

The new administrative leave restrictions on top administrators follow the council's enactment last October of similar restrictions on 31 mid-level managers.

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