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2 City Officials Receive Raises Despite Critics

Mayor says the pay boosts for Thousand Oaks' attorney and manager are too much. A new councilman says he deserved a say.

November 14, 2002|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Despite objections by Mayor Ed Masry and incoming Councilman Bob Wilson, the Thousand Oaks City Council has granted pay raises to its city manager and city attorney.

Masry, who last year wanted at least one of the top officials fired, said Wednesday the raises for City Manager MaryJane Lazz and City Atty. Mark Sellers were excessive considering the uncertainty of state budget cuts, which could mean millions of dollars in lost revenues for California cities. He voted against the pay hikes.

"I felt that she [Lazz] was at the top of the ladder," he said. "This pay raise gave her over $200,000 a year [including the value of benefits], and I felt that was not justified in light of the fiscal situation."

Based on the raises the council approved 3 to 0 Tuesday night, Lazz, who plans to retire in May, will see her $162,821 base salary increase 6% to $172,590. Sellers' 5% raise lifts his base salary from $130,524 to $137,050.

Along with medical, dental, vision, auto and life insurance benefits, both officials receive a city-provided sport utility vehicle, eight weeks of annual leave and deferred retirement contributions linked to their base salary. Lazz receives 15% and Sellers 10% each year based on their pay on Jan. 1.

The salary hikes are retroactive to July 6, according to Denese Wilson, the city's human resources manager.

"I'm totally disappointed," said incoming Councilman Bob Wilson Sr., who asked the current council to delay a decision on the pay packages until after he and fellow slow-growth advocate Claudia Bill-de la Pena join the panel. "I don't feel I was asking too much to postpone it and let the new council members take a look at it."

Wilson said Lazz must be held responsible for problems in the city, including what he cited as substandard renovations of the city's public golf course, lucrative giveaways on a deal to develop a vacant site near the Civic Arts Plaza and nearly $1 million in cost overruns on a new elevator at City Hall.

"Just on the issues, I don't believe she deserves a raise," Wilson said.

But Lazz touts construction of a new banquet facility at Los Robles Golf Course as one of the city's successes over the past fiscal year. She also cites completion of a regional transportation center, rehabilitation of the former city hall and authorization of additional affordable housing for seniors.

"I'm very proud of the projects we've been able to accomplish this year," said Lazz, comparing her salary to that of a chief executive in private industry who oversees more than 500 employees and an annual budget of $152 million.

Sellers said his office's victories included stopping the local merger of two cable television systems, winning a contractor's lawsuit that could have cost the city $2.5 million, and helping craft the Western Plateau land-swap that delivered 191 acres of open space to the city.

Last year, Masry joined outgoing Councilwoman Linda Parks in an unsuccessful bid to oust Sellers.

Wilson said he believes Lazz's retirement comes at the right time to allow the new slow-growth council majority to select a city manager more in tune with environmental causes and less likely to support concessions to businesses and development interests. And he said the city attorney's office "has to reflect what the residents of the city want based on how they voted -- for slow growth," which could mean replacing Sellers.

City code, however, states the city attorney cannot be terminated for at least 90 days after a City Council election has been certified. And Sellers' contract provides him with nine months' pay if he is fired.

Based on a survey conducted in February for the city, Lazz was already the best-paid city manager in Southern California for similar-sized cities, surpassing the salaries of chief executives in Simi Valley, Ventura, Oxnard, Burbank and Irvine. Sellers' salary was better than the salary for city attorneys in those three Ventura County cities, along with the cities of Orange, Irvine and Santa Clarita.

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