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City Manager Gets $7,500 Salary Hike

The raise is in keeping with a 10% difference in pay between the top Thousand Oaks official and other workers.

September 18, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

After less than two months in the job, the top administrator of Thousand Oaks received a $7,500 raise this week to keep his paycheck at least 10% above his highest-paid employee.

The 4.5% salary hike puts City Manager Philip E. Gatch's base pay at $175,512 annually. The City Council approved the increase Tuesday during a meeting held at Thousand Oaks High School.

"I think he's doing an absolutely fabulous job," Mayor Pro Tem Robert Wilson Sr. said before the meeting, praising Gatch's efforts to make City Hall more accessible to residents and businesses. "I believe he'll prove to be the best city manager in the history of Thousand Oaks. Nobody knows this city better than he does."

An original member of the Thousand Oaks planning staff, Gatch, 62, has worked for the city since 1967 and has the longest tenure of any city employee.

Since he took over Aug. 1, Gatch said he has delegated more authority to department heads, sought to eliminate redundancy and pushed city employees to think in terms of customer service.

"I'm asking them to help me make this organization better," Gatch said. "I'm not a top-down manager. I believe in cooperation and full participation. We've sort of flattened out the organizational structure."

An ongoing hiring freeze, instituted as the city braced for state funding cuts this spring, "has effectively forced us to look at efficiency and the best way to provide city services," he said. "We're looking at every major function that the city does to see if there's a better way to do it."

Timing was key to Gatch's pay raise.

On July 17, the same night the council authorized Gatch's promotion, it approved updated pay scales for more than a quarter of the city's 633 employees. The move came after members had postponed wage hikes for several months while waiting for the state budget to pass. The budget wasn't signed until Aug. 2.

Under the new pay scales, Public Works Director Don Nelson -- a 24-year employee -- became eligible for a raise, which he received the following month during his annual evaluation. When that brought Nelson's annual base salary to $159,558, the city's 10% pay-differential policy took effect.

Councilman Dennis Gillette said he supports the long-standing policy that establishes a pay margin between managers and those they supervise.

"The city is a well-managed organization all the way through," he said.

In neighboring Simi Valley -- where City Manager Mike Sedell earns a base salary of $171,680 -- a similar clause requires a differential of only $1 between managers and subordinates.

Oxnard, Ventura County's most populous city, has no such differential. City Manager Ed Sotelo earns a base salary of $176,747.

Thousand Oaks Councilman Ed Masry said he saw no reason to deviate from city policy regarding executive pay.

"I'm very impressed with the job Phil has been doing. I'm very pleased with his work," Masry said. Gatch's streamlining of the staffing structure should ensure that fewer city workers are needed once people retire or leave, he said.

Gatch drives a city-furnished sport utility vehicle. He also receives 30 days off each year and up to 15% of his salary -- more than $26,300 -- in deferred compensation, medical and dental insurance coverage and retirement benefits.

Jere Robings, a taxpayer advocate who lives in Thousand Oaks, was not disturbed by the raise.

"It sounds like an awfully generous package, but you do have to maintain the separation between the managers at different levels," Robings said.

"It comes awfully quickly on the heels of his recent promotion, [but] since he's been with the city so long and has been a part of the management team, they might justify it on that basis."

Don Facciano, president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., said city managers' salaries should be compared to each other and to those of executives in private industry who manage a similar size budget and work force.

Gatch was chosen after a citizens committee conducted a nationwide search to replace MaryJane Lazz, who retired in May after serving four years. Gatch had earned $140,634 annually as community development director, the post he held until his promotion. His initial salary as city manager was $167,956.

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