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L.A. city employee salaries posted online

The public database is a response to the Bell pay scandal. It is important for Los Angeles to set an example of transparency and openness, the city controller said.

August 07, 2010|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times

In response to the pay scandal roiling nearby Bell, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel unveiled a public database that she said made Los Angeles "the largest City in America to post a a comprehensive list of city employee salaries."

Although it is unusual for a public agency to reveal all employee incomes in database form — even though the information is public under California's open records law — at least two private entities had previously posted similar city salary information. And both included each employee's name, which Greuel's list does not.

On the controller's official city website, Greuel lists almost every approved position in city government — from her own ($196,667) down to a Vocational Worker I in the Department of General Services ($27,582). However, the list excludes the city's Department of Water and Power.

Given the Bell scandal, Greuel said, "I thought it was important for Los Angeles to set an example. We thought it was about transparency and openness."

After The Times revealed that Bell, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, had been paying City Manager Robert Rizzo almost $800,000 a year, citizens reacted with outrage and several state and local agencies opened investigations. Rizzo and two other highly paid Bell officials have resigned and city council members have been threatened with recall. State Controller John Chiang has also said he would require that cities disclose salaries in annual financial reports.

Greuel said the city's database did not include employee names because people change jobs from time to time, whereas employment positions remain. "Taxpayers are funding the position, not the person," Greuel said. "Names we think are secondary. This was the most clear way in which to do it."

In 2008, a similar salary database was posted on the website of the Los Angeles Daily News. A more up-to-date list has been available since July on LA, which is managed by private-sector compensation analyst Justin Hampton. He started his site with Dallas-Fort Worth salaries last year and now includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Escondido and San Marcos. Related websites also show the pay employees receive in Miami, Austin, Houston and San Francisco.

"Unfortunately, the city of Bell has demonstrated the need for this type of transparency," said Hampton, who started the sites as a "job tool" for employees wanting to compare salaries among cities. Since the Bell pay scandal, the site has seen traffic rise from a dozen hits a day to thousands, he said.

He decided to identify employees by name, he said, to lift the anonymity that comes with only listing positions. "I think it's more fair this way. It's all open record. Anybody can get it," Hampton said.

Neither the private site nor the city's database lists salaries for the DWP, the nation's largest municipal utility. "At least in Texas, power companies are exempt from public records because of the competitive nature of the business. I assume it's the same in California, and that's why they didn't supply it," Hampton said.

Greuel said her office doesn't oversee the DWP, but she has urged utility executives to publish employee salaries.

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