Thursday, April 02, 2009

News-Press Peeks Into The Wallets of City Employees

Is there anything Wendy McCaw's News-Press won't do to try to make life as miserable as possible for the elected officials and employees of the City of Santa Barbara?

On Wednesday, the News-Press used an editorial to publish the names, positions and salaries of all City of Santa Barbara employees who make over $90,000 per year.

Well at least I now know why City Administrator Jim Armstrong (salary $231,281) is usually wearing jogging shorts when I see him around our neighborhood on the Mesa on Saturday mornings. Probably makes it easier for him to say, "sorry, but I don't have my wallet with me," should I try to hit him up for a few bucks so I can buy a cappuccino.

Armstrong, as the highest non-elected public official in city government, is probably fair game to have his salary outed but I don't think the same can be said for the analysts, engineers and others who make up the City's middle level management.

In singling out the 100 or so people (which the editorial failed to disclose is only about 10 percent of the 1,050 people employed by the city) who make more than 90 grand per year, the News-Press seems to be attempting to incite a type of class warfare.

They're trying to pit angry taxpayers against city workers.

Well, Wendy McCaw's motto has never been, "bring us together."

Sure it's red meat for the News-Press' base of subscribers which, judging by the letters to the editor, appears to be made up mostly of tight-fisted curmudgeons. But in pandering to this group the News-Press is relying on a stereotype; that civil servants, as a class, are overpaid and underworked.

Where's the reporting to back that up?

The premise of the editorial was to respond to Mayor Marty Blum's observation that public servants "are given less in salaries." (BTW, the mayor disputes the accuracy of that quote.)

"Is it true," the editorial asked, that city employees get "less in salaries?"

"Less," compared to what?

Sure, those salary figures sound like some big numbers, but how do they match up to what other cities are paying? The editorial never attempted to make that comparison. I guess editorial writer Armstrong didn't want to take a chance on diminishing any outrage over the numbers by putting them into perspective.

Let's do what the News-Press was evidently unwilling to do, comparison shop.

At the bottom of the salary list the News-Press published were three "human resources analysts" who each made $90,103. Recently, the City of Ventura advertised for a similar position, a Principal Human Resources Analyst, and the salary topped out at $95,773.

At least two senior planners had their salaries listed by the News-Press at $101,585 and $103,249 respectively. In Ventura, a planning manager's salary maxes out at $105,764.

Although the News-Press chose not to publish it, the salary of Santa Barbara's deputy fire chief ($128,653) was on the list they received. When the City of Ventura recruited for the position "Assistant Fire Chief" a couple of years back, they advertised a top salary of $144,411.

I could probably go on and on, but you get the idea. The salaries the City of Santa Barbara is paying don't seem to be any more generous than what's being paid just south of here.

Not only did Armstrong not want to dig for additional info to put the salary figures into context, he didn't want to use all of the information that the City gave him.

On Tuesday I spoke with Marcelo López, administrative services director for the City of Santa Barbara who, at my request, furnished me with the same list of names, positions and salaries he gave to Travis Armstrong of the News-Press. According to Lopez, Armstrong had asked for the salaries and positions of all employees making $60,000 or more excluding fire and police "rank and file."

Concluding that they were not "rank and file," Lopez gave the paper the salaries of Police Chief Cam Sanchez ($196,421.47) the Deputy Chief ($174,968.98) and the department's Captain, ($151,031.17). Curiously, the News-Press chose not to print their salaries.

I'm not saying that Sanchez and his crew aren't doing a good job, but if the News-Press is going to lynch the mayor (salary $45,639.84) and councilmembers (salary $36,512.06) every time a couple of gang-bangers feel like fighting, how can they write an editorial that tries to whip up passion against city employees and their large salaries without mentioning the salaries the Chief and his staff get to command those who are on the front lines of preventing crime and apprehending criminals?

If gang violence and petty crime are out of control, as the News-Press would have us believe, it seems like the buck ought to stop before it reaches the mayor and council.

I can only conclude that it's business as usual at the News-Press. For reasons best known to Wendy, low paid elected officials and market-rate public employees find themselves in her cross-hairs. But she's not about to chance ticking off the police or firefighters.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and