In Atascadero, how much pay is enough?

January 16, 2011


Like controversial developer Kelly Gearhart, who evidently manipulated the rules to get his projects formally approved, Atascadero City Manager Wade McKinney apparently did the same thing to inflate his benefit package to be the highest for a city official in San Luis Obispo County.

McKinney was paid $254,693 in total compensation which includes a base salary of $157,173 in 2010.

McKinney’s vacation, holiday and administrative leave totals more than 13 weeks a year, not including sick time, valued at $39,140. In comparison, throughout San Luis Obispo County, the vacation and leave times for other city managers in the county average between seven and nine weeks per year, according to a survey by former Atascadero Mayor Mike Brennler.

Marcia Torgerson, assistant to the Atascadero city manager, confirmed that the amount of leave time and deferred compensation in Brennler’s report – reported here for the first time by CalCoastNews — are accurate.

While the city provided McKinney $29,859 in deferred compensation in 2010, the county city manager average was $3,161.

The deferred compensation package the city pays McKinney is in violation of the city’s salary resolution, which limits the city manager to no more than $1,000 a year in deferred compensation.

Torgerson said McKinney declined to respond to questions from CalCoastNews about his vacation time or failure to comply with the city’s resolution in regards to city compensation limitations.

McKinney’s increase in deferred compensation and time off occurred over a two-year period when council members voted three times to amend McKinney’s contract.

In 2002, the city contributed $1,000 in deferred compensation to McKinney.

Then in 2003, 2004 and 2005, council members Tom O’Malley, Jerry Clay, George Luna, Wendy Scalise and Becky Pacas voted in favor of the three addendums that greatly increased McKinney’s time off and benefits, city reports show.

“Instead of just asking for a pay raise, he obviously inflated the amount of his deferred compensation, which misled the public,” Brennler said.

In 2003, the council tripled McKinney’s deferred compensation through a contract addendum that allowed the benefit to be a maximum of five percent of his base salary as well as an 80-hour increase in paid vacation time, city records show.

They also show that, in 2004, the council agreed to pay the “maximum amount” of deferred compensation “allowable by law,” noting that they were referring to a “457” plan for a total of $11,004.

A 457 deferred compensation plan allows government employees to make retirement contributions on a pre-tax basis.

In 2005, under another addendum to his contract, the council agreed to allow McKinney additional deferred compensation through a 401(a) plan and added an additional 40 hours of paid vacation time per year.

By electing to allow several deferred compensation options at the same time while ignoring the city’s own resolution, city officials allowed McKinney to pump up his deferred compensation to approximately $30,000 a year.

In contrast, even though Grover Beach City Manager Bob Perrault’s contract with the South County city allows him to receive deferred compensation up to $7,500 annually, he has declined to take advantage of the benefit.

McKinney was not only responsible for asking the City Council to repeatedly approve his contract amendments, but he was also responsible for having his staff put together the salary resolution that caps his deferred compensation at no more than $1,000, Brennler acknowledged.

In addition, several attempts by news reporters in 2005 and 2006 to get a copy of McKinney’s employment contract were denied by Torgerson, who also serves as the Atascadero city clerk.

Brennler contends that the language in the resolutions is misleading.

“A lot of people are going to ask, ‘How could this have happened?’ ” Brennler said. “This is so clear, they were playing hide the ball.”

Also at issue is the $5,981 the city pays into McKinney’s long-term disability policy. The average for a city manager’s long-term disability policy in the county is only $593 per year, less then 10 percent of what Atascadero pays for McKinney.

City manager total compensation amounts usually run higher in cities with larger annual general fund revenues (GFR).

Slightly more than 28,000 people reside in Atascadero, a community with $16,924,240 in yearly general fund revenue. Atascadero has approximately $17 million in yearly revenue and pays a total of $437,274 in salary and compensation for a city manager and an assistant city manager.

In Pismo Beach, a city with approximately $16 million in yearly revenue — the most similar in the county to Atascadero — the city pays Manager Kevin Rice $220,095 in total compensation. Pismo Beach does not have an assistant city manager.

Meanwhile, under McKinney’s management, city inspectors and others at City Hall apparently were looking the other way to allow Gearhart to avoid paying city fees due to falsified and unfinished inspection reports on more than 400 homes Gearhart built.

The total cost to the city because of the lack of oversight is unknown.

However, for example, the city’s failure to collect fees on the DeAnza Senor Cottage community that sets on the far north side of Atascadero on the east side of U.S. Highway 101, cost the city approximately $150,000.

In early 2008, as mayor, Brennler announced that the FBI had launched an investigation into Atascadero City Hall activities. Since then, authorities have remained silent about the FBI’s investigation and an ongoing investigation into Gearhart’s alleged illegal actions.

City total general fund revenue (GFR) per person:

San Luis Obispo – population of 44,075 – $50,769,700 in GFR — $1,152 per person

Paso Robles — population of 30,072 – $24,431,500 in GFR — $812 per person

Atascadero — population of 28,307 – $16,924,240 in GFR — $598 per person

Pismo Beach — population of 8,640 – $15,762,734 in GFR — $1,824 per person

Arroyo Grande — population of 17,238 – $13,208,870 in GFR — $768 per person

Morro Bay — population of 10,391 – $10,235,369 in GFR — $985 per person

Grover Beach — population of 13,200 – $5,384,622 in GFR — $408 per person

Brennler’s survey is available here in PDF.


Above and beyond what is reported here, Wade also gets 120 hours per year to conduct personal non city related business during paid office hours. So you can add another 3 weeks of time off to Mike’s analysis. He is allowed 10 hours a month on that deal per his original Employment Agreement located in Duties – Section 1. So he really has 16 weeks of paid time off.

Something else that I find outrageous is that paid time off is considered “time worked” when calculating over time. So if an employee takes two days off and then has to work more than 24 hours during that week to catch up, they get paid overtime! If that were me, I would take off every Monday and work every Saturday because Saturday would be at overtime pay or even work 4 days at 10 hours per day and 8 of those hours would be at over time pay as well.

Another thing they did was to take a 3% pay cut but they didn’t tell everyone that they gave themselves an extra 96 hours of paid Administrative leave to make up for it so essentially, they gave up nothing. We could certainly cut back on personnel if they would all work like everyone else works without all the paid time off.

They say it’s all about Employee morale, it’s about milking us for everything they can take.


Initially I figured that part of his paid administrative leave was to make up for the time that he spends attending two city council meetings each month but it looks like they gave him that 10 hours of personal time each month in his original agreement to make up for it. So all the items that are addressed in Mikes report are FREEBIES. This stinks, Wade needs to start earning his salary and we need to stop paying for his assistant who is only necessary to the extent that Wade McKinney doesn’t work 33% of the time.


The guy gets a little over three months off each year. Other cities here get a little over two. In the private sector the best is usually a month. Hmm and the NAYSAYERS still say we are picking on Gov’t workers as busting the back of California and that they are the same or less than private sector in pay, beni’s etc. These poor folk at the troff are really getting a raw deal. (Sarcasm)


BTDT: Your sarcasm aside, you make a grave mistake by attempting to lump city managers with all other government workers. City managers, city council members and mayors are considered “management” and most of the rest of government workers are “labor” or the workers; and those in management almost always get a better deal then the workers. Your comparison (even in a sarcastic manner) only continues the meme that “government employees” are the cause of all of our government budget woes. Please don’t.


Thanks for your input but I will continue to make people aware that unions are busting the back of this country.


MLK was on his way to support the sanitation workers right to form a union when he was assassinated.


No, they had a union.

“On March 29, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the black sanitary public works employees, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment.”,_Jr.#Assassination_and_its_aftermath


Yes they had a union but the Mayor and city of Memphis did not recognize it

City Capitulates After King Death


May I correct you a little on this. It wasn’t a case to form a union. The union already existed. It was a case where the white union workers where getting better compensation than the black workers and the black workers were on strike. Hence he was going there to support their cause.

That is not right to have a different set of rules but the union was in place from my understanding.


You may correct me a little however the strike was for recognition of the union by the city .

City Capitulates After King Death


Funny, I didn’t even mention unions, or did you even notice? I understand that many of the “fiscally conservative” types have a particular, um, let’s call it a “passion” about government employees who also happen to be members of a union and how all of the financial woes are the fault of the union government employees ONLY. This article makes a very good point of highlighting the problems of those in management positions who either abuse their position to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense or have a network of enablers who can manipulate the system to help out their “buddies”. I would find it fascinating to compare what the costs of the relatively smaller group of management costs the taxpayers in various city, county and state government versus how much the rank and file employees cost. My assumption is that in local city and county governments, the total salary and compensation package for management is either close or equal to the cost of the rank and file that has anywhere from 3 to 10 times as many employees, but on the state level, there are way more rank and file employees. Regardless, the cost of management versus everyone else in government would be very interesting to read.



Yes, employees are equally at fault. First, let’s look at San Jose. The Police/Fire employees voted to NOT reduce their salaries but rather to eliminate 350 positions. Take SLO next: all employees work 9/80 work schedules (2 extra days off a month) 24 days off a year, most have longevity and therefore get 18/20 days of vacation, all management (supervisor, managers, department heads, etc) get a minium of 5 admin days off a year for a total of 49 days off PLUS 13 holidays = 63 days a year (does not include 12 sick days a year). Please, ask any private worker in this county (plumber, janitor, construction worker, landscaper, office worker, etc) how many days a year they get. Now let’s talk about the health insurance you (they) receive. If you work for SLO you get a minimum of $1000 a month above your salary. If you are single the insurance cost is $550 a month and the single employee keeps the difference or can buy life, disability, etc and still get the difference. Again, ask the same above workers what they are getting. Now, let’s talk pensions. There is nothing coming out of the employees pockets for their pensions. The Cities pay the whole amount (the employer and the employee portion). Now, throw that question out to the private workers and see who is paying their pension. We won’t even talk about the pay which may or may not be fair depending on the employee position. You see, there is a Ponzi Scheme going on in government. Give the general workers a 2, 3 or 5 percent raise and then give the same percentage to the managment. Let’s see, 3% of let’s say $40,000 a year is $1200 ($100 a month raise plus the increase in the cost of health insurance). But, 3% of let’s say $200,000 is $6000 ($500 a month raise plus the increase in the cost of health insurance). Please, I know there are great workers for government and I think (hope) that most are dedicated, but that is not the point. But please don’t tell us you are not well compensated. There was a time when benefits were a big bonus for government workers because the pay was not equal to private industry because of the costs. That concept has certainly changed, and now workers are compensated according to private industry but someone forget to take a few of those benefits away and instead through the years have increase them (earlier retirment, paid health care, disability if you are a public safety with a benefit of not having to pay taxes on their retirement, etc.) End of my discussion and I’m sure a lot of people feel this way.


Government has far too many employees. So “government employees” are indeed a problem. No sarcasm here.


So, its a brand new decade but we still have the same old county cabal….So far, a new SLO mayor clearly bought and paid for by developers, a sheriff that mysteriously resigned just before earning a second welfare retirement check, and now a city manager who obviously was so greedy that the money he got from Gearhart had to be augmented by the taxpayers. Hopefully we can do a Bell thing and put him and the city council members who broke the law into jail.


Sorry Sam. You can’t lump SLO’s mayor in with these other guys.


Thanks Mike for putting the info together. It took a lot of time. And CCN for making it available to the public at large.

This in depth analysis is usually missed by the other news media – probably becasue they don’t know how to get it.

At that same council meeting, when Mike spoke, an update was given on the number of employees in the city. The City Manager’s office was the only department to have no reduction in personnel.

Typically salary and benefit packages are on the consent calendar. These are considered non-controversial items. If you don’t look at the staff report a lot of things get approved that need more sunshine.

A dirty little secret is that George Luna had one face for his supporters and another face in closed meetings. (Remember the Marty Tracy incident?)


At the same recent council meeting, Assistant City Manager Jim Lewis talked many times about the “morale” of the city workers and how they’ve bravely dealt with past cutbacks and layoffs and how they just can’t bear anymore before their “morale” goes down.

BOO HOO, Mr. Lewis! Many of us in the private sector are scrambling to make ends meet. Our “morale” stinks but we keep plugging along. I’m sick of hearing government workers complain. Be thankful that YOU even have a job, Mr. Lewis. What other city in SLO County even has an assistnat city manager? None that I know of.


stay on them Karen, McKinney is a crook from the time he gets up, until the time he goes to bed and probably even while he’s dreaming. And he’s not a great guy, just ask his neighbors.


IMHO, this is the single person who’s name is tied to almost every scandal in Atown and should have been replaced years ago.

Being “a great guy” does not warrant this pay rate by any means…


Wade Mckinney, Jerry Clay, & Tom O’Malley all need to be held accountable for their actions…ALL of them. I hope see jail time in their futures. Maybe they can be cell mates????


I listen to the City Council meetings regularly on KPRL. I used to think Mike Brennler was a nut who was always asking questions, trying to stir up things unnecessarily. I was wrong.

Years have gone by and Brennler was/is right about so many things in A-town. For instance, while O’Malley, Clay and others were bending over backward to accomodate every wish and demand of Kelly Gearhart, Brennler was skeptical. And even recently at the last council meeting, after Brennler read some of this info aloud, afterwards O’Malley and Clay just waxed on and on about how Wade McKinney was such a great guy and deserves so much $$….

I hope someone in Atascadero listens to Mike Brennler!!



it seems a sad truth that those “troublemakers” in our county that have been raising quetions about the actions of our elected officials are more on target than not. The “conspriacy” folks may not be wrong. It seems the local politicians are making a mockery of our democracy and counting on us to be so gulliable as to accept their denials and turn around and accept that the accusers are nutcases.

karen has disspelled much of this:

Going back to the Gail Wilcox coverup and the liasons between her and Katcho and Gibson that caused them to buy her silence with our money rather than have her expose the moral and fiscal corruption that we are still paying for.

The vendetta against Dan DeVaul and sunnyacres which cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars as a favor owed by Gibson to Christine Mullholland.

The ongoing story and coverup of Pavvo Ogren

Tom Bordanaro’s stealing money from taxpayers

The new Jan Marx story

The attempt to increase the retirement of the late fire chief

The atascadero sheriff and city manager


The save SLO group

There is more and more but we keep electing this select group of corrupt politicos and we get what we vote for.


Atascadero is fortunate to have someone as honorable as Mr. Brennler trying to do what’s right, lest the town head further down the City of Bell hole. What’s frightening is that these shady crooks are in quite a few ‘small’ town councils and boards.


Mike Brennler is a glorified conspiracy theorist pointing thing that are actually public information …. great reporting.


Conspiracy theorist?

Like when I pointed out that Gearhart was up to no good?

Like when I pointed out that City was making a 7 million $ FEMA claim for damage that preexisted the earthquake?

Me thinks Darwin is one of the good ol boys who got us in the fix we are in and desperately hopes the public will look the other way.

Kind of reminds me of Al Fonzi’s rhetroric about apologizing to Gearhart and easing up on his buddy McKinney.

Sorry to say … ain’t gonna happen


Conspiracy theorist?

network analysis

good on you.


I am as far from good ole boy as it gets my friend. The fact is I have been in front of the Kangaroo Court known as City council, with you in charge and I was never impressed. My impression was that you ran with a one track mind and that was to prove conspiracies (ie “transparency”) and stop development.

Kelly G was scum and we didnt need you or karen to tell us that. I dont consider you a hero. I do consider you the guy who pointed out the obvious and tried to push an agenda forward with your buddy Ellen. You are in good company with the likes of David Broadwater.

So, you thinks not so good. I say ditch Wade, ditch Jim, start over. A nice side effect would be if all the conspiracy theorist had to find another hobby.

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