Chamber releases president/CEO salary, benefits data

March 24, 2011

Dave Garth

OPINION By SLO Chamber staff

The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce released data today on the salary and benefits of retiring President/CEO Dave Garth and the salary and benefits package being advertised for his replacement.

San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Dave Garth.

The data release comes in response to a request from Erik Baskin, president of the local San Luis Obispo Firefighters Association, the union representing non-management fire department employees.

The Chamber and the Firefighters Association are on opposite sides of the current binding arbitration controversy. Binding arbitration requires that salary, benefits and working condition disputes between the city of San Luis Obispo and the police and firefighter’s unions be resolved by an outside arbitrator, who is unelected and unaccountable to the voters. The arbitrator is not permitted to find middle ground between the two parties but instead must select between the last best offers from either side on every issue of contention.

This has led to unsustainable salary and benefits in San Luis Obispo and the very few California communities that continue to have binding arbitration in their city charter. Binding arbitration, in the Chamber’s view, is undemocratic because it removes the ability for our elected representatives to make decisions in the best interest of all of the city’s employees and the community they serve.

Currently, the Chamber’s president/CEO’s base salary is $120,000 per year. Last year, Garth received a performance bonus of $6,868. He is an exempt employee and does not receive overtime pay. Garth’s benefit package includes medical insurance (but no vision or dental) life insurance, auto allowance, cell phone, service club membership and retirement contribution. Garth’s pay and benefits have not been increased in the last three years.

The Chamber offers a tax qualified 401(k) defined contribution retirement plan to all of its full-time employees. For the last several years, the Chamber has contributed the equivalent of 10 percent of an employee’s gross earnings to their retirement account; the amount of this contribution is determined annually by the Board of Directors, is not guaranteed and has never exceeded 10 percent. The employees are not required to contribute to their retirement account. As is the case with all private-sector employees, Chamber employees do contribute 5.65 percent of their earnings to their Social Security and Medicare accounts.

Garth will be retiring at the end of June after 38 years as president/CEO of the Chamber. The earnings from his Chamber retirement account combined with Social Security will likely net him slightly less than 50 percent of his highest year’s earnings. That amount is not guaranteed and will vary with fluctuations of financial markets.

By comparison, public safety employees in San Luis Obispo have a defined benefit retirement plan and at age 50 are guaranteed to get three percent of their highest year’s earnings for each year worked. That means an individual starting at age 20 and retiring at 50 would receive 90 percent of their highest year’s earnings for the rest of their life. On average, that would be for more than 30 years or, based on life expectancy, longer than their working life.

The Chamber is currently conducting a search for Garth’s replacement. After researching salary and benefits data of chambers in similar-sized communities, the search committee and the San Luis Obispo Chamber Board of Directors realized that Garth’s salary and benefits package was not competitive, and that it might be necessary to offer a higher salary to attract a new president/CEO of Garth’s caliber.

Even though the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is recognized nationally for its membership size and program excellence, and Garth is recognized as a leader in the chamber industry, Garth’s salary was significantly below the median for chambers of comparable size.

The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is a $1.5 million organization with 1,400 members and 15 employees. The salary being advertised for the new president/CEO is $110,000 to $150,000 depending upon experience and qualifications with a benefit package equivalent to Garth’s.

According to the State Controller’s website, about 70 percent of San Luis Obispo’s firefighters earned more than Garth in 2009.


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wow! Dave, you got screwed,dude!

If you worked at Cal Poly, they could have ‘rubber roomed*’ you and retired you with a higher salary that what you made when you were working. Curious on how much they are making?

The State Of Cal has a site that shows how much folks are being paid in RETIREMENT! You won’t believe how many folks this covers…. it takes forever to get through the list of those whose last name begins with “A” alone!


* the ‘rubber room’ is the questionable practice of bumping a ‘select favored few’ into a new pay scale — even a new title — but usually with an office moved into Kennedy Library. Since retirement pay is based on last paycheck, the inflated paycheck can give them a significant boost in retirement pay… sometimes as high, equal or more than the person ‘earned’ while working.

a little clarification… the state retirement list only lists those making over $100,000 in retirement!

This is a can’t-lose pissing contest for Baskin and the union.

If the Chamber executive was paid “too much” (compared to firefighters) the union can say “naw naw naw.”

If the Chamber exec was paid “too little,” the union can pat themselves on the back and say “look what a great job we are doing for you firefighters! Due to our efforts you make more than executives with 38 years in service.”


Interesting to learn what Mr. Garth makes in salary and retirement. Would also be interesting to know the value of the benefits, such as his medical insurance, car allowance and service club allowance in order to be able to compare that directly with the benefits of both rank and file public safety workers and their superiors.

The two best things to come out of this article are:

1. The public is made aware that Mr. Garth is paid fairly. Base salary of $120,000 is good money in SLO, very good money, but not ridiculous money. It is extremely unfortunate that the city of SLO did not recognize that Mr. Hampian was more or less fairly compensated- possibly somewhat overcompensated- when hiring Ms. Lichtig and negotiating her employment contract salary at a premium above what Hampian was being paid. In this economy, in the city of SLO, nobody is worth what she is being paid. In her brief tenure, Ms. Lichtig has shown that she is not outstanding, nor worth the overcompensation which she receives. In a perfect world, Ms. Lichtig’s salary would be 20% above Mr. Garth’s after 38 years in her position, not literally double at her hiring rate (at the peak of the worst recession in 70 years), and their benefit and retirement packages would be similar.

2. Mr. Garth’s salary as CEO of the largest chamber in the county is similar to what a good number of public safety workers earn, yet their responsibilities are considerably less. His benefit and retirement package is similar to other private entities, but not even close to public retirees, which helps to illustrate how completely out of line public servant/public safety benefits and retirement packages have become.

Note to Chamber: The next CEO does not need to be hired at a salary higher than Mr. Garth is currently paid. Thirty years ago, when many of those who are now retiring from public service were just starting out, people took jobs in SLO at much lower rates of pay than the rest of the state, relative to the cost of living here. It was generally agreed among public and private employers that the quality of life in SLO was worth the “sacrifice” in pay. It was also generally agreed that the pay of public employees throughout the state was lower than the private sector, with the trade-off being good benefits and stable employment. Unfortunately, public leaders and union negotiators at all levels in all parts of the state, along with public employees, lost sight of this fact and continued to increase both salaries and retirement benefits well beyond what the private sector offers for similar jobs, while retaining all of the benefits, paid holidays, and job security. The argument about needing to pay exorbitant wages to attract the best and brightest is ridiculous. Anyone remember the last time in the past 30 years that anyone quit a job with the city of SLO for higher pay elsewhere? Along those same lines, anyone who recognizes the intangible benefits of living in SLO should be willing to accept a starting wage of anything over $100,000 in annual salary for the CEO’s job. Anyone who does NOT recognize the intangible benefits of living in SLO should NOT be considered for the job.

Note to Mr. Baskin: Can’t wait to see your salary and benefits package posted here…

“After researching salary and benefits data of chambers in similar-sized communities, the search committee and the San Luis Obispo Chamber Board of Directors realized that Garth’s salary and benefits package was not competitive, and that it might be necessary to offer a higher salary to attract a new president/CEO of Garth’s caliber.”

This “competitive wage” BS needs to go. When you compare SLO with the rest of CA, and a lot of the cities are undesirable, the town should be enough of an incentive to draw good talent. But no, they are going to sped more money on a Chamber CEO when they write this letter trying to prove that they are fiscally conservative. Pay the CEO no more than 70k. 110-150k for a position that exploits and promotes crowds is a ripoff.

Bert belched out “Pay the CEO no more than 70k.”

But, 70k is less than the top step for a Police Cadet at the City?

I guess Bert thinks the SLO Chamber CEO should live in a trailer park and only eat top ramen as rewards for getting to work in such a desirable town.

Really? I guess you like to dish out your money so this guy and the one who follows can live very comfortably? If you can’t make 70K a year work and live “in a trailer park and only eat top ramen” then you have issues handling finances. This is the publics money that supports this position. Which means if they have it, you don’t.

While the Chamber does receive some public funds, the vast majority of its funds are private, including my annual dues.

Excellent info from the Chamber.

I can’t wait for the unions’ rebuttals.

Seems to me the Chamber got called out; so the Chamber came out; and now the union boys gotta put up or shut up.