SLO city salary cuts: $0.00

December 13, 2011

Kevin Rice

OPINION By KEVIN RICE

A recent public relations blitz from the city of San Luis Obispo lauded $807,000 in compensation reductions voluntarily taken by top management. Our local spoon-fed media then dutifully regurgitated the numbers put forth by the city citing City Manager Katie Lichtig’s flagship salary of $221,500 as the standard of measurement. Reports stated the city will realize an annual savings of $39,500, due to reductions taken by Ms. Lichtig alone.

“This is absolutely leadership, and it’s absolutely a step in the right direction,” beamed city Manager Katie Lichtig during a KSBY interview two weeks ago.

But if you think Lichtig is taking a $39,500 cut in salary, you’re dead wrong; and you failed to discern the purposeful weasel wording used by the city to mislead. The city is keenly aware that subtle word choices such as “savings” and “compensation reduction” are easily misconstrued as a cut in salary.

The salary cut actually taken by our city manager? $0. That’s right. Zilch.

So let’s examine how an $807,000 savings is possible without salary cuts:

First, management employees will begin paying their own eight percent member contribution toward their pensions. Presently the city pays both the eight percent member contribution in addition to a 20 percent employer contribution. For Lichtig, the eight percent give-up amounts to around $18,000 annually. This is a very real savings to the city and a very real cost to Ms. Lichtig, but it is most definitely not a cut in her $221,500 salary which remains in black and white in her latest contract.

Second, a $5,400 savings is attributed to our city manager giving up her $450 monthly car allowance. Except, she already gave it up for 2011. The new two year contract simply extends this give-up for 2012 and 2013.

Finally, management employees lost the ability to cash in unused administrative leave hours at the end of the year. Except, once again, this is a benefit previously given up already. I find it misleading that extensions of prior cuts were posed as new cuts. In 2013 will there be a re-run implying yet another $20,000 cut?

Katie Lichtig earns 80 hours of administrative leave yearly. At a pay rate of over $100 per hour, cashing in her unused leave hours could amount to thousands of dollars. But management didn’t lose administrative leave accrual. Employees can still take days off work which costs us an equal amount in lost time on the job. It is a mere accounting trick to call this a reduction.

Transparency

Under the new contracts the city will save money which is a small step in the right direction. I don’t oppose it, yet I feel it didn’t go far enough. Council members Kathy Smith and Dan Carpenter also didn’t think the reductions are adequate. If we only count the truly new change to pensions, the real reduction is likely around $300,000, not $800,000. What I find outright offensive are the carefully chosen words used by the city to promote this move. The public fell into believing a $39,500 savings came from a 20 percent cut to our city manager’s pay.

One public commenter wrote, “It’s about time.”

Citizens have even been upset with council members Smith and Carpenter, believing they voted to protect Ms. Lichtig’s compensation. Quite the opposite is true. Further still, the city should have cited Lichtig’s overall compensation of $311,252 instead of citing her lower $220,500 salary which wasn’t even reduced. The city should have made clear the only new reduction is the $18,000 Lichtig will now pick up.

Transparency requires making semantical word parsing evident. If you wish to label Lichtig’s new $18,000 pension expense a “pay cut”, that’s fine with me. It will be deducted from her salary and her pay checks will be less. But it is also true that her salary remains unchanged and this sole new deduction was never pointed out by the city next to the $39,500 claim. Is this the level of integrity the public expects?

Where do labor unions stand?

Missing from the discussion were the city labor unions and represented employees. We’ve frequently heard bargaining groups denigrate high management salaries in the past. It would stand to reason, then, that labor representatives might have joined with council members Smith and Carpenter in asking for more from management.

But there’s an interesting paradox at play here. Labor representatives know the city will be turning to them next. It is in their interest that managers do not take any pay reductions. And it is arguably in their interest for management employees to be paid as highly as possible, lest labor groups lose a valuable point of leverage. Not that I believe labor wants overpaid management, but a rising tide does raise all ships (while those without a boat drown).

Conclusion

Almost overlooked in this story is the question of propriety in regards to City Manager Lichtig appearing on KSBY prior to the council vote to laud her own contract. Isn’t this politicking in her own interest while on duty? Am I the only one who found that somewhat egregious?

I also don’t buy Lichtig’s claim of “absolute leadership” since she didn’t set the bar herself. Instead she turned to management employees to make an offer which she then went along with. Leadership would have been offering an aggressive reduction for herself, then challenging other management employees to follow suit.

While I can agree that these cost reductions are beneficial, I also agree with council members Smith and Carpenter that it isn’t enough. Worst, however, is the intentional misleading of the public, the failure to clarify new cuts versus old, and the failure of local media to ask questions.


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15 Comments

  1. Paperboys says:

    Dig deep into a city (county or state) budget and you’ll find these kinds of misdirections, fudging of the truth and sleight of hand all over the place. It’s the way government has evolved to conduct its business.
    The administration hides money from the department heads because they’ll want to spend it on building their little kingdoms.
    The department heads hide it from the rank and file because they constantly want a raise.
    And everybody hides it from the CIty Council because once you tell them, it becomes public record and everybody might find out.
    Governments in no way, shape or form, want the public to know how much money is involved, because we might just demand it back or balk at the next tax increase they ask for.
    Always remember when looking at a tax increase — 75-80% of a government’s budget goes to salaries and benefits. And unless you change that ratio, tax increases will not lead to more potholes being filled or sidewalks being fixed. It will go to the existing staffs to cover raises they should have gotten previously and they sacrificed and gave them up because of the budget mess.
    Poor, poor pitiful me…

    (1) 7 Total Votes - 4 up - 3 down
  2. TheTruthTeller says:

    Anyone who follows Kevin Rice’s comments here, in the Tribune and elsewhere knows that he is a conspiracy theorist with way too much time on his hands. His favorite whipping posts are government and unions, which he despises in an angry and almost paranoid manner. After reading the city report, it’s obvious John Ashbaugh is correct. I will say, however, that city staff taking salary reductions and paying more for their pensions is long overdue.

    (-3) 13 Total Votes - 5 up - 8 down
  3. standup says:

    That lame city manager should be called to the stand at the next city council meeting and explain why she purposely deceived everyone. The city council and stupid mayor should either get rid of her or step down themselves.

    (13) 21 Total Votes - 17 up - 4 down
  4. Russ J says:

    Are you kidding me? City leaders are misleading the public with opaque accounting statements? Your guys picked them! Just pony up the cash, quit whining and shut up, or better yet; vote the lousy council out.

    (25) 29 Total Votes - 27 up - 2 down
  5. smartmouth says:

    Good piece, Kevin! Appreciate the information!

    (37) 61 Total Votes - 49 up - 12 down
  6. Bob says:

    Go get’em Kevin!

    (32) 54 Total Votes - 43 up - 11 down
    • SLORider says:

      Can’t do it alone. Write your city council: slocitycouncil@slocity.org

      (19) 41 Total Votes - 30 up - 11 down
      • unlisted says:

        Kevin, Why are you commenting on your own editorial using a nom de plume? How many of these commenters are really you???

        (-12) 38 Total Votes - 13 up - 25 down
        • SLORider says:

          How odd. A user named “unlisted” is concerned my user name does not identify me.

          “SLORider” (which I’ve used since 2004 on many sites) is underlined and bold because it is a hyperlink to my web site (SLORider.com) that clearly identifies me. Many other users also do this. I’ve posted my name/tel/email with this account many times. Have you? Regular readers know exactly who I am.

          Nevertheless, I’ve been considering for some time the creation of a second account (I have one currently) using my real name. Maybe you will raise that challenge by going first? I think people that make personal accusations should stand behind them, don’t you?

          I’d like to hear your thoughts on the topic. Have you read the staff report?

          Kevin P. Rice
          (805) 602-2616

          (30) 46 Total Votes - 38 up - 8 down
        • r0y says:

          u got pwnd

          (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
        • Justin says:

          So, you’re part of the problem!

          (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  7. eradicate ignorance says:

    Nice article….

    Unions have two goals:
    1) Get their members paid as much as possible.
    2) Increase the number of members in their union.

    Unions will support anything that gets their members paid more. The more the managers get paid, the more they can demand for their members. Excellent point.

    (19) 53 Total Votes - 36 up - 17 down
    • bobfromsanluis says:

      So we have a very informative article that doesn’t mention unions until about ten paragraphs in, but in your apparent view, it is all the fault of “the unions”, like they are some kind of special evil. It is very possible that the view of the unions is to stay quiet about the excessive high pay of management so that they may not have to face the pain of having their pay being cut, but does that really equal out to being complicit? As for your assertions about unions having two goals; those two are most likely part of their long term goals, but I’m confident that there are other goals as well, like: support for workers who may be discharged without cause, obtaining health insurance benefits, obtaining pension support, keeping working conditions humane as well as a few other reasons.
      I am a retired union worker (not a public employee union) and I really get sick of union bashing. Unions are true, small “d” democratic institutions, meaning that the union members get to vote for the leaders of the union, in most unions anyone who wants to can run for any leadership position, and if enough members do not like how the leaders are running the union, they can vote out those persons. The reputation that some unions have should not color the view of all unions.

      (4) 44 Total Votes - 24 up - 20 down
  8. SLOChuck says:

    What a shock that Katie is STILL only looking out for herself as opposed to the city she is supposed to represent.
    Do our local leaders have no shame?

    (46) 56 Total Votes - 51 up - 5 down
  9. RU4Real says:

    Why doesn’t this story “SHOCK” me? It’s just business as usual in SLO County! The corruption is rampant in the “happiest place in America”! HA!

    (51) 67 Total Votes - 59 up - 8 down

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