Wednesday, August 1, 2012

(Los Angeles) Civil Grand Jury report: Downey had highest-paid employee among cities examined

by Ben Baeder - The Downey Beat

A just-released Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury report found that Downey had the highest paid city employee of any charter city in the county during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Downey paid then Fire Department Chief Jeff Turner $406,000, which was $66,000 more than the Torrance city manager, the next-highest paid employee of the of the 23 charter cities studied by the 2011-2012 Civil Grand Jury.

The report found that four members of the city’s fire command staff earned a combined $1.025 million in the time covered by the report.

Click here to read the report (the part on employee pay is on page 87)

That report did not include another approximately $90,000 in pension payments Turner earned the first six months of 2010. In all, the public paid Turner about $496,000 from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, according to figures from Downey and the California Public Employees Retirement System.

Turner collected pension pay during the first six months of 2010 because he officially retired in December 2009 and then signed up for a special plan that allowed him to collect his pension while he continued to work for the city on a part-time basis.

A number listed in the phone book for Turner was disconnected.
Downey has been in the news several times for is generous payouts. In 2009, former Police Chief Roy Campos was the highest-paid public employee in the state, earning $624,000.

The payouts are due to a city practice that allows employees to bank sick, holiday, vacation and comp time and then cash out the saved time at close to their highest rate of pay when they retire.

It’s not uncommon for Downey to pay out more than $100,000 in unused time when employees retire.

Click here for another story on Downey’s retirement payouts.

Councilman David Gafin said the city has dramatically scaled back how much vacation employees can save up.

Most employees can now only bank about two years’ worth of vacation, and sick time has also been capped.

They big payouts date back to contract negotiations in the 1990s and 2000s that gave major concessions to employee groups in cities all over the state, Gafin said.

“Those were back when times were great and money was flowing through cities,” he said. “When the downturn came, the employees worked with us to make things a little more realistic.”

As of the end of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the city owed about $15 million in unused leave time to employees, which is nearly a quarter of the city’s $65 million general fund budget, according to financial statements filed by the city.

As for Turner, he was paid $185,372 in regular work pay during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

He also cashed out $$41,974 in unused vacation time, $151,839 in unused sick time and another $26,787 in unused comp time, according to figures from the city. The sick time was deposited tax free into an account that can only be used for health expenses. The rest of the money was regular taxable pay.

Since he officially retired in December 2009, Turner is paid $189,987.84 annually from his pension, according to CalPERS. Turner, who worked for the city for more than three decades, was replaced by current Fire Chief Lonnie Croom.

Downey’s firemen’s union has recently criticized the city for employing too many commanders for the city’s fire department. The union is pushing for the city to consider contracting fire service from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Savings could be realized by reducing the number of administration staff, Downey
Firemen’s Association President Steve Davis has said.

Davis declined to comment on the pay for Turner.

The Civil Grand Jury’s report was focused on fiscal controls in charter cities. Charter cities are governed by a homemade city constitution instead of the boilerplate “general law” city constitution used by most cities.

In all, nine Downey employees earned more than $200,000 during the fiscal year covered by the report, a figure not outside the norm for a city of Downey’s size.

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