No More Pay Raises for Govt. Executives

City Manager Debra Figone made the correct decision in turning down a raise. What was astounding was that it was ever offered in the first place. (Here’s the memo from the city manager.) Her current compensation is a whopping $227,975 a year. Just the offer of this raise is cause for voters to become irate. It reduces the credibility of public service and confirms taxpayers belief their money is being wasted.

Executive salaries are out of control. After years of cuts, public employee strife, no burglary unit, homicides increasing, unopened libraries, deferred maintenance of infrastructure and a false narrative that pensions caused the problem, giving the top executive extra compensation when money finally becomes available is mind-numbingly ignorant.

The City Council has a mind-set more applicable to Wall Street than public service.

Figone, to her credit, is obviously not tone deaf to public outrage. The council, on the other hand, seems hell-bent on alienating both the public and their line employees. City Hall morale has never been lower, distrust never higher and anger never more palpable.

The public doesn’t mind paying for real public services. Paying a city librarian $72,000 a year seems reasonable, given the cost of living in this area. But $250,000 for a city manager who has a staff of 13, with salaries ranging from $116,733 to $208,020.71, is excessive.

Moreover, the governor of California, who is responsible for administering the state of California with 38 million people and a $96 billion budget, is paid only $173,000. If the Governor can survive on that salary while administering the entire state, how can the salary of a local executive who administers a jurisdiction of one million people and a budget of $2.8 billion be justified?

San Jose is not the only public entity with an executive compensation problem. Nearly every government jurisdiction has bloated executive pay.

For years, governments of all sizes have often used the “competition” argument for hiring executives. It is a bogus argument that has allowed executive salaries to escalate with no reasonable return in value for the labor received by the taxpayer. Did anyone notice when the city manager last went on vacation? Did the city fall apart? Did the entire system break down? Of course not.

Yet, when you call a police officer or firefighter to your home, you notice if they don’t show. In fact, if they do not show up, the consequences can be catastrophic. So what job is more valuable to the taxpayers?

The answer is as uncomfortable as it is clear, but our collective bureaucratic mentality is to pay executives more because of their “supply and demand” argument.
Public service is an honor. There is a reward in serving the public that goes beyond money. Many executives note that they could make more in the private sector. There is an easy answer then: Go do it.

If your desire is to be highly compensated, become a Wall Street banker, an entrepreneur or some other highly compensated member of the private enterprise world. No public servant has ever chosen their career path based on money alone. If they did, it was a horrible choice. That said, those who serve the public should be compensated fairly. They should not be paupers.

As for Figone, she is far from a pauper. Regardless of how you feel about her performance, it is a strong person with values who turns down compensation that would benefit her personally. (There is, however, a disconnect on why the council turned down its own salary increase but insisted on Figone getting a raise.)

The real solution for all governments is to limit the salaries of city and county executive to no more than what the governor makes—he isn’t poor. That way we can spend more money on services that really matter, the taxpayers can be assured their money isn’t being wasted and the voters will be a little less irate at those they select to serve.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. If I remember correctly, when the employees took cuts in their salaries, she shortly thereafter promoted a couple of people in her department, so their salaries were brought back up to around what they lost.

  2. Staff of 13 that make over $100K and she is also a “double-dipping”….must be nice;  Hey maybe they can make those gravey-train city manager support staff positions collateral and have them police the city???  Go A’s

  3. I chose my public service career path because it was rewarding. It felt really good to be able to help people and work in and with the communities. Such a reward was not commonplace in the private sector, where I worked for years. I loved the public sector much, much more. In the private sector, I had excellent pay and benefits; much better than with CSJ, yet this is what I chose to do for the reasons stated. Now, things have changed. I am no longer happy to be in the public sector. I am tired of the lies, the disrespect from the administration as well as the put downs from the public. I hold a number of degrees and basically I can write my own ticket; therefore, I will be returning to the private sector. More boring, but I can’t do this, anymore.

    • good for you but like most of us retired city workers who continued to get punished by Chuck we cannot change our benefits, wish I had your options.

      Is this your way to rub it in the face of city workers who have worked in the city for 30+ years?

      Thanks, are you going to be like fat Pete and run for council?  And triple dip?

        • Hey retired3 I don’t sense that soso was rubbing anything in any ones face. Everyone is in a very bad predicament that has been plotted and schemed from every direction of a corrupt city government. We all have to figure out a way to minimize the damage that Chuck is wielding all to make his friends and himself richer. Dont forget the current worker bees have not had any sort of cost of living increase in the last 6 years and on top of that have given back 10% plus GASB and other increased benefit contribution raises. As a matter of fact the current workers are taking another 1.75% hit July 1st…. Will anyone be talking about this? NO! The hits keep coming… If I could get out I would too!

        • @therelableinformer…thank you. There is always going to be SOMEBODY with some kind of chip on their shoulder and they will read or see things the way they want to. I found retired3’s comment offensive. To think that someone could read something that lite and then turn it around to something so off base and attack me for what I have said is mind boggling. I do understand small minds, however. I see a lot of that.

  4. Rich,
    Well said. I agree 100%. I’m glad to see that the City Manager turned down the raise.

    I want to address something in your post about our Police Officers. I am and have been deeply concerned about THEIR safety and well being. They are working 7 days a week with no time off. They are having to work overtime because of the shortage, and gang activity and murder is on the rise.

    I don’t know about you but I think working those kinds of unrealistic hours has got to be very dangerous given what they face on the street everyday. Police Officers are human beings with families. Going without sleep, and going without a day off, or time with family and friends just isn’t healthy.

    I think it is time to address this before one of our finest is badly injured, killed, or goes nuts and shots themselves. Enough is enough already.

    • Why not turn it down, she is over paid to begin with and will be getting at least 3 pensions.

      As for police, I suggest you start using your sick time because Chuck wants to take that buyout clause away.  I wish the POA would eliminate mandatory callback in the next contract and only in case of a disaster.

    • Thank you for this post, I share your grave concerns.  It’s really too bad because the leaders at SJPD foretold many the issues prior to “pension reform” but the elected leaders scoffed.

      Now, PD leaders are warning of your very real concerns but reality and common sense apparently have no place at City Hall.  The “anything to save a buck” mentality is turning San Jose into Northern Los Angeles.  I fear corruption, far more violent crime and daily televised police chases in our future…

  5. Hell yes you need to turn it down, You are over paid and are probably are gettibg 3 retirements by now.  What a city joke.

    Thanks Chuck, we do not need a city paid, wasted city fund paid ball park that will never come.

    You will go down as the worst mayor ever.

  6. I find it mind boggling that this mayor and city council, with the city manager’s blessing, gave Ladoris Cordell, San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor, a 10% RAISE this past December. Not only was this an incredible slap on the face for every officer that took a 10% PAY-CUT, but she already gets a pension as a retired Judge. How can Reed et al justify this, when he continuously and very publicly bashes the “greedy” police officers who are trying to get back some of the 10% paycut they voted for a couple years ago in bad economic times to save new officers jobs???

    • I disagree, I’ve met Fig a few times now.  Her personality in council chambers doesn’t do her in person personality justice, I found her to be a caring, compassionate person who has a really tough job.  She has to be the messenger to city staff on the councils decisions (and people always shoot the messenger)

      But if your statement was true, then worrying about backlash from residents would show she cares what people thinks, which is a contradiction to having a “Cold black heart”

      • No worries , everyone is entitled to their opinion . Im glad yours is a positive one . In the few times I have met her , she was very cold and acted like a simple conversation was killing her . My daughter actually held a door open for her only to be brushed aside without so much as an “excuse me” , needless to say I was not pleased with her rudeness. Maybe it was a bad day , maybe she was stressed , maybe shes just rude? I dont know , I can only go by what I have witnessed . all I can Say is , I was not impressed with her in the least bit

      • I have met her in person and found her to exhibit the same traits you did – which are a stark contrast to her “official” personality.

        I order to reconcile the “two-faces of Deb” I finally had to concede that she is “two faced.”

  7. I find it interesting that a raise would even be offered!  So administrators get raises and cops who work in the middle of the night chasing burglars in yards get nothing?  San Jose what are you doing with my tax dollars?

  8. As a San Jose City employee, I find most “executive” management in the City rather useless. They spend their days attending meeting after meeting after meeting. All talk and nothing gets done, a bunch of high-paid do-nothings. They relish wallowing in the politics of it all rather than do real work. They rarely ever understand what the people who work under them do (except the executive management for PD & Fire, of course, since their Executive management usually started at the bottom like the people who work under them). These people are rarely seen in their offices, most of the time you do not see them at all! They are totally clueless and way overpaid. I think a law should be enacted saying local government executive managers should never get paid more than the Governor.

  9. Attorney suing MLB for free.  Come on Sam you are really picked up the lying tips from Chuck.  When you lose in the courts years from now the attoney will be coming after SJ for wages.  Oh couse all of you will be long gone so you could care less. If it is free please post the agreement on your next post.

    Lets see how open government is true that you clowns speak about.

  10. Of course they get approved for pay raises, the city councel minions are the ones who approve the raises for the city manager, mayor and independant auditor.  They have the you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours attitude.  How many times have Figone or mayor greeds staff responded to a medical call were a kid has hung himself or when a juvenile was shot in the head and left for dead.  Still they feel that there six figure income is well worth it and public safety isn’t worth anything.  I tell you look into the city managers, the mayor and city councel retirement package and I bet you it’s just as good if not better then public safety or any other city service.  You can see that the decisions that they have made have come back to bite them.  You can’t make decisions about public safety if you don’t have the experience.

  11. At least she turned the increase down. From 2011 to 2012, numerous Department Heads and Council Assistants received pay increased, according to the City’s web site and the Mercury News. Verifying that titles did not change, I’ve tracked at least 30 members of upper management that received increases. During this time no city employee represented by a union received an increase. In addition, management performance raises were frozen. So how did these select few get an increase? The below is a list of some who got increases showing their base salaries for 2011 and 2012:

    Department Heads and Assistant Directors (and one spouse):
    Joe Horwedel from $178,572 to 180,000
    Hans Larsen from $175,120 to 178,000
    Kimberly Aguirre from $160,715 to 163,065
    Kim Walesh from $181,444 to 185,000
    Alex Gurza from $189,109 to $198,000
    Renee Gurza from $141,412 to $147,135

    Council Staff:
    Regan Henniger from $66,651 to 76,701
    Louansee Moua from $76,888 to 82,223
    Peter Hamilton from $50,170 to 57,958

    There are at least a few Department Heads who did not receive any increase:
    Noberto Duenas from $180,659 to 180,659
    Jennifer Maguire from $195,583 to 195,583
    Deb Figone from $227,975 to 227,975
    Peter Furman from $115,219 to 115,219

    They will claim that their work loads increased. Find me one City employee whose work load did not increase after all the layoffs. Those listed above had the exact same job title in 2011 and 2012. They may claim the numbers aren’t correct or something in the base changed, but with Mr. Duenas and Ms Figone and others being the exact same that will be hard to claim.

    How did these city employees get increases in 2012 when no one else in the City did? Why hasn’t this been discussed or reported?

    • From 2011 to 2012, the base pay of over 1500 City employees increased by some amount.  The overwhelming majority of those increases were due to step increases in grade, promotions, or reclassifications.  Executive and senior management (Unit 99) employees do not receive step increases and management performance-based raises typically did not occur during this period.

      Of the 6 management employees listed by Ms. Johannes as having salary increases, 4 were due to promotions,  one was a reclassification of the position, and one was an adjustment to bring the staff member’s compensation in-line with other employees in the same classification.

      • No need to defend them. Based on my observations anyone in the City above Division Manager (PD & FD excepted) is a high paid do-nothing with the attention span of a 1 year old. If what you have to say or present to them takes more than 2min you have already lost them. Send a memo? Better keep it to less than 3 sentences…and short ones at that! I guess that’s what happens when you spend all your days in meetings and perpetually sniffing the “political” winds for ways you can make yourself look good to get that next promotion or add another “feather in your cap” to put on your resume looking to hop on the next gravy train to the City of Taxpayer Ripoff.

        I have huge respect for Supervisors and Division Managers. I see them do real work with my own eyes and they actually listen and undertand what the people who work under them do. Just above this level something seems to go haywire in the brains of these City “leaders”.

  12. What is perhaps more galling than the City Council offering pay raises to executive staff is the Council giving taxpayer dollars to charter schools, when police services and all other critical and core services are still inadequately funded.  Additionally these charter schools already get adequate funding and resources from other sources, primarily the school districts in which they operate.
    Consider Downtown College Prep, which proudly touts that a student who graduates from this school, will qualify for a four year college.  That is indeed an admirable goal.  But not one in which the City has a financial obligation.

    DCP was founded in 1999 by Jennifer Andaluz and Greg Lippman, and with then-Mayor Ron Gonzales a founding Board member, DCP was able get a loan from the City in the amount of $150K, and which eventually grew to $600K.  That was a huge conflict of interest.

    Interestingly, in late 2000, Prop 39 had been passed by California voters which stabilized funding and ensured that facilities for DCP and all other charter schools would be provided by their school districts in which they reside, thereby making the City’s loan completely unnecessary.

    But that aside, this has been one of the most liberal loans available, as not one payment has been made to the City since the loan was created.  It turns out to be irrelevant now, as the Council just approved on June 18 forgiving this loan in exchange for DCP becoming a full high school with added grades 9-11 over the next three years.  This is not a big challenge as DCP’s own website states that this is their goal.  Talk about a low performance bar. 

    According to the Council, the Citywide public benefit used to justify this gift of public funds is simply the added grade levels.  I cannot imagine that many rational people consider this a Citywide benefit. (see Analysis)

    It doesn’t end with DCP either.  In Mayor Reed’s June Budge Message, he has already directed the City Manager to provide $250K to Ace Charter School for “partnership opportunities”.  Interestingly, Ace Charter is founded by the same Greg Lippman, who also co-founded DCP. Mayor Reed seems to network well with this group. (see Spending Proposals P.)

    The justification for the loan is that the school meeting rooms and school park facility may be available to the public during non-school hours.  Ignored is the fact that these facilities would already be made available to the public because other public money, from the school district, would make this a requirement.  At any rate, this is a dubious benefit at best.

    By offering free money to charter schools, we are opening the door to provide the same financial support to all other charter schools, pre-schools, all after-school programs, and any other cause de jour.  Most residents would prefer to see City services restored, rather than gifting money to schools that already receive funding from many other sources.

  13. Limiting executive (and council) salaries is a great idea. Rather than basing the maximum on the Governor’s salary, let’s use a statistical model. Limiting salaries to, say, one standard deviation from the median base salary of all city employees would tend to produce an upward pressure on salaries. While the executive salaries may seem excessive, the salaries of the lowest paid city employees should also enter into this equation. If SDs don’t appeal, perhaps limiting the top pay to, say, ten times the lowest paid employee? Again, there’s incentive to increase the lower end of the pay scale…

    Since city employees can no longer depend upon the pensions in the contracts they agreed to, perhaps we should ensure that city retirees are not left living under an overpass with a shopping cart. Linking the upper limit to the minimum salary in some way seems like an option to ensure the lowest paid city employees will be able to retire.

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