Jerry Brown in 2010 | Mike MIller, Creative Commons License
By Joe Livernois
Jerry Brown got a 3 percent raise in June, pushing him over the $200,000 plateau for the first time in his long career as California governor. Congratulations are in order, of course, as he’s upping his pay so that he might maximize his Public Employee Retirement System benefits in his final year before he retires. The better news is that PERS is not expected to go bankrupt before he leaves the job.
And while the governor’s $201,680-a-year salary might sound like a tidy sum to regular people, it’s like an embarrassing pittance compared to what administrators, cops and public-health nurses make on the Central Coast. Voices of Monterey Bay has determined that at least 320 county and city employees in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties earned more than the governor in 2017. And that number does not include employees working in other taxpayer-supported agencies in the region, like school districts and special districts.
There’s nothing new to all this, of course. If you’ve paid even scant attention to government-salary discrepancies over the years, by now you’re beyond incredulous that the take-home pay of random mid-level sheriff’s deputies anywhere in California can well exceed the governor’s salary.
Editor’s note: If you’ll give us a moment and let us dig around … ah yes, here’s an example. Right here:
A random deputy sheriff in Monterey County named Jesus Reyes parlayed his base pay of $86,681 in 2017 with $140,000 in overtime and $28,000 in “other salary” to earn almost $255,000. That would be like getting four numbers and the Powerball if you played the 4x multiplier Powerball lottery ticket.
Back to Gov. Brown, though … If money was a real concern for him, Brown could have kept his old job in Oakland, where he was mayor before returning to Sacramento for his second go-around as governor. The mayor of Oakland last year earned about $40,000 more than Brown’s 2017 salary. Hell, the city manager of Greenfield, population 14,428, made $215,000 in 2016, according to a government salary database maintained by Transparent California, which tracks the pay and benefits of tens of thousands of public employees in the state. On the other hand, Gov. Brown leads an entity that, as of 2014, employed 235,000 people. A company that employs that many people in private industry, TJX, is led by a CEO named Ernie Herman. Last year Herman made more than $15.5 million.
Transparent California is an online Valhalla for the type of people who are chronically irritated by government extravagance. It gets their blood boiling to think that someone somewhere might be making an honest living at their expense, and Transparent California arms them with enough information to make them even more insufferable at Thanksgiving dinner. They’re the sorts of savvy political thinkers who still refer to Brown as “Governor Moonbeam.” In any case, if you’ve ever wondered how much a groundskeeper at the Gonzales Public Cemetery earns (and you think it’s any of your business), you can find it at Transparent California.
Voices of Monterey Bay, which makes no pretense at being anything but insufferable at Thanksgiving dinner, has been digging through relevant Monterey-Santa Cruz salaries, with a goal of learning how many government employees earned more than the California governor.
There’s no reason we picked the governor, really, except that the position seems like a reasonable benchmark. We could have opted for the president, but he hasn’t shown us his tax returns yet.
Editor’s note: Speaking of the president, let us now consider a simpler time in America, when an entire nation suffered bravely through the Herbert Hoover administration. That was a time when the president wasn’t issuing offensive tweets against black athletes, mainly because black athletes weren’t allowed to be famous then. However, the most famous athlete of the era, Babe Ruth, was earning a salary that exceeded the Chief Executive. Everyone flipped their fedoras and lost their porkpie hats because what in tarnation was the country coming to when some goony club-wielding knucklehead could earn a salary higher than a president who was, at that very moment, leading the nation into an economic abyss? The Bambino, when asked about this salary discrepancy, famously quipped, “Yes, and I can also consume more steaks in one sitting than Hoobert Herver.” (We made up that last quote, but it does sound like something Babe Ruth might have said. What he actually said, supposedly, was “I know, but I had a better year than Hoover.”)
Anyway, back to our sanctimonious efforts to learn who among our neighbors is earning more than Jerry Brown.
Before we start, we should explain that our research was complicated by some oddball apples-and-oranges issues. For instance, Monterey County runs a big public hospital named Natividad Medical Center, which employs a bunch of people who can mend broken bones and who know the difference between penicillin and morphine. Those people are on the county payroll and they make a ton more money than the governor. And well they should! These people save lives.
But if you’re tracking the highest-earning employees earning a paycheck from Monterey County, you’ll find that the top 15 are doctors and hospital administrators. Santa Cruz County, by contrast, doesn’t operate a public hospital. So Susan Mauriello, the now-retired county administrative officer, earned the county’s highest salary, at $320,620 last year. That represents a half year of salary (she retired in June of 2017), with a cash-out of unused benefits.
Across the county line, Monterey County’s administrative officer, Lew Bauman, earned about $305,000 last year.
Source: Transparent California, 2017, County and City Salaries.
When digging through the salaries of public servants, you’ll always find weird anomalies. For instance, an odd thing popped up in our search through Monterey County salaries, which showed that the now-retired agricultural commissioner, Eric Lauritzen, earned around $295,000 last year, on a base salary of about $105,000. The extra dough means that he cashed out his built-up vacation and sick leave before saying sayonara.
Overtime is always a huge and troublesome budget problem for cities and counties, or at least that’s what the bureaucratic numbers crunchers will tell you with sad faces. And it’s especially a big issue in law enforcement. Transparent California shows that four Monterey County deputies more than doubled their salaries with overtime and “other pay” last year. The grand-prize winner in that department wasn’t even the aforementioned Reyes; that honor goes to Jose Garcia, who works in the county jail and who last year earned $272,361.
In fact, when it comes to the Sheriff’s Department in Monterey County, the anomaly is discovering a random deputy who isn’t earning five-figure OT pay. Editor’s note: Every profession has its slackers.
With all those caveats (including weird anomalies, overtime pay and those life-and-death professionals at Natividad), a total of 142 Monterey County employees earned more than Gov. Brown last year. Before this year’s raise, Brown earned $185,870 in 2017.
By contrast, only 61 Santa Cruz County employees earned more than Brown. Not only that, but there was no employee in the Santa Cruz sheriff’s department doubling salaries with overtime. And the only employee in the department to earn more than the governor was the Sheriff himself, James Hart. His salary was almost $255,000 last year. That’s compared to his counterpart in Monterey County, Stephen Bernal, who earned $259,000. Which is about $13,000 less than Jose Garcia, over in the jail, but then Bernal doesn’t qualify for OT.
If it makes you feel any better, it should be noted that no member of the Board of Supervisors earns more than the governor. Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams’ pay last year was a measly $139,902, and she was chairwoman of the board in 2017. That’s compared to Santa Cruz Supervisor John Leopold, last year’s chairperson, who cashed paychecks worth $124,345 last year.
Among cities on the Central Coast, Salinas boasts the most employees who out-earned the governor last year, with 56. Significantly, 52 of them worked for either the police or fire departments and were able to exceed gubernatorial salaries with overtime pay. Several of them more than doubled their salaries with OT.