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California Cities and Counties Mandated to Disclose Public Employees' Salaries

From lifeguards to police chiefs, State Controller's Office expands reporting requirements, wages to be posted online this November.

Public officials' six-figure salaries won't go unnoticed much longer, as California cities and counties will be required this fall to report employees' compensation to the State Controller's Office -- which will post the numbers online.

Amid reports that Bell, Calif., spent $1.6 million annually on salaries for three city employees, and nearly $100,000 for each part-time city councilor, the State Controller's Office recently expanded its local government revenues and expenditures reporting mandate.

While specific details on reporting requirements are still being developed, State Controller's Office Spokesman Jacob Roper said the salaries of all elected officials and employees -- from city managers, county supervisors and police chiefs, to janitors, secretaries and lifeguards -- will fall under this mandate.

"This is a way to give locals a better idea of how their tax dollars are being spent on city and county administration," Roper said, noting that every salary for each employment classification must be reported.

Prior law required governments to provide summary information regarding revenues and expenditures to the controller's office, and payroll was included in the total amount listed for each program category, according to the controller's office. The deadline to provide such information is mid-October.

Big Cities Not Fazed by Mandate

Gathering and disseminating public employee salary information isn't an arduous task, officials say, and can be done quickly even for the biggest agencies.

In Los Angeles, doing so took only a week.

Once news hit that Bell -- which has a population of less than 40,000 -- was paying top officials extravagant salaries, neighboring city L.A. quickly took note and posted a salary database online of its 37,000-plus city government employees.

L.A. officials were able to make the data available online in a matter of days, said L.A. City Controller's Office Spokesman Ben Golombek.

"I think the [state] controller, in light of the scandal in Bell, wanted to make sure we increased transparency, and the public was provided with an opportunity to see where their taxpayer dollars were spent," Golombek said.

In San Francisco, a consolidated city-county government serving 800,000 residents, it'd be little work to compile the approximately 26,000 employees' salaries, said Controller's Office Budget and Analysis Director Leo Levenson.

"We do that stuff all the time," he said. "It's just a query on a database -- anyone should be able to provide salary information."

"As mandates go ... I think this is an easy one," Levenson said.

But without a clear set of reporting requirements laid out by the State Controller's Office -- and whether benefits will be included with salary disclosure -- the depth of details cities and counties must disclose remains to be seen. Eventually other public-sector entities such as redevelopment agencies and special districts will be included in the reporting requirements, Roper said.


Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.