The Public Eye

Former Lincoln city manager had region’s highest 2014 local government pay: $470,000

Jim Estep
Jim Estep

The highest-paid local government official in the capital region last year worked just eight months as city manager in Lincoln, a suburb of 40,000.

A separation agreement with the city allowed James Estep to collect severance worth six months of pay and benefits, as well as money for unused leave time, putting his total pay for the year at $470,000, more than three times his base pay for the time he worked.

While Estep represents the extreme, his story shows a key aspect of how local government employees are compensated. Base salary makes up just a portion of each employee’s take-home pay, which can also include credit for unused vacation, allowances for uniforms and other job costs, and overtime pay. Collectively the extra pay can add up quickly, especially when an employee retires and cashes out his or her unused benefits.

Many government workers receive a boost from benefits, but those at the top of the salary scale see a particularly large increase, The Sacramento Bee found in an analysis of salary data. The data was collected by Transparent California, an offshoot of the Nevada Policy Research Council. The council, a “champion of limited government,” makes annual salary reports at the request of another conservative group, the California Policy Center in Tustin. The reports are available on Transparent California’s website.

The 50 highest-paid local government officials in Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado and Placer counties made an average of $265,000 last year, and one-third of the income was from special pay, The Bee analysis found. The income does not include employer payments for health care or pensions.

Interest in local government pay was piqued by the scandal over compensation in the small southern California town of Bell, where then-City Manager Robert Rizzo made nearly $800,000 in 2010. Former state Controller John Chiang started collecting salary data for all state and local government employees in California and posting the data on the controller’s website, a practice that continues under Chiang’s successor, Betty Yee.

The only difference between the information published by Transparent California and the Controller’s Office is that the Nevada organization includes the names of the employees, while the controller only includes job titles. Including the names allows taxpayers to have a more personal connection to the information, said Robert Fellner, research director at Transparent California.

“Government salaries are often misreported in the news,” he said. “Base pay is often reported, when that is often only half of actual pay.”

Government employees often see their biggest salary boost upon leaving, as in the case of Estep.

On July 8, 2014, Estep and the Lincoln City Council signed a separation agreement that ended his employment a month later. The agreement paid him $178,000 for six months of salary and benefits as severance. He received $135,000 for unused vacation, sick time and administrative leave accumulated since he started at the city in 2008.

The city also paid his interim replacement $75,000 for the four months Estep did not work last year.

The agreement limits what the City Council or Estep can say about his departure. Estep did not return a message left Friday at his job as CEO of a local employment agency.

When government employees retire, they also can get similar big payouts. Sacramento County had 16 of the region’s 50 highest-paid local government officials, more than any other local government, and one reason is that several of the employees retired that year. Sacramento County is also by far the biggest local government in the region.

Most of the top-paid county employees worked in law enforcement, which makes them eligible for more special pay categories than other county employees, county spokeswoman Chris Andis said. For instance, they get allowances for uniforms and other job costs.

Milo Fitch, who retired as a chief deputy from the Sheriff’s Department last year, brought home just under $300,000 last year, only one-third of which was base pay. In the year he left the Sheriff’s Department for the Legislature, Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, made $315,000 as a sheriff’s captain, a third of which was base pay.

The county was not able to provide specifics about the special pay of its top-paid employees on Friday. However, the most common types of special pay are for managers having to assume duties beyond their job description, work expenses and unused vacation, Andis said.

Public safety employees are also more likely to receive overtime than other government employees. Overtime pay is what put five Davis firefighters in the list of top 50 salaries last year. Luis Parrilla, a firefighter, made $83,000 in overtime last year, helping to bring his total pay to just under $300,000.

About one-third of the overtime was reimbursed by other government agencies for wildfire work, said Jackie Jaskowiak, a human resources analyst for the city of Davis. The fire department also had an increase in overtime because of the loss of five employees at the end of 2013, she said.

50 highest-paid local government officials

Transparent California, a conservative nonprofit based in Las Vegas, collects salary figures from local governments across California. These local officials from Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties received the most pay in 2014:

Employee name

Job title

Agency

Total pay

James Estep

City Manager

Lincoln

$470,249

Marvin A. Stern

Asst Chief Dep District Attorney

Sacramento County

350,328

Olga Ignatowicz

Chief Physician

Placer County

329,023

James A. Cooper

Sheriff Captain

Sacramento County

314,593

Douglas C. Hamilton

Attorney Lv 5 Criminal

Sacramento County

302,627

Robert E. Price

Mental Health Medical Director

El Dorado County

302,562

Bradley Hudson

County Executive

Sacramento County

298,767

Richard J. Moore

Fire Captain

Davis

297,692

Milo E. Fitch

Sheriff Chief Deputy

Sacramento County

297,470

Luis A. Parrilla

Firefighter II

Davis

294,308

Matthew D. Morgan

Sheriff Captain

Sacramento County

290,318

Tracy L. Petrie

Sheriff Captain

Sacramento County

289,371

Henry Tingle

City Manager

Citrus Heights

282,311

Melanie G. Plummer

Supervising Dispatcher

Sacramento

281,851

Stephen D. Phillips

Firefighter II

Davis

275,920

William B. Cahill

Firefighter II

Davis

275,814

Donald M Henrikson

Physician Contract Non Mgt

Placer County

271,030

Ronald A. Zoghbi Jr.

Fire Captain

Davis

265,576

Jason P. Tovar

Forensic Pathologist Lv 2

Sacramento County

265,444

Laura S. Gill

City Manager

Elk Grove

264,984

Edward Prieto

Sheriff-Coroner

Yolo County

263,898

Robert A. Padilla

Physician 3

Sacramento County

263,751

Holly L. Heinzen

Chief Assistant CEO

Placer County

262,421

John F. Shirey

City Manager

Sacramento

261,876

Edward N. Bonner

Sheriff Coroner Marshal

Placer County

260,476

Dennis L. Wycoff

Fire Division Chief Shift

Folsom

260,326

David S. Boesch

County Executive Officer

Placer County

260,098

Edward L. Knapp

County Counsel

El Dorado County

258,540

Raymond J. Kerridge

City Manager

Roseville

255,529

Brita J. Bayless

City Attorney

Roseville

254,248

Linda E. Frazier

Physician 3

Sacramento County

250,748

Stanley T. Gholson

Fire Captain

Sacramento

249,151

Jeffrey A. Shilin

Firefighter (Par)

Sacramento

246,917

Gerald O. Carden

County Counsel

Placer County

243,739

Van H. Bogardus

Deputy Sheriff II

Placer County

242,606

Kevin A. Morris

Fire Battalion Chief

Roseville

242,318

Patrick Blacklock

County Administrator

Yolo County

242,148

Joseph A. Tenney

Fire Division Chief

Davis

241,709

Patricia A. McGeary

Supervising Dispatcher

Sacramento

241,106

Calvin A. Howard

Fire Division Chief Shift

Folsom

240,037

Michael Wanless

Pharmacist

Sacramento County

240,031

Grant Nugent

Medical Director

Sacramento County

239,000

Devon M. Bell

Undersheriff

Placer County

237,334

Landy H. Black

Police Chief

Davis

236,908

Arturo Villamor

Psychiatrist-Med. Director

Yolo County

235,896

Richard A. Malek

Physician

Placer County

234,499

Timothy M. Nishimura

Fire Captain

Sacramento

233,853

Brian E. Diemer

Fire Captain

Roseville

233,254

Jan Hansen Scully Royse

District Attorney

Sacramento County

232,149

James C. Sanchez

City Attorney

Sacramento

230,691

Source: Sacramento Bee analysis of data from Transparent California

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