News was a lie, but contract is better

By August 2, 2011

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.”
—Winston Churchill

No one is going to remember that it was a lie. It wasn’t even an approximation of the truth. It was a real whopper, this one. Yet The Enterprise and other publications reprinted it, taking the quote at face value.

Here is what the city of Davis news release said about how much more we will be paying Steve Pinkerton, our new city manager, than we paid our old head honcho:

“The contract is similar in structure to Bill Emlen’s, and its total compensation will, at most, represent a $3,500 increase over Emlen’s last full year of 2009,” the city news release said.

It’s already traveled halfway around the world. Churchill was right. The people in Durbin, Delhi and Davis were duped.

The city’s human resources director, Melissa Chaney, told me outside City Hall early Monday, “That (news release) was put out by the City Council. Staff had nothing to do with it. The number,” she paused, “it’s not true. They mixed up gross salary with total compensation. They did not compare total comp with total comp.”

The fact is that Pinkerton will cost the taxpayers of Davis $44,300 more in total compensation than we paid for Bill Emlen.

Pinkerton’s salary is $188,000, a $29,300 increase from Emlen’s $158,700.

It will additionally cost the city $12,550 extra to fund Pinkerton’s pension with CalPERS. And the new city manager’s medical and dental plan in the next 12 months will cost the taxpayers of Davis at least $2,500 more per year than we paid for those benefits for Emlen.

Not counting the cost of funding his retiree medical, his life insurance plan, convalescent coverage, survivor benefits, Medicare and worker’s comp insurance, Pinkerton will cost us $252,900 for his first 12 months on the job. In 2009, Bill Emlen cost us $208,600 for the same categories of compensation. The increase is 21 percent.

What the council did to make it look as if Emlen earned nearly as much was to add to his $158,700 salary in 2009 the money he received for cashing out his unused vacation and management leave time. Pinkerton will have the same cash-out options. So it is apples and oranges to attribute that income to Emlen but not to Pinkerton.

To my mind, it is a big deal that the City Council lied when announcing the hiring of Pinkerton. On the other hand, I don’t think the fact Pinkerton will be paid $44,300 more than Emlen made two years ago is necessarily bad.

If he figures good ways to save the taxpayers of Davis millions of dollars per year and proves himself to be an excellent personnel manager, the additional money he will cost will be worth it.

Yet it is not hard to notice how much higher Pinkerton’s compensation will be than the state pays its top managers:

Councilwoman Sue Greenwald pointed out that the executive director of the state water resources control board has a salary under $127,000 and earns less in benefits and pension. Yet his agency’s budget is 6.75 times as large as that of the city of Davis.

When Pinkerton’s prospective proposal was published last Friday, there was a serious problem in it. It capped the amount the new city manager would pay for the employee share of his pension funding at 2 percent of his salary.

In fact, the actual employee share for his pension is 8 percent of salary. The contract said that even if others in the management group had to pay 3 percent, his max would still be 2 percent. What that meant was that the taxpayers, in addition to funding the employer share, would pay another 6 percent to cover the difference.

The gain in dollar terms was just $11,280 for Pinkerton. But if 2 percent had become the precedent for all non-public safety employees, that would cost $6 million a year to the city on $100 million in salaries.

As readers of this column know, I have stressed for years that we need to have all the miscellaneous employees pay their full 8 percent share.

On Friday, I sent an email to all five members of the City Council, pointing out this mistake. I explained to them why it was a big deal and how they could fix it. To my surprise, my email changed their minds.

On Monday morning, when the council went into closed session, they altered the language in the published contract, rewrote it as I suggested and got Pinkerton to accept the new wording.

Under the Rifkin terms of his contract, Pinkerton will pay 2 percent of his salary for the employee share of his pension funding until June 30 of next year. That is the day all labor contracts in Davis expire. Then starting July 1, Pinkerton will contribute the maximum 8 percent until his contract expires.

It’s a shame that the news release announcing the hiring of our new city manager started out with a lie. However, the fact that the council is listening to reason is a good sign.

Everything I have heard and read about Pinkerton suggests he is a great choice for city manager. I wish him the best in leading Davis in the direction it needs to go.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]

Rich Rifkin

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