The best job in America?

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Three-day workweek with as many extra paid days off as desired. And work that – if often demanding and stressful – also is personally satisfying and provides high status and invitations to great parties. But as the nation’s best-rewarded City Council gets ready to unwrap yet another perk – a proposed 20 days time off from regular council sessions next year – some may wonder: Just how much is too much? “I would say it is, indeed, the best job in America. Just think about it: good pay, few hours, and most delicious of all the privilege of spending other people’s money,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “I don’t think taxpayers are being served, given the perennial problems with (the city) budget,” he added, referring to L.A.’s spending habits that have left it scrambling to close a $250 million budget deficit next year. It could be America’s best job. Pay far higher – $149,159 – than colleagues’ in other big cities, where the weather is far worse. A staff of about 20 each and a $1 million annual budget. A car of choice, with gas paid for, along with a free cell phone. In Chicago, Alderman Burton Natarus represents 85,000 downtown constituents – compared with the 250,000 constituents that L.A. council members average. But Natarus said he gets by fine on $95,000 a year with a five-person staff, driving his own car and paying for gas and maintenance out of his own pocket. Of Los Angeles council members’ perks? “Too big and extravagant,” he said. San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano does double-duty representing about 50,000 district constituents and the county on $90,000 a year – with two staff members and a $5,000 budget. But Ammiano said he wouldn’t trade. “You have to live in L.A.” to get L.A. council members’ perks, he quipped. “That comes with a big price … the traffic. We have San Francisco as a jewel.” Subhed: SALARIES Among perhaps the most-tangible benefit of running the City of Angels is the salary. Under a voter-approved provision that ties their pay to that of Superior Court judges, council members’ salaries have jumped by more than 26 percent since July 1999. That’s about 50 percent more than New York council members’ $90,000, though committee chair and other leadership stipends can add up to $20,000 more. It’s more than Chicago’s 50 aldermen, most of whom will make $98,125 next year. It’s also more than San Francisco’s supervisors, who make $90,731 a year. And it’s more than San Diego council members, who get a base salary of $75,386. But Los Angeles Councilman Ed Reyes said the salary comes with a price: more constituents with more intractable issues than anywhere else in the country. “It’s always greener on the other side of the fence,” Reyes said. “I’d love to see them do the job for $150,000.” In defense of the salary, Councilman Bill Rosendahl noted that he took a pay cut when he left the cable industry for his council seat. “The bureaucracy makes more money than we do,” he said. Councilman Dennis Zine, just back from a National League of Cities conference last week in Charlotte, N.C., noted that houses there cost less than $250,000. “Look at the cost of living (here),” he said. “Here you can’t get (a house) for less than $500,000, and $55,000 is low income.” Councilwoman Wendy Greuel added that while the pay is good, council members sometimes work around the clock. That sentiment was echoed by Councilman Greig Smith, who said he’d “love to be paid by the hour” – a rate that Councilman Eric Garcetti figured might run $38 an hour. Jan Perry, for example, said she sometimes e-mails Councilman Bernard Parks on city business at 1 a.m. – and gets an immediate answer from the councilman also burning the midnight oil. “Which is kind of sad on some levels,” she said. Subhed: TIME OFF The salary comes on top of time off from council meetings that has grown from nine and a half days in 1997 to a proposed 20 days next year. That includes recesses to attend conferences for the California League of Cities, currently headed by Council President Alex Padilla, and its national counterpart. Garcetti, who said he routinely puts in 80-hour weeks, defended the emphasis on conferences, saying they inspire new ideas and are crucial in fighting for federal and other funds. Some council members do opt to skip the conferences or are selective. Greuel, for example, took a red-eye flight to one conference to spend a single day on a transportation topic. And some members also concede that the proposed 20-day recess next year may be too much. Councilman Smith suggested sending only small delegations to important conferences in order to maintain council quorums at home. Several times this past year, so many members were absent that the council failed to obtain a quorum to be able to work. But most council members said they work hard during their recesses, tackling committee, district and other issues. “It’s not like everything closes down,” said Parks, who said he only takes time off for a two-week winter vacation to Mexico each year. Technically, council members don’t get vacation or sick days – but they easily can get excused from council with permission from their colleagues and a courtesy e-mail to the clerk. Through the end of August this year, City Clerk records show council members, on average, missed about 11 days of council meetings – not counting recesses. Councilwoman Janice Hahn had the worst attendance, with 27 absences. She said they were work-related, including district issues outside chambers, lobbying in Sacramento, testifying on port and other issues, and meeting with the governor. Council members Reyes, Parks and Perry had 17 misses each; Jack Weiss and Tony Cardenas, 13 each; Tom LaBonge, 11; and Padilla, 10. Reyes said that often programs for seniors and kids are at the same time as council meetings, and he is committed to attending many of those events. Parks said he mainly missed for National Football League meetings and during his bid for mayor, while Perry said she had to attend competing South Coast Air Quality Management District meetings. LaBonge said his misses came while he was leading delegations to Japan, Vancouver and lobbying Congress. Ultimately, Herman Landry, the council’s LAPD sergeant at arms for the past 13 years, said the council president sets the tone for attendance and other matters. Landry harkened back to the legendary late Council President John Ferraro who, he said, ran the tightest council ship in recent history. “He was more firm,” Landry said of Ferraro. “He was here so long, people had more respect what had to be done … like (former President and Senate Majority Leader) Lyndon Johnson, where anything he wanted done he got in Congress.” Padilla, he added, has been “a little more lenient.” Padilla – who describes the job as “anything but cushy” – said he makes sure the council runs efficiently while treating his colleagues like adults. “City Council is not kindergarten. You don’t need a note from your doctor, or your teacher,” Padilla said. “It’s about showing up for the job voters elected us to do.” subhed: STAFF AND BUDGET In running the city, every council member has a staff of around 20, as well as a budget of roughly $1 million for the year. Chicago’s aldermen – some of whom hold other jobs, and do more work in committees with just one or two full council meetings per month – have a staff of three and an expense account of about $33,000 annually. In San Diego, council members who meet twice a week and represent about 150,000 constituents each – compared to L.A.’s thrice-weekly meetings and 250,000-constituent workload – have eight to 10 staff members. “It sounds nice to have that big a staff,” said George Biagi, spokesman for San Diego Councilwoman Toni Atkins. “The mayor here has only 25 to 27 and this is the seventh-largest city.” Perhaps one consolation, though, is that San Diego’s eight full-time council members get even more “legislative breaks” from council meetings than in L.A.: 16 weeks out of chambers slated for next year. San Diego Councilman Jim Madaffer said those breaks allow council members to visit their districts. “It’s time to spend with the community; we’re not out vacationing on the beaches of Hawaii – or San Diego.” He said the council decided not to pursue higher salaries because, at a time when city employees are being asked to do more, he said it wouldn’t “be too good to set that example.” Still, L.A. council members generally bemoaned the size of their staff, and its pay, saying field staff generally earn in the $40,000-a-year range. Council members use part of their $1 million budget to pay for their and their staff’s cell phones, which this year ran to a total for the council of nearly $100,000 through the end of October. Those bills included personal calls, and council members reimburse those amounts. Late Friday, the clerk’s office provided a list of reimbursements for personal calls for council members and their staffs including Greuel ($91), LaBonge ($230), Perry ($21), Smith ($687) and Garcetti ($605). Meanwhile, to get around town, there’s the city car of their choice, costing up to $32,815 for Jan Perry’s 2002 LS Lincoln, with city gas and maintenance tossed in. Only Councilman Weiss drives his own vehicle – a Jeep Grand Cherokee – but he does get city gas. By contrast, San Diego council members – paid a $75,386 base, with a flexible benefits package worth about $8,575 annually – get an auto allowance of $800 per month. For newly minted Councilman Jose Huizar, the resources are relished after his recent stint as Los Angeles Unified school board president. There, he represented a district more than twice the size of his current council district – but with a salary of $24,000 and a staff of four. “I really appreciate the available staff to respond to my constituents’ concerns,” he said, beaming. Beth Barrett, (818) 713-3731 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Three-day workweek with as many extra paid days off as desired. And work that – if often demanding and stressful – also is personally satisfying and provides high status and invitations to great parties. But as the nation’s best-rewarded City Council gets ready to unwrap yet another perk – a proposed 20 days time off from regular council sessions next year – some may wonder: Just how much is too much? “I would say it is, indeed, the best job in America. Just think about it: good pay, few hours, and most delicious of all the privilege of spending other people’s money,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “I don’t think taxpayers are being served, given the perennial problems with (the city) budget,” he added, referring to L.A.’s spending habits that have left it scrambling to close a $250 million budget deficit next year. It could be America’s best job. Pay far higher – $149,159 – than colleagues’ in other big cities, where the weather is far worse. A staff of about 20 each and a $1 million annual budget. A car of choice, with gas paid for, along with a free cell phone. In Chicago, Alderman Burton Natarus represents 85,000 downtown constituents – compared with the 250,000 constituents that L.A. council members average. But Natarus said he gets by fine on $95,000 a year with a five-person staff, driving his own car and paying for gas and maintenance out of his own pocket. Of Los Angeles council members’ perks? “Too big and extravagant,” he said. San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano does double-duty representing about 50,000 district constituents and the county on $90,000 a year – with two staff members and a $5,000 budget. But Ammiano said he wouldn’t trade. “You have to live in L.A.” to get L.A. council members’ perks, he quipped. “That comes with a big price … the traffic. We have San Francisco as a jewel.” Subhed: SALARIES Among perhaps the most-tangible benefit of running the City of Angels is the salary. Under a voter-approved provision that ties their pay to that of Superior Court judges, council members’ salaries have jumped by more than 26 percent since July 1999. That’s about 50 percent more than New York council members’ $90,000, though committee chair and other leadership stipends can add up to $20,000 more. It’s more than Chicago’s 50 aldermen, most of whom will make $98,125 next year. It’s also more than San Francisco’s supervisors, who make $90,731 a year. And it’s more than San Diego council members, who get a base salary of $75,386. But Los Angeles Councilman Ed Reyes said the salary comes with a price: more constituents with more intractable issues than anywhere else in the country. “It’s always greener on the other side of the fence,” Reyes said. “I’d love to see them do the job for $150,000.” In defense of the salary, Councilman Bill Rosendahl noted that he took a pay cut when he left the cable industry for his council seat. “The bureaucracy makes more money than we do,” he said. Councilman Dennis Zine, just back from a National League of Cities conference last week in Charlotte, N.C., noted that houses there cost less than $250,000. “Look at the cost of living (here),” he said. “Here you can’t get (a house) for less than $500,000, and $55,000 is low income.” Councilwoman Wendy Greuel added that while the pay is good, council members sometimes work around the clock. That sentiment was echoed by Councilman Greig Smith, who said he’d “love to be paid by the hour” – a rate that Councilman Eric Garcetti figured might run $38 an hour. Jan Perry, for example, said she sometimes e-mails Councilman Bernard Parks on city business at 1 a.m. – and gets an immediate answer from the councilman also burning the midnight oil. “Which is kind of sad on some levels,” she said. Subhed: TIME OFF The salary comes on top of time off from council meetings that has grown from nine and a half days in 1997 to a proposed 20 days next year. That includes recesses to attend conferences for the California League of Cities, currently headed by Council President Alex Padilla, and its national counterpart. Garcetti, who said he routinely puts in 80-hour weeks, defended the emphasis on conferences, saying they inspire new ideas and are crucial in fighting for federal and other funds. Some council members do opt to skip the conferences or are selective. Greuel, for example, took a red-eye flight to one conference to spend a single day on a transportation topic. And some members also concede that the proposed 20-day recess next year may be too much. Councilman Smith suggested sending only small delegations to important conferences in order to maintain council quorums at home. Several times this past year, so many members were absent that the council failed to obtain a quorum to be able to work. But most council members said they work hard during their recesses, tackling committee, district and other issues. “It’s not like everything closes down,” said Parks, who said he only takes time off for a two-week winter vacation to Mexico each year. Technically, council members don’t get vacation or sick days – but they easily can get excused from council with permission from their colleagues and a courtesy e-mail to the clerk. Through the end of August this year, City Clerk records show council members, on average, missed about 11 days of council meetings – not counting recesses. Councilwoman Janice Hahn had the worst attendance, with 27 absences. She said they were work-related, including district issues outside chambers, lobbying in Sacramento, testifying on port and other issues, and meeting with the governor. Council members Reyes, Parks and Perry had 17 misses each; Jack Weiss and Tony Cardenas, 13 each; Tom LaBonge, 11; and Padilla, 10. Reyes said that often programs for seniors and kids are at the same time as council meetings, and he is committed to attending many of those events. Parks said he mainly missed for National Football League meetings and during his bid for mayor, while Perry said she had to attend competing South Coast Air Quality Management District meetings. LaBonge said his misses came while he was leading delegations to Japan, Vancouver and lobbying Congress. Ultimately, Herman Landry, the council’s LAPD sergeant at arms for the past 13 years, said the council president sets the tone for attendance and other matters. Landry harkened back to the legendary late Council President John Ferraro who, he said, ran the tightest council ship in recent history. “He was more firm,” Landry said of Ferraro. “He was here so long, people had more respect what had to be done … like (former President and Senate Majority Leader) Lyndon Johnson, where anything he wanted done he got in Congress.” Padilla, he added, has been “a little more lenient.” Padilla – who describes the job as “anything but cushy” – said he makes sure the council runs efficiently while treating his colleagues like adults. “City Council is not kindergarten. You don’t need a note from your doctor, or your teacher,” Padilla said. “It’s about showing up for the job voters elected us to do.” subhed: STAFF AND BUDGET In running the city, every council member has a staff of around 20, as well as a budget of roughly $1 million for the year. Chicago’s aldermen – some of whom hold other jobs, and do more work in committees with just one or two full council meetings per month – have a staff of three and an expense account of about $33,000 annually. In San Diego, council members who meet twice a week and represent about 150,000 constituents each – compared to L.A.’s thrice-weekly meetings and 250,000-constituent workload – have eight to 10 staff members. “It sounds nice to have that big a staff,” said George Biagi, spokesman for San Diego Councilwoman Toni Atkins. “The mayor here has only 25 to 27 and this is the seventh-largest city.” Perhaps one consolation, though, is that San Diego’s eight full-time council members get even more “legislative breaks” from council meetings than in L.A.: 16 weeks out of chambers slated for next year. San Diego Councilman Jim Madaffer said those breaks allow council members to visit their districts. “It’s time to spend with the community; we’re not out vacationing on the beaches of Hawaii – or San Diego.” He said the council decided not to pursue higher salaries because, at a time when city employees are being asked to do more, he said it wouldn’t “be too good to set that example.” Still, L.A. council members generally bemoaned the size of their staff, and its pay, saying field staff generally earn in the $40,000-a-year range. Council members use part of their $1 million budget to pay for their and their staff’s cell phones, which this year ran to a total for the council of nearly $100,000 through the end of October. Those bills included personal calls, and council members reimburse those amounts. Late Friday, the clerk’s office provided a list of reimbursements for personal calls for council members and their staffs including Greuel ($91), LaBonge ($230), Perry ($21), Smith ($687) and Garcetti ($605). Meanwhile, to get around town, there’s the city car of their choice, costing up to $32,815 for Jan Perry’s 2002 LS Lincoln, with city gas and maintenance tossed in. Only Councilman Weiss drives his own vehicle – a Jeep Grand Cherokee – but he does get city gas. By contrast, San Diego council members – paid a $75,386 base, with a flexible benefits package worth about $8,575 annually – get an auto allowance of $800 per month. For newly minted Councilman Jose Huizar, the resources are relished after his recent stint as Los Angeles Unified school board president. There, he represented a district more than twice the size of his current council district – but with a salary of $24,000 and a staff of four. “I really appreciate the available staff to respond to my constituents’ concerns,” he said, beaming. Beth Barrett, (818) 713-3731 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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