By Ted AYALA
Tuesday night saw the Glendale City Council unanimously approve an 18% pay increase for City Manager Scott Ochoa and City Atty. Michael J. Garcia.
Ochoa, speaking about Garcia’s pay increase, said it was necessary in order to “achieve confidence that we have the best city attorney we can afford.”
The increase would bring their pay in line with their colleagues in similar cities. Research previously conducted by city staff determined that both Ochoa and Garcia earned approximately 22% below the market average. Cities that were compared included neighboring Pasadena and Burbank, but also cities that lay far beyond including Santa Monica and Santa Ana.
Their new five-year contract would lock in their rate for the next three years. The last two years of the contract would allow for increases within the lower range of the market average within 5%.
Upon the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, Ochoa’s yearly salary will increase from $235,000 to $278,000, while Garcia’s would go up from $210,000 to $248,808.
Neither of them has had a salary increase since the start of their respective tenures.
Despite the salary spike, Ochoa will still be earning less than his peers in Burbank and Pasadena. Garcia will earn more than Burbank’s city attorney but slightly less than Pasadena’s.
Burbank City Manager Mark Scott earns $290,000 a year and its city attorney Amy Albano earns $228,000. Pasadena’s City Manager Michael Beck earns $292,520 a year while City Atty. Michele Beal earns $254,000.
Though their salary increase won total approval from the city council, some residents were not pleased.
“I understand that the salary survey would put them more in line with other cities,” Pam Donaldson addressed the council. “Simply because other cities overpay does not mean Glendale should do the same.”
Mike Mohill said the pay hikes council was set to approve were not acceptable during a “down economy.”
“If our executives don’t think they’re well paid, the door is right there,” he added.
Harry Zavos meanwhile told the council that it was “unseemly” to approve a pay increase that amounts to more money than what most Glendale households make in a year.
City Manager Ochoa responded by saying that people with their experience were “getting paid a lot more in the private sector.”
“I don’t see this salary increase as being out of line,” he said. “It’s appropriate for somebody that does a very important task for this city.”
Councilmember Vartan Gharapetian countered by saying that the issue isn’t as simple as it may appear to be.
“There are city managers in neighboring cities that give no direction to council,” he said. “It’s chaotic. If you let our city manager go today, I don’t think you’ll find a better one tomorrow.”
His sentiment was echoed by Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan who said that although he understood the anger caused by the pay hikes, they were nonetheless necessary in the face of market realities.
“[Glendale] is not mindlessly mimicking what other cities are doing. It’s a matter of existing in a set environment with set pieces. We have to play by those rules. We don’t exist in a parallel universe where our pool of choices is paid less. They’re paid what they’re paid. Either we like them or we don’t. That’s just the reality. If they’re more skillful, they’ll move on to where there are higher salaries. This is what we have to live with.”
Councilmember Paula Devine concisely expressed the problem for the critics.
“Talent goes to where the money is,” she said. “We need to pay them in order to keep them here.”