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Laguna Beach city salaries highest in the county

Grand Jury also questions whether town of about 23,000 need 22 top officials. City claims the report lacks context.

June 23, 2011|By Barbara Diamond, coastlinepilot@latimes.com

Laguna Beach had more employees making salaries of $100,000-or-more per capita than any other Orange County city in calendar year 2009, but none were deemed to be overcompensated by the Orange County Grand Jury.

A Grand Jury report issued Monday that compared salaries and benefits paid in county cities questioned whether a town of about 23,000 really needs 22 top officials and upper-level employees, not including emergency personnel to run Laguna.

The report also gave the city low transparency grades Feb. 1 for making it difficult for the public to find out who makes how much for doing which jobs, but steps were taken this week to make the information more accessible, City Manager John Pietig said.

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"We have compiled the salaries and benefits on one page, which can be found under the 'How do I?' headings on the city's website," Pietig said Tuesday.

The city manager found that some of the findings in the report lacked context.

"However, cities provide different levels of services, and I don't think it was appropriate to compare Laguna to cities that don't offer the same services," he said. "We have our own transit system, unlike many other cities, our own animal shelter. We maintain our parks and beaches and our sewer system. We do our own street sweeping.

"You need skilled people in information technology, finance and personnel departments when you don't contract out services."

Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. President Martha Lydick said no position will be taken by her group until the report is thoroughly reviewed.

"We do have more expensive personnel, but we are surrounded by hills, open space and the ocean, and we need special services," Lydick said.

Taxpayers Assn. Vice President Dennis Myers refers to the city as the Isle of Laguna.

"It is more expensive to live here, and that also affects salaries," he said.

Comparisons of compensation and benefits in the study were limited to 11 positions: City Council member, city manager, city clerk, city engineer, finance, public works, parks and recreation, community development, human resources, information technology and building official.

Laguna topped only one of the 11 lists: $179,064 listed as paid annually to Public Works Director/City Engineer Steve May, who is paid one salary for both jobs. However, the amount listed included a cash-out of sick leave.

"He certainly doesn't get that every year," Pietig said. "And it was not foot-noted, as it was in other cases."

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