Grand Jury: Newport Pays Too Many Too Much

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An Orange County Grand Jury report on city employees’ compensation found no Bell-like abuses in the county, but did chide Newport Beach and Laguna Beach for their relatively large number of employees taking home six-figure compensation packages.

The report seemed likely to fuel the debate in Newport Beach over city employees’ compensation.

But Newport Beach City Manager David Kiff did some chiding of his own, criticizing the Grand Jury for using 2009 numbers when he has spent the last two years trimming Newport’s budget and workforce, and for using a method that’s stacked against Newport Beach and other tourist cities.

The report compared the salaries of positions such as city manager, planning director and other, excluding fire and police positions, across all the counties’ cities. Newport Beach was generally not among the top paid in those specific positions, although the city’s former building director was apparently the highest paid in that position in the county before he retired last year.

The report also totaled the number of employees in each city who are being compensated at $100,000 per year or more. Newport Beach’s 60 employees in that pay range is less than Anaheim’s 183, Huntington Beach’s 90, Irvine’s 103, among others. But when figured on a per capita basis, Newport’s 6.96 six-figure employees per 10,000 population was second only to Laguna Beach’s 8.73. (Laguna has 22 employees in six figures, overall.) The county average was 3.21.

“If these two cities had the average number of positions over $100,000 based on their populations, Laguna Beach would have eight such positions instead of 22, and Newport Beach would have 27 instead of 62,” the report stated.

Kiff objected strongly to the per capita comparison.

“Newport Beach has an influx of visitors across several months that can add 100,000 or more people a day to our community,” Kiff wrote. “This additional service base, not counted in our resident population, make the Grand Jury’s conclusion less meaningful.”

The report also faulted Newport Beach for posting salary information on its website that is not easily understood by an average citizen. The report graded cities on the content, clarity and accessibility of their web postings regarding salaries, and Newport Beach got grades of C, C and D, respectively.

Kiff accepted this criticism, writing that Newport Beach will “look at ways to attempt to make our salary and benefit data even more clear to the average website reader.”

Read more about this issue here.

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