City salaries have come under scrutiny recently. Ever since the City of Bell fiasco, everyone wants to know what city leaders are earning—and watchdogs have begun to catch that financial wave to ride it into unincorporated territory.
Out of the six special districts in San Luis Obispo County, Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) General Manager Tammy Rudock makes significantly more than any other general manager—and nearly twice that of the lowest paid general manager.
That revelation came in October 2010, when State Controller John Chiang required cities across California to post the annual compensation of full-time employees. The Controller’s Office has now made that same requirement for special districts. According to spokesman Garin Casaleggio, the move wasn’t intended to root out inflated salaries or corruption, but to respond to demands from concerned state residents about their own local governments.
“After the problems uncovered in the City of Bell brought to light serious lapses in government, Mr. Chiang decided it was in the best interest of the public to have this information out in the open,” Casaleggio told New Times.
As a result, special community districts were required to file current compensation rates with the controller by Dec. 13, which Chiang expects to add to a public database by June 2011.
The Central Coast has six such areas, each with its own community services district: Nipomo, Oceano, Los Osos, San Miguel, Templeton, and Cambria. As of this printing, only Cambria had its full compensation report posted online.
It was that gesture of transparency that, in December, led the California Special Districts Association to name CCSD in its monthly newsletter as one of three districts statewide “leading the pack on transparency and accountability.”
However, not everybody is so quick to pat the district’s administrators on the back. Some Cambria residents are critical of the district’s salaries as compared with other districts.
“There has been quite an outcry,” said Catherine Ryan Hyde, a Cambria resident.
The average salary for a special district general manager in California is $110,419. In SLO County, the average is $112,711.
Rudock makes $166,538.
Special district general managers serve as the executive officer, providing day-to-day leadership for the district and carrying into effect the will of the board of directors—and it’s typically the highest-paid position in the district. Rudock is the highest paid manager in any local district.
Here’s a quick breakdown of district managers’ salaries: Oceano’s Rafael Montemuro makes $87,500; Los Osos’s Dan Gilmore, $90,000; San Miguel’s Mike Ellison, $91,150; Templeton’s Jeff Hodge, $115,000; and Nipomo’s Michael LeBrun, $126,082.
Rudock’s total compensation, including benefits, comes to more than $231,000 per year.
She joined the district as assistant manager in 2002, taking over as general manager in 2004. She renewed her contract in July 2007, with a base salary of $121,548, which doesn’t include certain allowances such as paid leave cash-outs, deferred compensation, and auto and housing allowances.
In addition to the $55,641 per year she makes in employer-paid benefits, Rudock gets a $1,200 monthly housing allowance with an annual cost-of-living adjustment, an automobile allowance of $450 per month, business phone compensation, 20 paid vacation days, and 10 days of administrative leave per year.
Cambria has a population of just more than 6,200 people with a median household income of roughly $45,000, according to the 2000 census. The district serves approximately 4,200 customers, according to the district’s website.
In comparison, Nipomo—with the second highest salary for its general manager—has a population of roughly 12,000 and serves approximately 4,500 customers.
A 2009 survey of 262 districts, provided to New Times by California Special Districts Association Executive Director Neil McCormack, found the average salary for communities similar in population to Cambria is only slightly higher than the California average, at $114,828.
“We perform the same functions as the city managers,” Rudock said. “Our communities are just not incorporated, but we carry the same duties and responsibilities.”
San Luis Obispo City Manager Katie Lichtig is the highest-paid city official in SLO County. She earns a salary of $221,520 a year plus $86,528 in benefits to manage a city of about 44,000.
When talking about district administrator salaries, said former CCSD Board of Directors’ President Greg Sanders, it’s important to “compare apples to apples.”
“The CCSD has a full array of services that it provides that others do not, and you have to take that into account,” Sanders said. “Also, Cambria is very isolated and the cost of housing is very high. In order to attract personnel, you have to pay a housing allowance. When you look at it through that prism, I don’t think [Rudock’s salary is] out of line with other CSD managers.”
Sanders said being a resident isn’t a requirement for the general manager job, but it is the board’s preference, “and it is required in order to get the housing allowance.”
Rudock, however, said it was a requirement in her case, and that’s why she moved to Cambria from Paso Robles after negotiating her contract.
Since the district published its employee compensation online, many residents complained to New Times that the salaries are too high. Rudock said she hasn’t received, nor is she aware of, any such complaints.
Sanders, however, said the district’s pension system is the real problem. The district uses the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which isn’t paying for itself and is something Sanders said he would have liked to address during his tenure, which ended this year.
“[Rudock’s] got responsibility for far more than the general manager of any other district in SLO County. But having said that, I think the pension situation is out of control,” Sanders said. “I just don’t see how the Cambria CSD can sustain the kind of pensions that are paid out.”
Administrative salaries were a prominent topic in the 2010 CCSD election, which brought newcomers Jim Bahringer and Mike Thompson to the Board of Directors, though that was overshadowed by the community’s water issues, namely the debate over a proposed desalination plant. The two candidates who pledged to examine district salaries and oppose any increases were defeated.
Thompson could not be reached as of press time, but Bahringer shared a brief thought on CSD salaries: “I don’t think there’s any appetite for increases, especially in Cambria.”
Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.