A public health care district in southern Alameda County paid its chief executive $876,831 in 2008 — more than twice as much as any other local government employee in the East Bay, San Francisco,San Mateo County and San Joaquin County, an extensive survey of salary data by the Bay Area News Group found.
The pay of Nancy Farber, CEO of Washington Township health care district, was nearly three times as much as what Contra Costa County paid the chief of its hospital in Martinez and four times as much as the top administrator at San Francisco General Hospital.
Farber's pay more than doubled the salaries of administrators at government agencies with thousands more employees and budgets that dwarf that of the Washington district. The district has an elected board of directors that runs one hospital.
What appears to be the only comparable salary in the Bay Area is that of the CEO of the Marin Healthcare District, Lee Domanico, whose contracted base salary is $498,000 and whose contracts allows for bonuses of as much as $209,016. The district has not answered a request for the exact amount of Domanico's 2008 pay.
Farber's pay is but one example of data culled from the salaries of more than 134,000 local gover acrosnment workers in the Bay Area through Public Records Act requests. The disclosures follow a 2007 California Supreme Court ruling stating that the information is public, a decision in a case brought in 2004 by the Bay Area News Group's Contra Costa Times.
Salaries ranging from those of firefighters and janitors to health care administrators and lawyers in 64 counties, cities and districts is now posted at ContraCostaTimes.com and InsideBayArea.com. The salary data will be a growing presence on the Web sites of the Bay Area News Group. Information on additional government entities will continue to be added.
The data show wide discrepancies in pay and sometimes high salaries in government agencies, such as the Port of Oakland, where a semiskilled laborer grossed $123,450 in 2008, and in Newark, in southern Alameda County, where more than half of the 215 city employees were each paid more than $100,000 last year and the average gross pay was $109,027.
As governments struggle through layoffs, furloughs and attrition, leaders are realizing that they have "given away too much" in salaries during flush budget years, said Gary Wyatt, president of the California State Association of Counties.
More than 80 percent of general fund expenditures on a given government level are related to personnel, said Wyatt, an Imperial County supervisor. High salaries, he said, are often the result of "people being just too generous" with public money.
Four of the 10 highest public salaries in the salary survey were paid to Washington health district employees, including Farber. Three of her subordinates were each paid from $372,555 to $407,065, the data show.
San Joaquin County also had four employees in the top 10 highest paid employees — four doctors at the county's General Hospital, paid from $377,023 to $449,155.
The other two members of the top 10 were Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi at $424,810 and East Bay Municipal Utility District General Manager David Diemer at $380,023.
The Washington district headed by Farber, 61, of Sunol, employed 1,021 people last year, according to a list of employees it released, on a budget of $365 million. The salary of Joseph Stewart, the chief executive of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District in San Pablo, is $300,000. Its 2008 budget was $120.5 million.
Muranishi ran a government of 8,993 people in 2008 on a budget of $2.4 billion. By contrast, San Francisco City Administrator Edwin Lee was paid $246,086 last year to oversee a government with more than 38,000 employees and a budget of more than $6 billion.
Farber, of the Washington district, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview. District board President William Nicholson, of Sunol, who practices at the hospital, said Farber is paid "according to her merit" and should not be compared to other government employees because of the complexities of running a hospital.
He said the work is more difficult than what's faced by someone running a large governmental agency, such as a county, because the district collects no taxes, instead surviving on fees for its services.
"We operate in a competitive environment" with private hospitals, he said. Washington "provides excellent care," which, he added, is "not true of other government hospitals." One of the state's top public-spending watchdogs said Farber's pay cannot be compared to private hospitals because she isn't under pressure to make a profit.
Farber's salary "is pretty hard to justify" in public employment, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "I think the board there has some questions to answer."
Making public the salaries of government employees is the only way to draw attention to outliers such as Farber, Coupal said.
"The only way to control this is with transparency and a tax revolt," he said.
Records held tight
More than two years after state Supreme Court Justice Ronald George authored a 7-0 ruling stating that the salaries of all government employees are public record, some local governments still refuse to quickly release data. The city of Alameda took more than two months to release information on all of its 2008 employees and would not perform calculations to make the data easier for the public to understand. Albany refused to make similar calculations on overtime pay and bonuses.
San Ramon in Contra Costa County took weeks longer to release information than the law allows, so did the City of Alameda. San Pablo and Atheton in San mateo County refused to put the data in a spreadsheet so it could be easily understood.
Solano County government and Benicia did not answer initial requests for salary data and needed to be asked a second time. The head of Napa County's human resources department insisted on informing all county employees of a request for the data, citing the threat of identity theft, even though the Supreme Court already rejected that argument made by public employee unions two years ago.
In San Mateo County, Redwood City refused to release the data without charges estimated to be as much as $300. Napa County also refused to release data without being paid for it. They were the only governments in the region where officials responded to requests for the data by insisting on fees.
But other governments, including the cities of Walnut Creek, Antioch, Oakland, and San Francisco, and San Mateo and Alameda counties made the information readily available.
Overtime cash flow
The data show that across the region, 73 public workers grossed more than $200,000 in 2008 through overtime pay that exceeded the standard base pay for their jobs.
A San Francisco nurse took home nearly $183,000 worth of overtime with a base salary of $132,740.
Twenty-four Oakland employees received overtime that exceeded their base pay; all but one of them was a police officer. In Contra Costa County, 12 firefighters also were paid more in overtime than base salary.
A right to know
As governments make cuts as the economy reels, transparency becomes the best way to inform the public about how close they are coming to the bone of basic services, said Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor, chairman of the Contra Costa Conference of Mayors.
"Everybody is struggling. It's a mess out there," he said. "People are cutting coffee; they are cutting water service."
Taylor's city employed 500 people last year, the data show. Only two were paid more than $200,000. City manager Donna Landros topped the list at $243,620.
A few miles away on the other side of Mount Diablo, the city of San Ramon, which employed 243 workers, paid its manager, Herb Moniz, $324,503 in 2008. San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson did not return calls to discuss Moniz's pay.
"I am shocked at what city managers make," Taylor said. "I think we are going to have revelations."
The Bay Area News Group's public salary database was built and is maintained by news clerk Daniel Willis, who also contributed research to this story. Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.