Compensation Study Advisory Committee Appointed to Join in Review of the Size and Payscales of Santa Monica’s Workforce

July 6, 2017
by Rick Cole

Compensation Study Advisory Committee Appointed to Join in Review of the Size and Payscales of Santa Monica’s Workforce

Earlier this year, media reports spotlighted the issue of public employee compensation here in Santa Monica.  The press release that sparked the controversy was misleading in its particulars, but it tapped into a legitimate concern.  Santa Monica has a large, well-paid workforce.  It’s fair to ask if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.

Some in the community called for an “audit” of salaries of city workers and executives.  Actually, the City is audited annually by a respected outside accounting firm operating under stringent rules that have been tightened considerably after scandals in places like Bell, California.  The salaries of every staff member from the highest paid executive to the lowest paid part-time recreation workers are reported annually to the State Controller and posted on the Public Pay website along with information from 470 of California’s 488 cities. 

Instead of a redundant audit of the accuracy of this information, the City Council Audit Subcommittee agreed with representatives of neighborhood groups that a comprehensive review should be undertaken of whether the pay scales make sense.  In additional to the accounting firm that does audits to ascertain the accuracy of the City’s financial data, the City also contracts with an accounting firm that does regular audits of the efficiency of the City’s various operations.  The firm, Moss Adams, has been tasked with taking a look at the City’s entire compensation system, including pay, benefits and overtime practices to compare it with other public agencies, to analyze its cost-effectiveness and recommend potential changes.  The Audit Subcommittee includes three members of the City Council and two citizen volunteers with business and/or accounting backgrounds.  Two new members have recently been appointed to those slots: business and accounting consultant Elizabeth Van Denburgh and local restaurant owner and former fashion business executive Greg Morena. 

Those who raised the concerns about the size and compensation of Santa Monica’s workforce, including tech executive Dominic Gomez, neighborhood leader and retired corporate executive Laurence Eubank and retired business manager Bob Gomez, pushed to include more resident voices in the compensation study.  The City Council Subcommittee agreed and recommended to the City Council that the City Manager select 5-7 citizen volunteers to sit in with the Audit Subcommittee during the discussions on the scope of the compensation study as well as when the midpoint progress report comes forward and finally when the draft report is presented to the Subcommittee prior to it going to the City Council.

The Council endorsed this idea and fifteen outstanding citizens applied to serve.  I talked with the applicants and all were civic-minded and interested in providing independent perspective on a complicated and sometimes emotional topic.  It was not easy narrowing the choices to just 7, especially because I wanted to find a balance of viewpoints, backgrounds and representation of our diverse communities.

In the end I selected Dominic Gomez and Eubanks from among those who had initiated the push to expand community participation.  I also added Janine Bush, who has had specialized experience with compensation issues in the public and private sectors during her career in human resources; Libby Bradley, who is embarking on a master’s degree in public policy from USC after working as an account executive at a respected government relations firm; former Mayor and retired pharmacist Bob Holbrook; corporate financial business manager Sam Thanawalla who has an MBA in Finance from Pepperdine; and Homa Mojtabai, who also has an MBA (from Wharton) and worked as a management consultant before working for five years with the City of Santa Monica.

I hope the other applicants will take an active interest in the review and serve the community in other ways.  It’s a hallmark of our engaged citizenry that we have such able volunteers willing to step forward to contribute their time and talents.

All Santa Monica citizens can follow the progress of the compensation study through the webpage devoted to the City Council Audit Subcommittee which has meeting agendas, reports and minutes.  The review is expected to cover several months and make an in-depth study and analysis of the City’s compensation policies and practices and to provide recommendations for improvements. 

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