With millions of dollars in debt and a $3 million projected deficit for 2013 alone, Alameda County is struggling to stay afloat. But rather than pay off its dues, the city is shelling out a $423,664 annual salary for a county administrator.
Using taxpayer money, the county’s supervisors are rewarding Administrator Susan Muranishi with a minimum annual salary of $423,664 for the rest of her life – including the years of her retirement.
Even though the county is struggling financially, it pays Muranishi significantly more than other US counties pay their administrators. In 2011, Washington County reported paying its administrator $120,228, which is the most it paid any of its salaried county employees. The average salary for a chief administrative officer is $94,992, the International City/Council Management Association reported in 2008.
By giving its administrator more than four times as much money than the average American in that position, Alameda County has come under scrutiny for wasteful spending. Locals who heard about Muranishi’s pay have responded to the situation with shock and anger, infuriated that their county is being forced to slash its budget while the richest Americans continue to receive their pay – plus bonuses.
“You know, all the money’s going up to the top and everybody at the bottom has to suffer,” Alameda County resident Billy Rodgers told KGO-TV, an ABC affiliate. “That’s a hell of a lot, 423 thousands dollars.”
According to state records, Muranishi’s base salary is $302,000, but she receives more than $121,000 in benefits such as equity pay, longevity pay, car allowance and performance bonuses. As a reward for working for the county for more than 30 years, she is receiving an extra $54,000 per year. Her performance bonus tops $24,000 and she receives nearly $9,000 in ‘car allowance’ each year.
Muranishi is the highest-paid county administrator in the state of California, and a recent study found that Alameda County’s public employees have the second-highest average salaries in the state.
"The obscenely exorbitant salary received by the CAO of Alameda County reveals a fundamental disconnect between our public leaders and ordinary citizens. The 'guaranteed salary for life' is particularly galling and will burden Alameda County taxpayers for decades,” Presdeitn of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association Jon Coupal told KGO-TV.
While Muranishi’s salary tops that of other California county representatives, she does not represent an isolated case of wasteful spending by deficit-ridden governments.
Stockton Police Chief Tom Morris retired with a $204,000 pension last year after just eight months on the job. Meanwhile, the former police chief moved to a different city and makes an addition $76,066 salary at a new job while still raking in his retirement from a destitute city. Stockton declared bankruptcy late last year and is now fighting for bankruptcy protection in court throughout the next month.
And at a California mental hospital, one state psychiatrist is making $822,302 annually at taxpayers’ expense. About 16 state psychiatrists each rake in more than $400,000 a year, making more than California Governor Jerry Brown.
To compensate for these salaries, some cities and counties have been forced to lay-off city workers, slash public services, reduce the number of employed firefighters and police officers, and hold off on construction projects. San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy in Aug. 2012, after having awarded some of its employees with unusually high salaries. Former San Bernardino police chief Keith Kilmer, for example, receives $216,581 a year while also working another job.
The city of Chico became California’s latest to undergo government restructuring and reduce the number of city departments from 10 to 5. Facing a $3.5 million structural deficit and dwindling resources, the city has been forced to downsize.
While struggling with a massive deficit for years, the state of California has repeatedly been forced to cut its spending at both the local and state level. But as long as county administrators make more than $400k each year, taxpayers will continue to bear the consequences as the money is channeled to those at the top.