How much is your city manager paid? Probably more than you

With Bell, Calif. pole-vaulting into national headlines for paying its city manager $800,000, it's human nature to wonder how much bacon the top manager in your community brings home -- and how much fat is on it. Bell covers 2.5 miles and has 36,000 residents, none of whom, it is fairly safe to say, earn anywhere near that much a year. So yeah, inquiring minds want to know: What does my city manager make?

The staff of looked into a range of communities across the country and found some surprising -- and not-so-surprising -- results:

For example, in tony Beverly Hills, population 30,000, city manager Rod Wood brings home $301,600 a year. Hey, there may only be 30,000 residents, but they are a vocal lot. Parks get watered and weeded; garbage men pick up any trash that falls on the golden streets; the homeless remain exceedingly well-hidden from sight. The man earns his money.

In celebrity-studded Malibu, the city manager earns a relatively paltry sum: $192,000 for dealing with the city's 12,000 residents. Of course his real headaches begin in the summer, when the town's population can swell to 100,000 on any given weekend and somebody has to be the heavy when local surfers toss paparazzi into the water for annoying the likes of Matthew McConaughey.
And while neither of those gentlemen follow New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's lead and work for $1 a year (Bloomberg's net worth was estimated at $18 billion in 2010), in some places the heads of government have declared "enough is enough."

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie recently deemed that no state employee should make more than the governor does -- $175,000 a year. Christie raised a stink after learning that the former head of a sewerage commission was earning $313,000 a year. Christie also has the gun sights set on N.J. school superintendents, hoping to cap their salaries as well. The protest wails from educators could drown out the traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.

In nearby Philadelphia -- a city once dogged by political corruption and cronyism -- the spirit of shared suffering lives on as well. Mayor Michael Nutter announced that he and his cabinet would take pay cuts to help balance the city's budget. I like politicians who behave honorably. Mayor Nutter took a 10% pay cut, which amounts to about $18,600 off his $186,000 salary. His chief of staff currently earns $198,500 and his senior advisor, $155,000. Philadelphia also has a Chief Integrity Officer who earns $150,000; we're not sure what that position actually is, but we respectfully submit that a city like Philadelphia likely needs one. All all of those jobs will be paid 3.5% to 5% less.

And Philadelphia is, after all, a big city, so only the most cynical would suggest that salaries in this range are excessive. It's a harder arguments in places like Agoura Hills, Calif., a city of 22,000 where the city manager earns $189,000 -- and the assistant city manager $147,000. Both have full medical, dental and vision coverage, life and disability insurance, auto and tech allowances and are eligible for performance bonuses.

Heck, the guys from Philly might consider moving west where they can apparently earn more and have a lot fewer headaches. Tossing out the first ball at the Agoura Hills Little League may not rank with doing it for the Phillies' opener, but that said, an Agoura Hills resident's idea of a crime is missing the half-off sale at Nordstrom's.

Certainly living in a geographic paradise has some added value. Frankly, getting to live in Hawaii should be considered reward in itself, but the mayor of Honolulu -- hoping-to-be-governor of that state -- recently vacated his post, which paid $136,428. The Honolulu city manager makes $126,732. Like I said, there's a bonus in getting to live there.

The city manager of Los Angeles earns $262,000 for overseeing more than 4 million residents. Compare that to the city manager of nearby Irwindale, population 1,717, where the city manager earns $235,500. (That's $137.16 per person, in case you were wondering.) A head-scratcher, that one. The Los Angeles Times did a nifty chart on each community in the county, comparing population, median income of the residents and the city manager's salary.

As is true of many other things, civil servant salaries seem more tempered once you leave the two coasts. Toledo, Ohio Mayor Mike Bell makes $122,400 a year to oversee that city of 300,000 people. And Columbus, Ohio Mayor Mike Coleman earns $158,309 a year. Population: 733,203. He functions without a city manager.

Portland, Ore. also lacks a city manager, instead having city commissioners each responsible for a portion of what would be the city manager's job -- one oversees police, another parks, etc. And each earn $102,294 a year. City's population: 515,000.

Of course, not all civic employees are riding a gravy train. There's the unfortunate story of the mayor of Coppell, Texas, who was in debt, getting foreclosed upon and driven to shoot herself and her 19-year-old daughter. Hard economic times affect everyone, which is probably why the outrage factor in Bell, Calif. runs so strong.

But it could be worse. In Chicago -- surprise, surprise -- politicians bring patronage and nepotism to nose-bleeding new heights. A Chicago-based WalletPopper offers this: "We don't have city managers. We have 50 alderman who each make $110,556 a year, and vote themselves a raise in the same session they cut jobs."

Want more from Chicago? She delivers: "Mayor-for-life Richard M. Daley [the son of mayor-for-life Richard J. Daley] had a budgeted salary of $216,210 in 2009, but was required to take mandatory unpaid days off equaling $8,883. So his salary last year ended up being $207,327. But power is priceless."

Daley may have it good, but he's hardly as crass as the commissioners in Cook County, which contains Chicago. Cook County Board Commissioner Bobbie Steele pulled off the ultimate money grab for serving just a few short months as interim board president recently.

As a result of her back-breaking stint, Steele doubled her pension because she retired as a president, receiving benefits based off a yearly $170,000 salary, and not a commissioner, whose benefits are based off an $80,000 yearly salary. By the way, she retired in 2006 after winning re-election as commissioner -- allowing her to promptly hand the seat over to her son.

Is Chicago the Land of Opportunity, or what?
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