Big bucks for city managers: Are they worth it?



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Posted on September 3, 2010 at 12:43 AM

Updated Friday, Sep 3 at 10:46 AM

Citizens in the impoverished community of Bell, California rose up this summer after learning their city manager earns almost $800,000 a year.

News 8 requested compensation records for the city managers of the 10 largest cities in North Texas. What did we find?

City manager base salaries for 2010 range from $158,000 for Tom Cox in Grand Prairie — the 7th largest city — to $278,000 for Mary Suhm in Dallas.

Salaries are voted on by each City Council. Many view their city managers like CEOs running organizations with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees.

Katrina Pierson is with the anti-tax Dallas Tea Party. "I think I'm in the wrong line of work," she said. "That would be my initial reaction."

Though Irving is the 6th largest city in North Texas, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez has the second highest salary: $246,000.

"Absolutely; it's outrageous what CEOs demand today, but that's the way life is," said Irving Mayor Herbert Gears. "Our choice is to settle for something less or demanding the best results and the best type of employee that we can have."

News 8 found, however, that many city managers don't just get a salary; some also receive additional compensation for things like retirement accounts, car allowances or performance bonuses.

Add up total compensation and Carrollton and Garland jump by about 25 percent. In Mesquite, Richardson and Irving, the city manager's compensation increases by more than 30 percent, and in Dallas by 38 percent.

For Grand Prairie City Manager Tom Cox — who had the lowest base salary at $158,000 — his total swells to $286,000, an 80 percent jump.

In fact, with incentives, The Dallas Morning News reports that if Irving City Manager Gonzalez hits all his incentive targets, he could be paid as much as $428,000, a 70 percent bump.

"I do think it's ridiculous," Katrina Pierson said. "$400,000 for a City Manager is completely ridiculous."

Mayor Gears concedes that city managers make a lot of money. "We justify it with the results that we get from our chief executive," he said.

While Irving — like many cities — is considering a tax increase for next year, Gears said the city manager has been instrumental in cutting costs — eliminating 140 jobs at City Hall and reducing electric bills by $18 million.

Gears' sentiment is echoed by other city leaders in North Texas: City managers are worth what they're paid.