- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

First of three parts

The D.C. government’s payroll grew by nearly $180 million between 2002 and last year, while its work force decreased by more than 2,000 personnel during that period, city records show.

In addition, the number of city workers earning salaries of $150,000 or more climbed from nine in 2002 to 43 last year, when the median income for a four-member D.C. family was $56,067.

As D.C. taxpayers face higher property assessments, user fees and traffic fines, the city government is paying more in salaries and benefits for its smaller work force.

Meanwhile, the District last year amassed a $370 million general fund budget surplus, and city officials perennially eye other revenue sources, such as a commuter tax.

Data from the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer show that the government’s payroll rose 11.6 percent — from $1.55 billion to $1.73 billion — between 2002 and last year.

During that period, the total number of employees on the payroll declined by 5.3 percent — from 41,171 to 39,088 employees. The number of authorized full-time employee positions decreased from 31,307 in 2002 to 30,434 last year.

The Washington Times has obtained copies of the payroll data under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Compared with other cities of similar size, the District, with a population of 570,000, has seen staggering growth in its payroll, with 1,268 employees being paid an annual salary in excess of $100,000 — up from 690 workers in 2002.

In Baltimore, which has 628,670 residents and 15,500 city workers, 55 employees earned annual salaries of more than $100,000. Two of those employees earn salaries of more than $150,000.

Even in Chicago, which has a population of nearly 4 million and 37,639 employees on the city payroll, 1,100 workers make $100,000 or more and 28 earn $150,000 or more.

D.C. officials defended the high salaries, saying they need to pay more to attract and retain quality personnel while meeting the governmental needs of a city and of a state.

Lisa Marin, who heads the D.C. Office of Personnel, said 92 percent of the jobs under the mayor’s authority are union jobs that provide contractually negotiated pay raises. She said the city has been negotiating to make more pay raises merit-based instead of automatic.

“We’re trying to fix — to right-size — our pay structure so we don’t have those,” she said, “so that it’s not an entitlement to get a pay increase.”

While base salaries in the D.C. government may be larger than those in other jurisdictions, lucrative retirement and benefit packages in other jurisdictions bring the total compensation figures in line, Miss Marin said.

She added that a healthy economy makes it harder for the District to lure skilled employees from the private sector.

“We are competing, I think, against our own economic boom,” Miss Marin said.

Personnel officials also note that cities such as Chicago and Baltimore do not tally school system employees among their city workers.

However, after discounting the 92 D.C. school employees who earn more than $100,000 a year, the District still has more city workers in the $100,000 club than do Chicago and Baltimore combined.

According to D.C. payroll data, the public school system has the largest group of personnel with $150,000 salaries.

Seventeen of the District’s 43 employees earning at least $150,000 work for the school system, including schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who earns $250,000 a year — the city government’s highest salary.

Mr. Janey, who moved from Rochester, N.Y., to head the D.C. schools in August 2004, has been working to improve a school system plagued by low standardized test scores, dilapidated buildings, outdated books and disciplinary problems among students.

The public school system operates as a separate entity from the D.C. government, but receives its funding from city coffers. Last year, it paid:

• Peter G. Parham $170,000 for serving as Mr. Janey’s chief of staff.

• Harold Lincoln Nelson $184,392 for engineering work in the operations and maintenance division at Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center in Adams Morgan. (Mr. Nelson earns $25.52 an hour.)

• Bester D. Bonner $249,051.92 for overseeing school library media. A schools spokeswoman said Mrs. Bonner, whose salary was $98,115, received a large retroactive payment because of an incorrect work history that dated back many years. Mrs. Bonner has since left the school system.

Besides Mr. Janey, only two other city workers earn at least $200,000 a year: Allen Y. Lew, chief executive officer of the Sports and Entertainment Commission, who earns $230,000; and William L. Pollard, president of the University of the District of Columbia, who makes $200,000.

Mr. Lew has headed the sports commission since November 2004 and is responsible for the management and operation of RFK Stadium, the D.C. Armory and their adjacent facilities, and for presenting and promoting sports, entertainment and special events in the District.

Mr. Pollard, UDC’s chief since July 2002, oversees instruction and facilities at the District’s only public university.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Fire and EMS Department employs nine workers who earn at least $150,000 a year, including Chief Adrian H. Thompson, who makes $168,000.

Chief Thompson has come under fire for his department’s lackluster response in the fatal beating of journalist David E. Rosenbaum. Mayor Anthony A. Williams gave the chief a vote of confidence after two council members called for him to be fired.

The Metropolitan Police Department has seven workers with $150,000 salaries. Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who has led the 3,600-member department since April 1998, has the highest salary at $175,000 a year.

But the highest-paid officer last year was Sgt. Frank Buentello, who made $261,305.86, more than tripling his annual salary of $73,610.

Seven other officers also were paid more money than the police chief last year, and a total of 43 earned more than $150,000. In most cases, the extra pay was earned through overtime.

Chief Ramsey said Sgt. Buentello’s high earnings occurred in part because the 37-year department veteran has seniority in selecting overtime assignments.

The chief made no apologies for his use of overtime, saying it is a critical tool for deploying extra resources to high-crime areas without pulling officers out of their assigned patrols.

He said a “significant percentage” of overtime is funded through federal government grants. Overtime spent on officers to man vehicles equipped with automated traffic-enforcement equipment is reimbursed by the contractor that administers the program, though it appears on the District’s payroll, the chief noted.

“As long as it’s legitimately earned, I don’t have a problem with it,” Chief Ramsey said. “We do have checks and balances in place to prevent abuse.”

Mr. Williams had the 48th-highest salary among city workers, earning $149,200 last year.

And the District’s highest-paid employee last year wasn’t a department head — or even a worker with a $150,000-plus salary.

Adelaide Okyiri, the city library system’s former budget director, received $318,147 last year, with an annual base salary of $97,978.

A spokeswoman said Miss Okyiri was no longer with the library system and her earnings were increased as the result of a lawsuit settlement.

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