| As I predicted, the story of high-salaried city officials in a small city in LA County is being used to call into question all public employee salaries, from the people who empty the park trash cans, put books on the shelves, teach your kids, to the people who make sure all this is done within the budget. This SacBee article on a recent League of Cities meeting is a good example of how the local government feels they're on the defensive:
"For city managers, it's kind of like the Rodney King beating," said Winters City Manager John Donlevy, who is on the League's city manager executive committee. "It had to be one of the most reprehensible things done. City managers are charged with being the fiduciary of the public trust. Cities have to live within their means and I don't care how good (they are), nobody should be paid close to a million dollars."
The scandal in the city of 37,000 comes at a vulnerable time for California cities. Trust in public officials has eroded, particularly when the discussion turns to those with high salaries. In addition, as cities and counties use layoffs and wage concessions to balance their budgets, labor unions are accusing public agencies of protecting bloated management staffs at the expense of the rank and file.
I'm sure everyone would probably agree that $800,000 to run a small city like Bell is a bit much. But the focus on city salaries seems more than a little hypocritical when compared to the far larger, much more widespread, systematic robbery of the middle-class by the CEO class, who get paid exorbitant salaries even when they fail.
Carly Fiorina, candidate for US Senate, took a $21.4 million payout when she was fired from HP after having destroyed that company.
As to Meg Whitman's exorbitant salary, Jerry Brown made the obvious connection while on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show recently:
CAVUTO: You sound like your Republican opponent, Meg Whitman. It's almost word-for-word what she says.
BROWN: Well, no, you'll -- listen, wait a minute, this lady gave herself $120 million and then they had to lay off 20 percent of the employees. She had a private jet that flew her around for 200 hours on private...
CAVUTO: Yes, but she wasn't on the tax-payer's dime, you know what I'm saying?
BROWN: No, but that was shareholders, and shareholders are really the citizens of the corporation. So, look, she is flying around on a private jet. She has almost 100 employees paying -- spending $500,000 a day. It's the only business that I know of that has no limit. There's no sense of cost containment. And that's not a good preparation to take over California which is $19 billion in the hole.
Cavuto's response is revealing: he thinks it's perfectly OK for a CEO to rob the shareholders and employees, paying them lower dividends and wages in order to enrich themselves, but when it comes to public employees, how dare they make anything other than poverty wages.
Jerry Brown was absolutely right to call out this hypocrisy. CEOs make hundreds of times what their average employees make, a form of systematic robbery that has contributed to the wage stagnation and economic imbalances that helped produce the recession.
And both Fiorina and Whitman support extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, with Whitman wanting to worsen the state budget deficit with a capital gains tax cut that would further enrich her wealthy friends while forcing more teacher layoffs.
Therein lies the true hypocrisy of the Bell scandal. A few city managers are making high six figures and suddenly it's the end of the world for local government - but failed CEOs take home ridiculous amounts of money at the expense of their shareholders and employees while their companies suffer and struggle, while these CEOs fire tens of thousands of workers so they can have more money to finance their campaigns for office, and we're supposed to see it as the natural order of the world?
I don't think so.