Holding public officials accountable is so hot right now.
The state Controller's Office made its heroic contribution to the transparency trend today, unveiling a website it's been cooking up (on low heat) for the past three months. On August 3, Controller John Chiang demanded all cities and counties in California fork over a report of employees' and elected officials' salaries. Now, they're lined up nice 'n' pretty in a comprehensive online database.
Catchily titled sco.ca.gov/compensation_search.html, the site is gigantic —
Too big for its own server, even, which is crying from all the hits. Half the links don't respond, and the rest take a good five minutes to load. You'll get a lot of this:
Even when the site does decide to function, your average Sarah Palin will have little luck sifting through lists of lifeguards and pool cleaners for the real dirt — not to mention deciphering the dirt, it there's any to be found.
But if you can set aside a good hour or two for public-official probing, some fishy numbers do begin to surface.
Here's a nice example from the city of Baldwin Park, population 81,445, located just east of I-605. By clicking “Total 2009 Wages Subject to Medicare” (get ready for the rainbow swirl of wait), you can organize the entries by highest salary to lowest. The first two columns, “Annual Salary Minimum” and “Annual Salary Maximum,” are standards set by the city. Here are the first 10 entries:
Uh, really? Did some Baldwin Park police officer really make $144,766 last year? When asked if this was normal, Controller's Office representative Hallye Jordan pointed to the definition of “Total Wages”:
“The amounts listed may include, but are not limited to, wages, overtime, cash payments for vacation and sick leave, and bonus payments.”
Still — even if police dude worked ridiculous overtime, that's twice his maximum salary. Then there are the Baldwin Park City Councilmembers:
All this, just from random-ass Baldwin Park. Who lives there, anyway?
In the end, we're mostly just left with more questions. How do we know these numbers are legit? “We wouldn't know unless it came to light that they had lied,” Jordan said. How do we know if the same employee is being paid under multiple titles? “We don't have their social security numbers, so we can't track that.” Why isn't this goddamn page loading? “Hmmm, mine isn't really loading either right now.”
Can't there just be a “Find Scandal” button?
The site also doesn't compare 2009's data with salaries from previous years, or include any special districts. Meaning it wouldn't have been enough to catch the latest public-official pay scandal in Los Angeles: The Pasadena Star-News uncovered yesterday that water officials throughout the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier areas have received paycheck increases as high as 28 percent since 2008, amid growing rates for customers.
Speaking of Baldwin Park, the Star-News reported:
Some of the biggest rate increases have come from Valley County Water District in Baldwin Park. The district's board voted last year to increase rates for commercial and industrial customers by as much as 250 percent and for residential customers by as much as 41 percent.
The board also voted to give General Manager Brian Dickinson an $18,000, 16 percent raise, for an annual salary of $130,008. And board members voted to increase the amount they each receive per meeting to $171.03.
When will it stop? Will the Controller's new website make a difference? Tell us what you think.