The $100k club

The problem cited in this story — scads of Stockton city employees earning over $100,000, even though the city is broke — is not merely that city workers are still overpaid. It is that government workers are overpaid throughout the state.

So if the city wants to attract competent people — really good managers who can help city government unlock Stockton’s potential, instead of the clowns who made it a laughingstock — it has to pay them well.

The market is not the only reason. Stockton government was not the premier career destination in the best of times. Now it’s a pressure cooker. Did I mention crime?

City Manager Bob Deis is not only striving to reform Stockton fiscally. He’s angling to transform the public servant culture with super-qualified executives. How well is it necessary to pay such folks? An extra $15,000, say.

That’s going to be controversial. I’m OK with it if it’s done judiciously. Because we have seen the price of incompetence, and it is far, far, higher than the total of the $100k club.

For evidence that compentency more than repays its costs, look no farther than the bankruptcy.

“The city of Stockton, California, has a strong case heading into court next week in a bid to establish eligibility for bankruptcy protection,” Reuters writes in this story.

The writer compared us to San Berdoo, where public employees still rule and where incompetence therefore remains high.

“Stockton is in several aspects an opposite of San Bernardino, another sizeable California city that filed for bankruptcy last year. Stockton planned its move well ahead of its bankruptcy filing. San Bernardino rushed into a hasty filing after its city council learned that spending would exceed revenue by $45 million and the city had no reserves.

“Additionally, Stockton has targeted bondholders for losses while San Bernardino is skipping out on payments to the state pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System …”

Right. So Stockton’s bankruptcy filing is well-thought out. And the city picked its battles wisely. As the result, it is likely that you, the taxpayer, are going to be spared the future tax increases and draconian service cuts that would be likely if the courts were to reject a botched filing and order Stockton to pay all debts.

That doesn’t mean no further cuts are necessary. They are. And yes, it chafes to learn Mike Niblock, the red-tape king retired out of the Community Development Department, is making bank when for many maddening years he did more to hamper business than to help it.

But Stockton has probably cut more fat out of government than any city in the state. Ronald Reagan himself did not reduce the federal government as much as Deis cut Stockton government. In that respect, we’re living through the most fiscally conservative era in the city’s history. And one of the most competent.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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