Perhaps more startling is the astronomical increase 740 percent between 2003-04 and 2005-06 in the number of city employees earning more than $200,000.
According to documents released by the city's Finance and Management Agency, 1,158 city employees earned at least $100,000 last fiscal year. Of the 25 top paid employees, 21 are members of the Oakland Fire Department, including 16 who earned more than $100,000 in overtime alone.
In 2005-06, 42 employees earned more than $200,000, 31 of whom are members of the fire department. Just two years ago, only five city employees earned that much.
City officials said salaries had risen because of employees' annual 4 percent raise, which is tied to the increase in the cost of living, as well as some merit increases and bonuses.
City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, who earned $238,155 in 2005-06, including a $10,000 bonus from former Mayor Jerry Brown, said employee salaries were reasonable because of the high cost of living in the Bay Area.
Edgerly emphasized that the salaries were within parameters set by the Oakland City Council. Those regulations were revised in 2004 after a furor erupted over merit raises awarded to top managers on top of 3 percent cost-of-living increases while the city
"People should be rewarded for their work," Edgerly said.
However, Edgerly said she would consider authorizing more bonuses or paid leave to honor good work, as opposed to merit salary increases, in an effort to keep costs down.
"We should be more creative," Edgerly said.
In 2003-04, 291 employees had base salaries of more than $100,000. In 2005-06, 598 employees had base salaries that put them on the list of the city's top earners, an increase of more than 105 percent.
Just five employees have base salaries of more than $200,000. They are Edgerly; City Attorney John Russo, the highest paid elected official; Assistant City Administrator Cheryl Thompson; former Redevelopment Agency Director Dan Vanderpriem; and Community and Economic Development Director Claudia Cappio.
Edgerly was the only top executive among the 25 highest paid city employees.
In comparison, the salary of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is $206,500, the highest gubernatorial paycheck in the nation. Schwarzenegger, a multimillionaire, declines to take his salary.
Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Glenview-Fruitvale, whose failed mayoral campaign vowed to make city government leaner and more effective, said he was not surprised by the spike in salaries but frustrated by the inability of officials to control them.
"We have to manage our resources better," De La Fuente said. "The one that pays the piper is the taxpayer, because it translates to fewer direct services."
De La Fuente, who earns $66,896 annually plus benefits and a car allowance, said he hoped Mayor Ron Dellums would take action to rein in employee salaries.
On Thursday, the council's rules committee, chaired by De La Fuente, unanimously endorsed a plan to raise Dellums' salary by 41 percent, from $115,372 to $163,000.
The City Charter calls for the mayor's salary to be reviewed at the start of a new term and in odd-numbered years, and should not be less than 70 percent or more than 90 percent of the average salaries of the chief executives from Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento, Santa Ana, Anaheim and Bakersfield.
The last time the mayor's salary was adjusted was 2001. Brown, who is independently wealthy, declined annual cost-of-living increases.
Councilman Larry Reid, Elmhurst-East Oakland, said the salary was justified because of the work Dellums was doing to bring state and federal money to Oakland.
Through his spokeswoman, Dellums declined to comment on both his paycheck and the salaries of city officials.
Over the next six months, the mayor and council will be forced to grapple with a projected budget deficit of $13.5 million, with $6 million of the shortfall being funds used by the city to maintain its parks and open space.
Dellums isn't the only city official in the line for a pay increase. By 2008, paychecks for unionized civilian employees will have swollen 22 percent in six years, police officers pay increased 27 percent between 2001 and 2006. A new contract with the police union is under negotiation, and is expected to include a pay raise.
In the same period, employees' retirement benefits will jump 24 percent for non-sworn employees, 39 percent for police officers and 25 percent for firefighters.
Under the city's new retirement plan, employees who retire at age 55 get 2.7 percent of their highest salary for each year of their service. For sworn employees, the deal is even sweeter: They can retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their highest salary.
City officials said the real problem was the lack of political willby the council to take on the powerful employee unions and top managers.
The highest-paid city employee was Fire Capt. Michael Fahey. The city's top overtime earner was Fire Investigator Valida Holmes, an arson investigator.
Fire Chief Daniel Farrell said so many firefighters were among the best paid city employees because of a number of vacancies caused by a higher-than-expected number of retirements.
In the Fire Department, four captains, five lieutenants and seven fire engineers all earned more than $102,000 in overtime.
In 2005-06, there were 17 vacancies in the fire engineer ranks, five in the captain ranks and seven vacant lieutenant spots, leaving many of the department's 24-hour shifts to be filled through mandatory overtime in order to meet minimum staffing levels, Farrell said.
The department spent $13 million on overtime costs in 2005-06, including $2.5 million that was covered by state funds, Farrell said.
The city's contract with the firefighters union requires the chief to fill the department's upper ranks through promotion rather than recruitment. Most of the vacant positions are due to be filled in the coming weeks, and a training academy is scheduled to start next month for the entry-level spots, reducing overtime costs, Farrell said.
Two members of the police department, which has been harshly criticized for its overtime spending in recent years, are among the city's top earners. Just one Sgt. Trevelyon Jones is a homicide investigator, despite the 148 murders Oakland recorded in 2006.
Four police officers, including Jones, are on the list of the city's top overtime earners. Officer Huy Nguyen patrols downtown on foot. Sgt. Michael Clark is a supervisor in the communications center. And Officer James Gordon is a assigned to the traffic division and often responds to fatal accidents, officials said.
Civil engineers Kenny Lau and Abelardo Placido were the only non-sworn employees in the top 25 overtime earners, and have been for three years straight. However, all of their extra pay was covered by developers wanting to speed the processing of permits, costing taxpayers nothing, said Karen Boyd, assistant to the city administrator.
E-mail Heather MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Top 25 overtime earners in the city of Oakland
Total earnings, overtime earnings in parentheses
1. Fire Investigator Valida D. Holmes, $266,234 ($159,135)
2. Fire Capt. Michael E. Fahey, $272,588 ($154,998)
3. Fire Lt. Demond L. Simmons, $259,783 ($151,015)
4. Fire Capt. Robert W. Nylander, $254,412 ($136,822)
5. Civil Engineer Abelardo Placido, $223,135 ($129,213)
6. Police Officer Huy T. Nguyen, $212,159 ($124,987)
7. Fire Engineer Keith E. Flashberger, $225,229 ($123,564)
8. Fire Engineer Dwight E. Garcia, $219,901 ($118,236)
9. Fire Capt. Darryl N. Gaskin, $234,395 ($116,806)
10. Police Sgt. Trevelyon M. Jones, $215,895 ($115,319)
11. Civil Engineer Kenny Lau, $209,158 ($115,236)
12. Fire Lt. Jeanne Andrews, $223,856 ($115,088)
13. Fire Capt. Richard Chew, $229,829 ($112,240)
14. Fire Lt. Edward Llamas, $220,631 ($111,863)
15. Fire Engineer Keith L. Jones, $212,511 ($110,846)
16. Fire Engineer Benjamin L. Beede, $212,229 ($110,564)
17. Fire Lt. James Stewart, $219,187 ($110,420)
18. Fire Engineer Maurice R. Miranda, $211,545 ($109,880)
19. Fire Battalion Chief Michael E. Miller, $250,271 ($108,836)
20. Fire Lt. Antonio Villalobos, $214,739 ($105,972)
21. Fire Engineer Keith M. Hall, $207,481 ($105,816)
22. Police Officer James K. Gordon, $192,506 ($105,334)
23. Fire Engineer Joanelle L. Cook-Bala, $203,851 ($102,186)
24. Officer Scott L. Jason, $188,165 ($100,994)
25. Sgt. Michael A. Clark, $201,236 ($100,659)
Source: City of Oakland, Finance and Management Agency
The 25 Highest Paid City of Oakland Employees
1. Fire Capt. Michael E. Fahey, $272,588
2. Fire Investigator Valida Holmes, $266,234
3. Fire Lt. Demond L. Simmons, $259,783
4. Fire Capt. Robert W. Nylander, $254,412
5. Fire Battalion Chief Michael E. Miller, $250,271
6. City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, $238,155
7. Fire Capt. Darryl N. Gaskin, $234,395
8. Fire Battalion Chief Lorenzo S. Frediani, $230,959
9. Fire Capt. Richard Chew, $229,829
10. Fire Engineer Keith E. Flashberger, $225,229
11. Fire Lt. Jeanne Andrews, $223,856
12. Civil Engineer Abelardo Placido, $223,135
13. Fire Battalion Chief Tyehimba T. Peyton, $222,620
14. Fire Lt. Edward Llamas, $220,631
15. Fire Engineer Dwight E. Garcia, $219,901
16. Fire Lt. James Stewart, $219,187
17. Police Sgt. Trevelyon M. Jones, $215,895
18. Fire Lt. Antonio Villalobos, $214,739
19. Fire Capt. Christopher O'Rourke $213,559
20. Fire Capt. John P. Roemer $213,457
21. Fire Engineer Keith L. Jones, $212,511
22. Fire Engineer Benjamin L. Beede, $212,229
23. Police Officer Huy T. Nguyen, $212,159
24. Fire Engineer Maurice R. Miranda, $211,545
25. Fire Capt. William D. Detlefsen, $209,512
Source: City of Oakland Finance and Management Agency