Opinion: Does WeHo Need to Pay Off College Loans for City Employees? I Think Not

At its November 5 regular meeting, The West Hollywood City Council will hear a report and recommendation initiated by Councilmember Lindsey Horvath to “Direct City management to evaluate the inclusion of new benefits such as a student loan forgiveness program, as part of the incentive package offered to City employees during the next contract negotiation period.”

Based on publicly available data available at Transparent California, I find it very difficult to believe that the City of West Hollywood needs to enhance its already very generous pay packages by adding this benefit at this time. Among the specious justifications put forth, the staff report suggests that the city needs to take “into account the present-day financial realities faced by prospective staff”.

The staff report references the example of the State of Maine, which established a program to pay off student loans to attract young professionals in a state where birthrates are low and retirements are shrinking the workforce. Look around, do you think any part of Los Angeles is facing a shortage of workers?

Lindsey Horvath
Lindsey Horvath

Let’s take a look at some of those financial realities. I took a look at city compensation at transparentcalifornia.com and analyzed by base pay only, noting that overtime pay, other pay, and benefits often add tens of thousands of dollars, in some cases even six-figure additions, to compensation packages.

The base pay of many top city executives is at the very top, or in the top tier of all people with similar titles throughout State of California. Specific examples include the city manager, whose base pay is the second highest in the state. The director of public works is the fourth highest paid in the state. The city clerk is the fifth highest paid in the state, among 762 records. We have one of two event services managers in the state, but ours has a base salary that is a whopping 70% higher than the one in Anaheim.

The following executives have the highest base pay of all records found with similar titles in the state: director public safety, director of administrative services, business development manager, director of economic development and director of communications. In the case of the director of communications, the pay eclipses that of the director of communications for the entire state bureaucracy, and that of the White House director of communications.

There are positions and titles below the level of director and manager, which dumbfound a cursory review, but review them yourself, and see what your employer pays for the same title, or what other cities even have such departments and titles. In several cases, we are the only city with a particular position.

I also looked at comparisons of median pay of municipalities around the state. Arguments might be presented that as a contract city, the median pay is higher because lower-paid services are not included as they are paid on contract. However, the opposing mathematical argument is that the fire and sheriff services are also on contract, and those salary costs tend to bring the median higher.

The median pay in West Hollywood is $115,000. For comparison, the median pay in Los Angeles is $105,000, in Beverly Hills it is $104,000, followed by Pasadena at $92,000, Burbank at $90,000, Santa Monica at $90,000, Long Beach at $89,000 and San Diego at $73,000.

In addition, how do we address the inequity of a benefit such as this for those who either don’t have student loans, either by not attending college, not having had to take out student loans, or having already paid them off?

I’m an advocate for decent wages, excellent benefits and pensions and great working conditions, but does West Hollywood really need to be the top of the charts, in some cases by far, and be among only approximately 4% of employers adding student loan forgiveness to its already platinum-level compensation structure? The city already offers a yearly $7,500 tuition reimbursement to eligible city employees.

There are professions such as nurses and teachers for which student loan repayment plays a critical role in recruitment and retention.   I’d put down a pretty decent wager that most mid-level teachers would trade their salary for that of many of the roles described as “coordinator” roles in the West Hollywood City bureaucracy and see their compensation double.

If I were a cynic, I’d think this is a pet project of a councilmember seeking to add feathers to a cap in a quest to run for higher office.  I’m not a cynic, however, so I’ll leave this as just an ill-advised waste of staff time, council agenda time, and financial resources.   A better use of time and resources would be the engagement of a serious compensation analysis, but I fear this would become a poorly managed and expensive proposition when put out to bid.  There’s enough empirical evidence and anecdotal support to see that something is out of line.

We don’t have a minimum wage problem at City Hall, we have golden corridors for which the city is getting fleeced.

  1. About that site “Transparent California” that is being used as such an objective great source of information? It’s put up by the Nevada Policy Research Institute that describes itself as a “free-market think tank that seeks private solutions to public challenges facing Nevada, the West and the nation.” Put simply a philosophy of “ONLY big business knows best when it comes to solutions to all the world’s problems” with the notable omission of their role in creating problems in the first place! A little fact checking shows it to be more or less Misinformation from the Koch Brothers!


    According to its website, “The Institute is funded through the generous support of individuals, corporations, foundations and family trusts.” With all these FREE HANDOUTS they are going put out a website claiming working people are making way too much money?

    The Conservative Transparency Project breaks down the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s funding as follows:

    Donor Total
    Donors Capital Fund $1,423,432
    The Roe Foundation $215,000
    Jaquelin Hume Foundation $208,000
    Castle Rock Foundation $110,000
    JM Foundation $90,000
    Cato Institute $50,000
    State Policy Network $43,000
    Friedman Foundation
    For Educational Choice $27,000
    Grand Total $2,166,432

    View the attached spreadsheet for details on NPRI’s funding by year (xlsx)

    Donors Capital Fund that NPRI received $1,423,432 from has been described as the Koch Brothers connected dark money ATM of the conservative movement, due to its ability to conceal the identity of donors by using “donor-advised-funds.”

    1. With all due respect, the source of facts does not make the underlying facts any less factual. Further, I haven’t found anything on transparentcalifornia.com which claims that working people are making too much money. Public employee compensation is a matter of public record, transparentcalifornia.com merely compiles it into one convenient database.

      1. With equal respect, sources of facts give one a very good indication where they want the reader to go, especially when other relevant facts NOT helping point the reader in that desired direction are NOT given. A tactic known as “cherry picking.” When Public Employees compensation are given in a nice convenient database (many right-wing hate groups do the same thing) without any mention that the sponsor is an angry billionaire like the Koch Brothers and, omitting CEO and other corporate executive pay data in comparison; the inescapable conclusion is that Public Employees including the entire Public sector are the major problem. CEO Pay Has Grown 90 Times Faster than Typical Worker Pay Since 1978 we also see the same pattern for bosses, managers and, even greater for owners!

        The Nevada Policy Research Institute that puts up the site site “Transparent California” has ties to and is controlled by not only the Koch Brothers but, the Bradley Foundation both of which work to destroy LGBT Rights as one of their major objectives!

        The Bradley Foundation’s Secret War on Gay Marriage and Liberal Sex

  2. looks like managers and up make ridiculous salaries for what they do, but most people lower than that actually could make more in the private sector. i’m against the student loan forgiveness, too, but don’t lump all employees into the over-compensated basket.

    1. I purposely avoided giving specifics on positions below the level of manager or director, but a review of publicly available listings does prove otherwise for those positions, too.

      1. There are many employees who are underpaid. I met with the Lifeguards recently and found out how much they are paid and how much they have to do. they don’t just sit there and watch people swim prepared to save their lives. They are also required to clean the pool and lots of other duties which are typically not included in the job description of a LG. Most of the overpay is management and director level.

        1. Really, you think a West Hollywood Life Guard is underpaid, and we should feel bad that they have to clean the pool. Mr. Schmidt once more you display how uninformed you are about this City.

          Weho LG Florenicia Moreno makes $51,369 base pay, $5,332 OT, $32,201 in Benefits with a total compensation package of $89,433 for the year 2017

          With this type of salary and benefits package, I do not feel bad that LG’s may have to clean the pool.


  3. Uh, no! Just check the salaries of Weho city employees. They are truly amazing! The last city gardener got paid a fortune, and the medians, etc looked like crap! They make more than enough money to pay their own student loans.

  4. “At its November 5 regular meeting, The West Hollywood City Council will hear a report and recommendation initiated by Councilmember Lindsey Horvath to “Direct City management to evaluate the inclusion of new benefits such as a student loan forgiveness program, as part of the incentive package offered to City employees during the next contract negotiation period.””

    This is a joke, right?
    This is the same West Hollywood City Council that told me they do not have enough money in their budget for any additional Rent Decrease Hearing examiners.
    So we, as tenants, are subjected to the one and only one examiner they have, Judy Sherman, who is, in my opinion, biased, inconsistent, out of control and drunk on power, which the City has enabled her to be.

    I filed a complaint against her years ago that I was told by one City employee would be “reviewed” during her next contract negotiations.

    Instead, it was simply put in her file, as I was told by another City employee, namely Eva, that the City doesn’t try to fix any issues a tenant may have with her.

    I was also told by Jon Holub, that Ms Sherman has “wide latitude” during hearings, which on one occasion with her lead to her allowing my slumlord Monen’s attorney to take the oath as she wanted to testify on behalf of her client Monem, and then proceeded to lie under oath at least 3 times. Even the State Bar told me this should have not been allowed.

    Now this gross act of GREED on the part of Little DC, West Hollywood City Council, will be considered. Shame on Lindsey Horvath.

  5. This is just another example of the Millennial (Horvath) way of thinking. Totally entitled. It is ridiculous. The City employees are paid very handsomely. There is no need to add such a generous benefit to their compensation package.

    The other commenters have already mentioned the various reasons why so I will not repeat them.

  6. Thanks for the research and speaking out. I also think not. This little city with its big giant salaries and pensions are paid by fees after fees from parking rates to permit fees by all increasing and paid for by the residents. I’d bet 90% of the city employees don’t even live in West Hollywood.

  7. And then…catered lunches? I’m helping two sons pay their college loans and have done so for ten years. Law school, etc. Perhaps the WEHO city employees should first ask their parents for assistance before asking strangers to help.

    1. “Perhaps the WEHO city employees” DON’T have wealthy parents to pay their entire way through Yale like Brett Kavanaugh did and, he was even able to gain admission he otherwise wouldn’t have do to the fact that his grandfather attended Yale. This is known as a “legacy admission” just like George W. Bush received but, no one has problems with systemic affirmative action policies that favor affluent reactionary white males! According to a 2011 report in The New York Times , Yale even said that 20 to 25 percent of its students were classified as legacy students. The “legacy students” are 100% white and 80% male!

  8. Total compensation of $286K for a Director of Communications–base salary, benefits, etc.–is crazy huge and well surpasses the compensation for comms vice presidents in the private sector. Working in communications for a city government–particularly a large, vibrant city–is time-consuming but not onerous or particularly challenging. Anything you need to say will get covered. Any issue you have to deal with is handled by much lower-paid staff, an agency or both. The same for crisis communications. An judging from the pitiful turnout in West Hollywood for a global phenomenon like the baby Trump balloon, that director should have been fired.

  9. Thanks Alan for the well reasoned commentary. I read the item which outlines the problems young people face when saddled with staggering amounts of student loans but the connection to WeHo employees seems a bit of a reach. Our employees are some of the most highly compensated in California; they can afford to pay their student loans better than most of people. This just seems like a pander for an endorsement from our municipal employees union. What is not addressed is how do you give money to some employees and not others who may not have student debt. The upshot is that it would result in raises all around. Perhaps the money would be better spent providing assistance to WeHo kids going to college. If we have money to burn we have plenty of needy and homeless folks that would appreciate the help.

    Steve Martin

    1. Thanks Steve, I do mention the inherent inequities of a program such as this. I’m all for remaining competitive, but setting the bar for high compensation should suggest that we should have no competitive issues with recruiting and retaining staff.

      1. Logically you should come out in support of a program that is inherently equatable and socially responsible to all! A National policy of complete Student loan forgiveness and, FREE Public Higher Education including Graduate School. Not only would such a policy be more cost effective than the one currently in place, the returns on the investment would completely justify it. 🙂

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