Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos’ contract includes $236,997 a year in salary, a $600-per-month vehicle allowance and a taxpayer-funded life insurance policy equal to twice his salary.
Goodyear City Manager John Fischbach’s contract lists $168,000 in salary, calls for 160 hours of paid vacation and has the option for a cell phone provided by the city.
Prescott City Manager Steve Norwood’s contract lists $154,523 in salary with paid health insurance, while Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson’s contract calls for $148,000 in salary and a matching 5 percent of that amount to be paid as deferred compensation.
After tiny Bell, Calif., captured national attention over news that its city manager collected almost $800,000 annually, Cronkite News Service reviewed contracts and other compensation for managers in Arizona’s 15 largest cities and many smaller ones.
The review involved public records requests submitted to dozens of municipalities by Cronkite News Service and students in Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The result: No Bells among the municipalities examined.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, wasn’t surprised.
“That’s not an issue in this state, and we’ve been very responsible in paying people appropriately,” he said.
Strobeck said the compensation is fair for the job city managers do.
“Recognize that city managers are responsible for the success of multimillion-dollar organizations, so they need to be compensated for their expertise and responsibility,” he said.
Numbers from the Arizona City/County Management Association put the average city manager’s salary statewide at around $113,356, slightly higher than the national mean for city managers of $106,408.
In the largest 15 cities, the average of the salaries listed in contracts was $183,416.
Strobeck said a key reason why Arizona doesn’t have cases of Bell-scale pay is the openness of local governments.
“We don’t adopt the budgets in the dark of night or the middle of the night,” he said. “We have to do it in public, at public hearings, at public city council meetings, so there is accountability.”
Cavazos’ $236,997 salary made him the highest-paid city manager in that group.
Gregory Wilkinson, city manager in Yuma, Arizona’s 12th-largest municipality, was at the low end among the top 15 municipalities with a salary of $126,691, according to his contract.
Among smaller communities, Payson Town Manager Debra Galbraith is contracted to earn $125,000 a year, and Pinetop-Lakeside Town Manager Kelly Udall’s contract calls for $115,676. John Kross, town manager of Queen Creek, has a $130,000-a-year salary, according to his contract.
Marty Vanacour, a former Glendale city manager now serving as a professor of practice with Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs, said the salaries are right for the market.
“I think it’s competitive,” he said. “It may be low for the city of Phoenix, which is a major corporation, but you won’t find any exorbitant salaries in the state of Arizona.”
Prescott’s Norwood, who works in Arizona’s 20th-largest municipality, said the difference in salary between cities is based on the community and size of its budget.
“The market is everything,” Norwood said. “I think its crazy that a professional athlete makes $15 [million] to $20 million a year, but that’s what the market supports and pays.”
The contracts also had several regular benefits, including varying amounts of vacation, sick or personal days. The majority provided a vehicle allowance or the use of a city vehicle. Health and life insurance are also common.
Five of the top 15 cities either provided a cell phone or a monthly communications stipend for the city managers.
Tempe, Surprise and Flagstaff agreed to pay what they termed reasonable moving expenses for managers coming from outside the state.
Most cities pay for travel and other expenditures related to city business and membership dues for city/county management associations.
Mesa City Manager Christopher Brady, whose contract calls for a $196,898 annual salary, said good compensation and benefits packages can give cities a competitive edge when recruiting the management talent they need.
“Those top-level city managers are going to look at what works best for them,” he said.
With the poor economy, however, some cut back their salary or benefits. In Marana, Davidson said he and other department heads gave up their car allowances because of a tight budget. Brady said he took a 2 percent pay cut along with other Mesa employees more than two years ago. Some gave up raises promised in their contracts.
“All of our management employees didn’t get a raise last year, won’t get a raise this year, won’t get a raise next year,” Cavazos said.
Marana’s Davidson said it’s about making compensation appropriate to the community. Any backlash to incidents like Bell, such as reducing or eliminating city officials’ pay elsewhere, would drive qualified people away from local government, he said.
“There is a lesson to be learned in Bell, but there shouldn’t be a label or an across-the-board reaction that would hurt individuals who have dedicated their lives to public service,” Davidson said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cronkite News Service reporter Steve Doty contributed to this report.
City manager salaries:
City manager annual salaries, according to contracts reviewed by Cronkite News. Unless otherwise noted, salaries are from fiscal 2009-10. Some managers were paid less because of furloughs or voluntary pay cuts:
• Phoenix: $236,997
• Tucson: $211,000
• Mesa: $196,898
• Glendale: $227,163
• Chandler: $190,000
• Scottsdale: $180,000
• Gilbert: $175,000
• Peoria: $184,500
• Tempe: $180,000
• Surprise: $185,000
• Yuma: $126,691
• Avondale: $175,032***
• Flagstaff: $167,960
• Goodyear: $168,000
• Lake Havasu City: $147,000***
*** The salary is drawn from the latest contract provided by the municipality, but officials didn’t return a call to confirm whether the salary listed is from 2009-10.