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When You Wish Upon a Star 

Mayor-elect Ray Nagin wants to put an 'all-star' management team in place. But first, he's going to have to find the money.

On Jan. 15, the Man Who Would Be Mayor laid out his plan for "revolution" at city hall -- even as he trailed four other candidates in the polls.

"I need to put together an all-star management team [at city hall]," Ray Nagin told Gambit Weekly. "That is the only way I'm going to effect change. If I've got talented managers at city hall, we have a shot at changing the system."

But how will he attract "all-star" executives to city management jobs -- most of which offer "bush-league" salaries?

Part of the answer lies in streamlining. "The mayor has 300 unclassified positions when he takes office -- I don't think you need that many," Nagin said. If the new mayor eliminated 100 jobs, he could take the savings and create competitive salaries to attract top-notch managers. Then, he says, "I throw the whole thing out on Monster.com."

By using the popular Internet site for jobs, Nagin says, he would draw skilled managers from cities like Dallas or Houston. He especially wants New Orleans expatriates in the mix, who can return "and work for this turnaround."

Now that Nagin is the mayor-elect, can he find the money to draft his all-star team for city hall? City personnel director J. Michael Doyle, for one, thinks he can. "I think [Nagin] would have sufficient resources if he chooses to abolish patronage jobs and uses those funds to create top-flight directors, and it wouldn't cost the taxpayers a nickel," says Doyle, director of the Civil Service Department. "Yes. He can do it -- as long as he can get four votes on the City Council." The seven-member council controls the city purse strings and must approve any proposed "special hiring rates." The Civil Service Commission approval is not required, Doyle says.

Doyle estimates that the mayor has control over a $10 million payroll or 300 unclassified workers. Unlike the more than 8,000 workers in the classified civil service, the 300 unclassified employees are political appointees of the mayor who serve at his or her pleasure.

"Unclassifieds" have very limited appeal rights to the Civil Service Commission in the event they are disciplined or dismissed (only whistle-blower and discrimination appeals apply). Their fates usually rise or fall with elections. And turnover among the "unclassifieds" themselves is expected.

As the first new mayor in eight years, Nagin has "tremendous flexibility" in shaping -- even reducing -- his 300-member workforce, Doyle says. Some of the money is for jobs at federally funded programs, such as housing, which may limit Nagin's opportunities. But a majority is unclassified positions funded solely by city funds, with which Nagin will have greater flexibility.

There are about 20 "unclassifieds" who were promoted from civil service ranks, including four deputy police chiefs, who can revert to their old ranks under the Nagin administration. Furthermore, voters in 1995 approved changes to the city charter that allow the mayor broad authority to eliminate, merge and consolidate city departments. Outgoing Mayor Marc Morial made little use of that power; now it's Nagin's turn. By consolidating departments like Public Works and Streets (an example Nagin has offered) he could eliminate a number of unclassified positions and plow the savings back into his management salaries.

The mayor-elect now only has a handful of city management salaries that are competitive at market rates, according to a Gambit Weekly survey of 2001 city salaries and a 2000 "Executive Salary Survey" published by the City of Phoenix.

Figures from the Phoenix study -- which did not include New York City or New Orleans -- suggests that New Orleans has only a few nationally competitive salaries, such as police chief and fire chief. Other key managers, such as finance director and city attorney, trail other cities -- badly.

Much of what Nagin can do with his $10 million payroll may be determined by his philosophy. Just as outgoing Mayor Marc Morial nearly doubled the salary of police chief to attack crime and police corruption, Nagin may want a top-flight Safety & Permits director to help keep his campaign promise of making city hall more accessible to businesses seeking permits. The mayor-elect must also decide how many "executive assistants" he will need. The combined salaries of Morial's five top aides last year totaled more than $288,000.

The following survey deals in "actual" salaries (the Phoenix report lists salary ranges). The following listings are not all-inclusive -- this partial list of departments, boards, commissions and offices is offered to illustrate some of the possibilities that Nagin could consider.

· CAO. Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Grant's $91,699 annual salary last year would have put him in the back third of 15 "deputy city managers" surveyed in 2000. Grant's salary trailed No. 1 Phoenix, $140,278; No. 13 San Antonio, $92,926; and No. 14 Washington D.C., $92,986. He passes his counterpart in Baton Rouge, $75,734 -- a city with half of the population of New Orleans.

Grant's deputy CAO last year earned $63,909. Does Nagin want the CAO to run government on a daily basis or does he have another management model in mind? Depending on his philosophy, he could raise the CAO's salary or use the deputy CAO's salary for another all-star salary.

· Police. Chief Richard Pennington last year earned $154,294 -- making him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the nation. Of the 38 cities polled by Phoenix, only police chiefs in Los Angeles ($224,189) and San Francisco ($170,536) earned more than Pennington.

Nagin is not expected to retain Pennington, who ran against him for mayor. Nagin can save money by promoting a new chief from within the NOPD. Example: when Pennington ran for mayor, Deputy Chief Duane Johnson, who earned $69,554 last year, served as interim superintendent.

Alternately, Nagin can keep pace nationally by eliminating any of the four deputy chiefs (all unclassifieds), whose combined salaries in 2001 exceeded $278,000.

· Fire. Superintendent Warren McDaniels' $126,371 salary last year would have made him second only to Los Angeles ($201,847) in the 38-city survey conducted two years ago. Two deputy fire chiefs and public relations specialist, all unclassifieds, last year earned a total of $160,000.

· Airport. Aviation Director Roy A. Williams last year received $160,377, a salary that would have ranked him third among 22 cities surveyed in 2000 -- behind Los Angeles ($211,702) and San Francisco ($189,636), respectively.

Williams has two deputy aviation directors -- both unclassifieds -- who last year earned a combined total of $115,000 in salaries.

· Law. City Attorney Mavis Early ($81,999) earned less than her counterpart in Baton Rouge ($97,676), who ranked last among the top salaries two years ago. Three full-time deputy city attorneys under Early last year received a combined salary of $161,140. Avis Russell, the unclassified executive counsel to the mayor and a former city attorney, last year earned $79,987.

· Finance. City Finance Director Etta Morris last year received $63,960 -- behind all counterparts in 32 other cities two years ago, including first-place Houston, $130,782; No. 29 Baton Rouge, $94,832; and No. 30 El Paso; $63, 982. Morris' deputy finance director last year earned $59,366.

· Safety & Permits. Director Paul May earns $60,108; his deputy director, $48,665. The closest job description in the Phoenix study is "development services director." And of 24 cities surveyed, Paul May's 2001 salary would finish behind last-place Corpus Christi, Texas ($71,614), in the 2000 city survey.

· Planning. City Planning Director Collette Creppell last year earned $85,112. Her deputy planning director earned $49,889. Los Angeles ($187,544) had the top city planner in 33 cities surveyed two years ago. Creppell would rank near Denver ($82,860), but ahead of only five cities, including Milwaukee ($78,453) and Tulsa, Okla. ($58,031).

· Parks, Recreation, Libraries. Does Nagin combine all three departments for his all-star salary package or go another way? Phoenix surveyed 31 cities with a position title of "Parks, Recreation and Library Director." Salaries ranged from No. 1 Los Angeles, $171,675; to last place Corpus Christi, Texas, $70,000.

New Orleans has three separate departments heads: City Librarian Gertiana Williams last year earned $68,058; New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) director Charlene Lowther, $51,783; and Parks & Parkways Director Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, $56,488. NORD's deputy director earned $43,517. The Parkways & Parks deputy director received $37,959. No assistant librarian was listed in the payroll records we reviewed.

· Public Works. Acting director Ron Ruiz earned $57,900. David Ferguson, who is employed as a deputy chief administrative officer but who has been assigned to the department, earned $68,900. Either Ruiz or Ferguson would finish far behind public works directors in the 38-city survey, including No. 1 Long Beach, Calif., $174,930; and last-place Corpus Christi, $90,744.

Some of the higher salaries in city government are not included in the Phoenix survey, perhaps because of the unique nature of the director's duties. For example, most cities may not have a mayoral appointee to oversee the city's interests in a casino, which pays the city rent and sits on city-owned land. In New Orleans, that job falls to Cynthia Connick, director of the city Rivergate Development Corp. Connick received $83,024 last year.

Kristina Ford directs the New Orleans Building Corp., which the Morial Administration revived and which oversees the city real estate holdings. Ford receives a $120,000 professional services contract from the agency which does not require a public bid. Ford insists her annual pay is "not a salary" and that she is not an "unclassified" appointee. She serves at the pleasure of the seven-member board, which is headed by the mayor.

Unclassified jobs under the mayor's control follow: New Orleans Museum Director Edgar J. Bullard, $122,025; Sanitation Director Lynn Wiltz, $58,633; Human Services Director Morris F.X. Jeff Jr., $63,960; Vieux Carre Commission Director Marc Cooper, $55,791; Utilities Director Lilliam Zayas Regan, $50,513; City Public Information Director Rhonda Spears, $49,889; Health Director Sheila Webb, $62,390; French Market Corporation Director Stephen Hand, $55,791; and Property Management Director Kerry DeCay, $58,633.

And what about the mayor's salary? In a March 3 interview with WWL-TV anchor Dennis Woltering, Nagin acknowledged he was taking a whopping salary cut from the $425,000 a year he received as general manager of Cox Cable to the $110,000 he'll make as mayor. Barring a charter amendment approved by a vote of the people, Nagin himself cannot get a pay raise unless he is re-elected. Moreover, the city charter prohibits outgoing Mayor Marc Morial and the City Council from raising the outgoing mayor's and council salaries during the last six months of their respective terms. Likewise, neither Nagin nor the new city council can raise their own salaries.

"They can raise it any time during the first three years and six months, but it will not take effect until the succeeding term," says city personnel director Doyle. "But there is no question the mayor is grossly underpaid, whether it's Morial or Nagin."

City Council members earn $42,500 a year and the elected position is listed as part time. Doyle -- who is not appointed by the mayor -- last year received $77,000 a year, behind 34 other cities in the 2000 study, including No. 1 Los Angeles, $157,018; and No. 34 Baton Rouge, $88,616. Doyle's deputy director earned $63,170.

And what about the average city employee, many of who are grossly underpaid compared to other cities? First things first, Nagin says. Duplication of jobs at city hall must be eliminated.

"Can we deal with this duplicity issue?" Nagin asked two months ago. "Can we free up some cash? Then I think you start to work on [raising pay for] the city employees."


CORRECTIONS: In last week's news story "Election Flotsam," we incorrectly spelled the names of René Pennington and new District B council member Renee Gill-Pratt. We also misidentified the school from which District E council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis graduated; she is a graduate of St. Mary's Academy. Finally, in the Big Easy Awards theater nominees announcement, we misspelled the name of Best Supporting Actor in a Play nominee Glen Gomez. Gambit Weekly regrets the errors.
click to enlarge Much of what Nagin can do with his $10 million payroll may be determined by his philosophy. Under Mayor Marc Morial, Police Chief Richard Pennington earned $154,294 -- making him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the nation. -
  • Much of what Nagin can do with his $10 million payroll may be determined by his philosophy. Under Mayor Marc Morial, Police Chief Richard Pennington earned $154,294 -- making him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the nation.

click to enlarge Kristina Ford receives a $120,000 annual contract to head the New Orleans Building Corperation, an agency revived by Mayor Marc Morial's Administration. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Kristina Ford receives a $120,000 annual contract to head the New Orleans Building Corperation, an agency revived by Mayor Marc Morial's Administration.
click to enlarge Much of what Nagin can do with his $10 million payroll may be determined by his philosophy. Under Mayor Marc Morial, Police Chief Richard Pennington earned $154,294 -- making him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the nation.
  • Much of what Nagin can do with his $10 million payroll may be determined by his philosophy. Under Mayor Marc Morial, Police Chief Richard Pennington earned $154,294 -- making him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the nation.
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