2012-06-22 / Front Page
City OKs higher pay for next chief
The next chief of the Simi Valley Police Department can expect to take home a fatter piece of bacon than the last top cop.
In a 3-2 vote on Monday, the City Council approved raising the salary range for the chief of police by 18 percent.
The annual salary was previously $128,200 to $166,700, with former chief Mike Lewis, who retired in December, being paid at the top of the range. The proposed increase puts the pay at $151,300 to $196,700.
Mayor Bob Huber, Mayor Pro Tem Barbra Williamson and Councilmember Mike Judge were on board with the adjustment. Councilmembers Glen
Becerra and Steve Sojka cast the dissenting votes.
As he stated during the council’s last discussion on the matter, Sojka believes the bump is fiscally irresponsible given the current economy. The salary may be due for an increase, but 18 percent is just too much.
“This isn’t the time or the place to do this,” he said. “If we need to increase the salary range . . .I’m in favor of discussing that, but not one bump at 18 percent right when we’re in the middle of negotiations for a new chief of police.”
Sojka disagrees with the notion that sticking with the current pay scale means Simi Valley is accepting second best, saying the city has more to offer than a paycheck.
But Huber said salary comparisons among competing agencies are a “fact of life” and that Simi’s “woefully low” salary range needed to be brought up as recommended by City Manager Mike Sedell, who is in charge of hiring the next chief.
“I believe he is the most prudent city manager in the county . . . I don’t believe he’d be making a recommendation unless he felt it was in the best interest of the city,” the mayor said. “If we make this adjustment, we’re still not where the other agencies of comparable size are . . . so it’s not like we’re being irresponsible with the taxpayers’ money.”
City leaders weren’t the only ones split on Sedell’s recommendation. Two residents came to the council meeting to speak out against the increase. One was 25- year city employee Ramona Mejia.
“I’m one of the 600 people whotooka3percentcompensation cut since 2009. I am one that is working out of class in an understaffed department,” she said. “As a resident of Simi Valley, I see the importance of getting the best for our community, but not at the expense or morale of equally hard-working staff.”
But four other residents spoke in favor, saying you get what you pay for.
“I was shocked to learn that our police chief is compensated 26 percent less than the 10 police chiefs in the salary survey conducted by the city manager,” said Craig Pfefferman, a 20-year veteran of the LAPD. “We should not be seeking the low bidder candidate when it comes to public safety, especially where leadership is concerned.”
Fellow supporters of the salary increase agreed that Simi needs “the best of the best” to lead the department and protect the community, and if that means paying more, so be it.
“I love the city and take my family’s safety seriously,” said Matt Dunn, a 40-year resident. “I’m asking the city to choose and pay for the best leadership for the Simi Valley Police Department. Having a world-class police department means having outstanding leadership. Poor leadership may come with a cheaper salary cost to the city but will soon come at a greater cost to the morale of the police personnel and the residents they serve.”
As directed by the council on June 4, Sedell spoke to the final two candidates about whether or not they would decline the job if the salary weren’t increased.
The city manager would not share what the candidates told him but said that his conversations with the finalists had not changed his recommendation.
He insisted that the salary range bump is not about the candidates but about paying what’s appropriate—“a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.”
“ This recommendation is made to bring the salary range into a competitive environment,” he said, adding that the city will still be behind other jurisdictions of comparable size but closer to where it should be.
Sedell said he believes the city has “the best of the best” in its final two candidates, saying a decision will be difficult to make. Huber, who’s sat in on the final interviews, also called the finalists “top-notch.”
Becerra said he knows one of the candidates very well and “thinks the world of him”—a comment that seems to suggest Interim Police Chief Ron Chambers is one of the final two.
Still, Becerra suggested, if the council is really concerned with getting the best candidates, the recruitment process should be opened up again with the higher salary range. He termed “backwards” the idea that the city’s recruiter told potential candidates turned off by the original salary level to apply anyway in hopes that the pay would be bumped up.
“I want the best candidate for this city and I’m willing to go out and pay for it, but I want this process done right . . . and (raising the range at the end of recruitment) to me feels very backwards,” he said.
The council didn’t take this suggestion, though Sojka agreed with his colleague that it would make more sense. The council member doesn’t believe the city needs to throw out more money to get a worthy candidate.
What’s more, Sojka is worried that the salary range increase will set up the new chief for failure as he will be leading employees who, as Mejia said, have taken cuts in pay and will do so soon again.
“That’s going to be a tough road to hoe for anyone,” he said.