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$258K Is Top Pay at City Hall

City Manager Steve Burrell is the city's highest-paid employee, and the fire captain is not far behind.

Hermosa Beach's highest-paid city employee makes about one-third of the $767,000 the city of Bell's former city manager earned, an amount that sparked public outcry and eventually led to his resignation.

Hermosa Beach City Manager Stephen Burrell earns top pay at City Hall with an annual income of $258,283.37, according to the city's website. The statewide average of city manager base salaries last year was $182,760, considerably less than Burrell's income. 

But Michele Frisby, director of public information at the International City/County Management Association, told Patch that city manager salaries are typically higher in Southern California.

"It's not unusual, due to the cost of living for Southern California, for a city manager to be making between $200,000 and $275,000," she said.

By way of comparison, the interim City Manager in neighboring Manhattan Beach receives $211,760 a year in gross compensation and benefits. The City Manager in Redondo Beach receives about $250,000.

In the midst of the Bell scandal, Hermosa Beach posted on its website this week employee salaries, overtime and other benefits paid. Mayor Michael DiVirgilio described the situation in Bell as "horrible," but said that one positive from the scandal is that it encourages residents to educate themselves about their own cities and officials.

The City of Hermosa Beach is "well ahead of the curve with being open about our salaries and benefits package," DiVirgilio said. "What's on our mind, and on others, is the importance of being transparent and open."

According to the data recently released, the city's second highest-earning employee is Hermosa Beach Fire Capt. James Crawford. With overtime and benefits he earned $229,224.74 last year. His base salary was $96,492, and overtime added up to $74,163.56.

Crawford's colleague, paramedic Aaron Bush, who also serves as president of the Hermosa Beach Firefighters Association, was paid a base salary of $78,408 and racked up $46,519.56 in overtime. With benefits and pension contributions, his total compensation was $153,067.41 last year.

Both Crawford and Bush have been active in speaking out for public safety workers' rights. Most recently, the association filed a lawsuit against the city alleging it "disregard[ed] the legal rights we have to 'meet and confer' and negotiate over salary and benefits," Bush said.

Controversy in Bell also arose over the pay for four of the five City Council members, which topped out at about $100,000.

In Hermosa Beach, council members, which include the mayor, are paid a salary of $530 a month. The council's compensation was increased from $300 to $530 per month in 2007. 

That monthly salary is $70 less, under state law, than what members could have received for governing a city the size of Hermosa Beach, according to DiVirgilio.

"They [the council members] could have earned more, but chose not to," DiVirgilio said. 

Since the Bell controversy began, DiVirgilio said that he's received e-mails from residents inquiring about how much he earns, and at community events many residents have asked him about it on the spot.

"I'm always willing to share," he said.

When asked how residents respond when he tells them that he makes $530 per month, he chuckled. "They just say, 'oh, OK,' " he recalled.

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