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Municipal money


None July 3rd, 2012

What municipal officials in the area earn might be surprising in a county where the median household income — the combined income of the breadwinners in one house — is less than $43,000 a year. Compare that with the $211,151 salary last year of Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch or the $175,589 salary of former police chief M.

More than 220 OKC employees earn more than $100,000 annually.

BY JERRY BOHNEN

Salaries on parade: It’s one of the more popular issues of Parade magazine, listing the salaries of people around the country.

And a check of municipal salaries in the metro shows maybe that’s where college graduates should be looking for a high-paying job.

What municipal officials in the area earn might be surprising in a county where the median household income — the combined income of the breadwinners in one house — is less than $43,000 a year. Compare that with the $211,151 salary last year of Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch or the $175,589 salary of former police chief M.T. Berry, one of three assistant city managers.

While Oklahoma City’s per capita income is $24,595 and its median household income is $44,043, at least 224 city employees last year made more than $100,000.

A breakdown of the municipal salaries for Oklahoma City shows at least 297 employees are in the $90,000-$99,000 annual range.

Competitive compensation The highest paid city manager in the metro area aside from Jim Couch is Steve Lewis, Norman’s city manager. His annual salary is $156,832; he is one of 26 Norman municipal workers who makes at least $100,000 a year, while another 13 are in the range of at least $90,000 annually.

In Edmond, City Manager Larry Stevens tops municipal employees there with a $146,819 annual salary. Eighteen others make at least $100,000 or more, including City Attorney Stephen Murdock ($126,064) and Assistant City Managers Steven Commons and James Smith ($125,300 each).

Eleven Midwest City government employees make more than $100,000 a year, led by John Henson, its city manager, who makes $144,685 annually.

Two other municipal officials earn in the $90,000 range.

The city of Yukon has four employees who make more than $100,000 annually, with two earning in the $90,000-$99,000 range.

In Bethany and Del City, only the city managers earn more than $100,000 yearly.

A need for transparency? Information about the compensation of municipal administrators is not eas ily obtained. It takes an Open Records request, and that can mean a typical response of seven to 10 days.

We’re at a day and time when we should be pushing that data out.

—Jason Murphey

Some state officials suggest the information, names, positions and their salaries should be readily available on the website of most cities, Oklahoma City included.

Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, a leading voice on public records issues in the state Legislature, said he supports the idea of a state law requiring cities to put the salary information online.

He suggested a mandate might be based on population, since some small cities and towns don’t have the resources to be online.

“It’s reasonable that all local-level purchases and salaries should be online,” Murphey said, indicating such a move might occur in the Legislature within the next few years.

“We’re at a day and time when we should be pushing that data out,” he said. “Hopefully, it would be available in a raw form so the public can see how officials spend their money.”

State Sen. David Holt, former chief of staff to Mayor Mick Cornett, said he supports transparency of every tax expenditure, but added, “As long as the local government is being responsive to requests under the Open Records Act for salary information, I’m not sure I can justify the tax dollar expense at the local level of creating and maintaining websites to list specific salaries for every local employee.”

He said he thinks it would require full-time staff to support such a website for the city of Oklahoma City because it has more than 4,000 employees. “This is an issue where my zeal for transparency runs into some tension with my general opposition against growing government,” he said.

 
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