The salary range for the top three executives at the D.C Housing Authority is $103,000 to $132,000. The authority provided erroneous information for a chart that accompanied an article yesterday. (Published 09/24/1999)
The number of District government administrators who make at least $100,000 a year has more than doubled in the past 18 months to 141, as the elimination of a salary cap for top D.C. officials two years ago has made this one of the nation's most generous municipal governments.
The District's growing group of $100,000-a-year administrators -- much larger than those in many big cities across the nation, or in the Washington area's largest suburbs -- represents a dramatic turnaround for D.C. government. For years, D.C. officials complained that they could not attract quality administrators because the salary cap kept the city from paying all but a few top officials more than $81,885.
That all changed in 1997, when the D.C. Council and the presidentially appointed financial control board forged a plan to lift the cap.
Since then, salaries of D.C. administrators have rocketed past those in other U.S. cities and large counties, according to a Washington Post survey.
The D.C. government -- which serves 523,124 residents -- performs many functions typically associated with a state. Once those administrators are factored out, the number of city officials making more than $100,000 is 96.
Compared with other cities of similar size, the District is much more generous to its top executives. Boston, a city of 555,447 people and with a similar cost of living, has only 12 city employees who make at least $100,000. Milwaukee, with 578,364 residents, has 30 employees in that salary range. Among the Washington area's three large suburbs, Fairfax County -- which has 929,239 residents -- has 37 employees who make more than $100,000. Prince George's County, with 777,811 residents, has 23, while Montgomery County, with 840,879 residents, has 43.
Behind the District's surge in highly paid workers is not just new hires such as health director Ivan C.A. Walks, who started this month at $198,000 a year. Longtime administrators such as Human Services Director Jearline F. Williams have seen their compensation jump by tens of thousands of dollars in the last two years; Williams now makes $117,291, up from $81,885 in 1997.
Such raises for top-level city staff members have far outpaced increases offered D.C. government's rank-and-file workers, which labor leaders say has heightened tensions between bosses and their crews, particularly after a series of furloughs and wage freezes union workers have experienced this decade.
Anthony A. Williams, who as chief financial officer and now as mayor has appointed about 20 executives who make more than $100,000, said he is comfortable with the new compensation levels for top staff members, adding that such increases were long overdue.
The troubled history of the D.C. government -- its well-publicized dysfunction, frequent turnover of top staff and near bankruptcy earlier this decade -- makes attracting top talent difficult, said Williams (D). A tight labor market adds to the challenge.
As a result, the District must offer higher pay to bring in the highly skilled leaders needed to make the improvements in city services that residents are demanding, he said.
"If the District government is ground to a halt and nothing is happening and I stand on a balcony and say, `Yeah, but I am only paying one person over $100,000,' I don't think I will get any brownie points," Williams said. "If I am going to be run out of town, I am going to be run out of town because we did not perform. That is the final test."
But several D.C. activists, while acknowledging the need to pay top city officials competitive salaries, said the city's spending on such positions is out of control. Most were surprised to learn that the number of $100,000 employees had jumped from about a dozen two years ago to 141 as of July.
"This confirms what a lot of people have thought: The District is undergoing an enormous inflation of salaries at the upper level," said Gary Imhoff, vice president of DC Watch, a civic group. "It has gotten out of hand."
Terrance J. Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said: "There is now a culture in the higher echelon of D.C. government workers of how much can I get how fast, instead of what can I do for the community, unfortunately."
High salary earners now are spread across D.C. government. The police department, which two years ago had no supervisors with base pay of more than $100,000, today has 10, including Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who makes $150,000.
Also making more than $100,000 are the directors and some deputy directors at zoning, libraries, recreation, employment services, consumer and regulatory affairs, campaign finance, lottery, personnel, elections and ethics, motor vehicles, public works, water and sewer, property management, human services and several other city agencies.
The run-up of salaries means the District surpasses some much larger municipalities, even when the city's state-related administrators are factored out. Houston and Philadelphia -- both more than twice the size of the District -- each have fewer $100,000 employees. Of the communities surveyed by The Post, only San Francisco (population 745,774) has more employees making $100,000: 145.
Besides the 141 D.C. government officials who make more than $100,000, an additional 171 employees -- physicians who work at D.C. General Hospital, St. Elizabeths Hospital or other city agencies -- also are paid at least that much. Physicians typically were excluded from salary cap restrictions because of the specialized nature of their jobs.
Several D.C. executives making in excess of $100,000 said their compensation is fair, particularly compared with what they could make in the private sector.
"It's not a high salary in the business world," said Kenneth R. Kimbrough, the District's property management director, who makes $120,000. "People with the experience to manage the size and complexity of the District's real estate portfolio are difficult to attract."
Police Chief Ramsey added: "The reality is that $100,000 salaries now are no longer unusual. It simply makes you competitive."
But officials in some cities with fewer highly paid executives said they have been able to fill top jobs without much difficulty.
"People don't come into government to make money. . . . They come there for commitment. They want to make change," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is paid $125,000. "The ones I hired who are arguing with me about salaries are usually my worst employees."
The District's Williams, who also makes $125,000, said Boston is in a different position because it has a larger talent pool it can draw from for top jobs in local government, while Williams said he has felt the need to recruit nationally.
"In these other cities, you have mature governments, mature political organizations . . . a network of people," he said. "Here there isn't that competence, quite frankly, and [for] a lot of these jobs, you go out looking for people. . . . That tends to raise wages."
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), chairman of the government operations committee, also defended the city's increasing executive salaries.
"We have to pay more . . . here because of the cost of living, the complexity of the [jobs], the state, county and city functions the agency must carry out under the scrutiny of Congress, and the fact that this has been a dysfunctional government," she said.
Williams and council members say they are committed to compensating union employees fairly. The council approved a contract Tuesday for 1,100 mental health workers that will give union workers raises of 5 percent to 18 percent by 2001, a labor official said.
Lynch, of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he's waiting for the higher administrators' salaries to be justified.
"So far," he said, "it looks like we are not getting the results for the dollars we are spending."
A Generous Standard
The D.C. government, which two years ago had few managers making more than $100,000, today has far more than the Washington area's largest suburban governments and other cities of similar size. The District also has far more employees in the $100,000-plus crowd than big cities such as Houston and Philadelphia. A look at selected cities and counties and how many employees they have that are paid more than $100,000, excluding physicians.*
Employees paid more
Location Population than $100,000
San Francisco 745,774 145
District 523,124 96
Philadelphia 1,436,287 57
Montgomery 840,879 43
Fairfax 929,239 37
Milwaukee 578,364 30
Houston 1,786,691 34
Prince George's 777,811 23
Boston 555,447 12
*For comparison purposes, 45 D.C. employees in jobs traditionally handled by state governments are excluded from this chart.
Where the Money Is
As of July 31, there were 141 D.C. employees, not including practicing physicians, who made $100,000 or more. That compares with 64 in March 1998 and only a handful prior to 1997. Below is an agency-by-agency tally as of July.
Number of Salary range
Agency people over $100,000
Mental Health* 12 $101,142 to $111,454
Control Board 11 $105,000 to $118,400
Police 10 $102,726 to $150,000
Corporation Counsel 9 $101,428 to $127,620
Financial Management 8 $103,000 to $118,400
Trustee* 8 $110,351 to $118,400
Public Benefit Corp.
D.C. General* 7 $102,800 to $175,000
Board of Education 7 $103,000 to $150,000
Department of Health* 7 $103,318 to $165,000
Water and Sewer 5 $102,872 to $136,000
Inspector General 4 $100,742 to $118,400
Mayor's Office 3 $105,579 to $125,900
Public Service Commission 3 $103,318 each
Procurement 3 $101,142 to $128,619
Information Technology 3 $111,783 to $139,947
Fire and Emergency Medical Svs 3 $105,244 to $134,249
Housing Authority 3 $101,443 to $170,000
Public Works 3 $104,000 to $121,067
Medical doctors** 171
Grand total 312
* Only top managers, excludes practicing physicians. Figure also does not include new health director, Ivan C.A. Walks, who started this month at a salary of $198,000.
**Practicing physicians work for Mental Health (98), D.C. General (38), Corrections (15), Health (15) and Human Services (5), making as much as $135,400.