Forbes: The Big Dogs Of Texas Local Government 18,000 Public Employees Make More Than $100,000 57_texas_big_dogs

January 16, 2019 08:00 AM

Adam Andrzejewski, Contributor

Who are the most highly compensated public employees in Texas municipal government? We found a who’s who of public servants who learned how to game the system for personal gain.
The latest public employee salary data captured by our auditors at from fiscal year 2017 shows Texas local government needs far more scrutiny. With many Americans focused on Washington, D.C., citizens aren’t doing enough to stop taxpayer abuse in their own backyards.
In Texas, 17,633 public employees working for cities, towns, and counties made $100,000 or more and cost taxpayers $2.1 billion. Almost 1,900 of these "big dogs" made more than $150,000 and out-earned Governor Greg Abbott.
These highly compensated employees work in libraries, parks and recreation departments, waste management facilities, local city halls, county governments, and even manage the community pool. Review the highest to lowest 2017 Texas municipal salaries here.
Town and city administrators out-earn Texas governor
Last year, there were 204 city and town administrators who made $150,000 or more and out-earned the Texas governor. Some of these managers were employed in very small towns.
In Roanoke (pop. 8,135), the city manager, Scott Campbell made $268,095. The City of Shenandoah has 2,900 residents and its city administrator Gregory Smith pulled down $209,888. Andres Wilmer in Port Neches (pop. 12,898) made $197,342. William Boeske in Humble (pop. 15,997) received $193,969. In the tiny town of Westlake (pop. 1,483), town manager Thomas Brymer earned $205,130.
What’s going on in Lancaster? In this community of 39,000 residents, city manager Opal Mauldin-Jones made $551,085 and assistant city manager, Rona Stringfellow, made $335,736 in 2017. Even a Lancaster city secretary received $195,912 last year. We reached out to the city manager in Lancaster for comment but did not receive a response. 
The most highly compensated city manager in Texas was Jesus Olivares of Laredo (pop. 261,000). In May 2017, Olivares suddenly retired and was paid out $651,867 in cash compensation, including $278,022 in severance pay – the highest payout to any local employee in Texas. Over four years, Olivares’s compensation increased from a "paltry" $159,911 in 2014. We reached out to the city of Laredo for comment, and a representative issued this response and provided a break down of Olivares' 2017 cash payouts.
Assistant city managers ranking among the big dogs
It wasn’t just the managers pulling down top pay, but the people who work for them, too. In total, 89 assistant and deputy city managers made more than $150,000 each.
Many cities hired a full cast of assistants to help. For example, Austin employs five assistant city managers making more than $230,000 each. These well-paid assistants are hired in addition to City Manager Spencer Cronk who assumed the position in 2018 with a $325,000 salary.
In San Antonio, four assistant city managers made more than $218,921 each. Additionally, the city employed two deputy city managers who made more than $250,000 each. These employees work under City Manager Sheryl Sculley who pulled down $542,117 last year.
Denton (pop. 136,000) hired three city managers – Howard Martin ($210,622), Jon Fortune ($198,875), and Mario Canizares ($190,000) – and a deputy city manager Larry Langley ($200,000). In Richardson (pop. 116,000), First Assistant City Manager Donald Magner made $235,202 while two assistant city managers, Clifford Miller and Shanna Sims-Bradish, pulled down $208,254 and $192,518, respectively.
Even smaller cities hired multiple assistant managers. The City of San Marcos (pop. 63,000) employed two assistant city managers for $163,345 and $175,344. Rockwall (pop. 44,200) hired a pair of city managers for about $175,000 each.
Managers of pools, zoos, public works, parks, and libraries earn big salaries
Arnold Sanchez made $151,497 in the city of Hidalgo as a pool manager. In El Paso, Robert Marshall made $159,089 as a zoo director.
In the small town of Prosper (pop. 20,000), 24 public employees brought home six-figure salaries including the director of public works, the director of parks and recreation, and the library director.
Across Texas, 42 library employees shelved six-figure salaries. In San Antonio, a library director pulled down $194,134. In Harris County, the library director made $155,313 while the Grapevine library director received $139,072.
In total, 95 park employees in Texas made more than $100,000 each. Director of Parks and Community Services Ray McDonald made $144,225 in Euless (pop. 55,174). In Coppell (pop. 41,941) Bradley Reid made $137,366 as the director of parks and recreation. Parks and Recreation directors in Fort Worth and Austin each received more than $200,000.
Even water district employees are tapping lucrative payouts. Across the state, six-figure paychecks flowed to 43 "water district" bosses. In Austin, the director of water utility, Gregory Allen Meszaros pulled down $200,200.
County employees raking in the big dollars
County employees are in on the action, too. Last year, 75 county employees made more than $200,000 each including one jail administrator in Garza County, Michael Copeland, who pulled down $444,269.
Harris County paid out 886 six-figure salaries last year – the most of any county in the state. These top paid county employees included County Engineer John Blount ($261,534), Executive Director of the Harris County 911 Emergency Network Lavergne Schwender ($224,096), Sheriff Edward Gonzalez ($195,330), Fiscal Officer Florentino Fonseca ($194,945), and more.
Dallas County paid out another 470 six-figure paychecks last year. Zachary Thompson, the director of Health and Human Services in Dallas County, pulled down $213,924. Two assistant county administrators made $173,101 and $187,215. Ryan Brown, the county budget officer, received $197,993 while Thomas Darryl, the county auditor, made $190,285.
Even small counties like Johnson County (pop. 167,000) paid out huge salaries. System Administrator Scott Heisey made $243,151 while Jessica Cryer, a dispatcher at the sheriff’s department, pulled in $162,631.
Nearly 6% of all 290,000 Texas municipal employees made six-figure salaries last year. These 17,700 top-paid employees received $2.1 billion collectively – the same amount as the bottom 115,657 (40%) members of the Texas municipal workforce.
Recently at Forbes, we mapped 19 million public employees from nearly every public body across America. We found 44 life guards in Los Angeles County made between $200,000 and $365,000. There were 25 New York City plumbers who made more than $200,000 in overtime last year. In Illinois, there are 94,000 public employees with salaries or retirement payouts exceeding $100,000.
As it turns out, it’s not much better in Texas.
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