Part-Time Government Workers in Special Districts Earning up to $1,100 an Hour

Friday, October 25, 2013

Part-time jobs are generally low-paying with few, or no, benefits unless you’re lucky enough to land that choice $1,094-an-hour gig as a San Mateo County harbor commissioner.

That might seem like a longshot, but the San Jose Mercury News cross-checked its Public Employee Salaries database with government meeting minutes and found a lot of Bay Area public servants slaving away in part-time jobs for big per-hour bucks.

They work in special districts. In addition to the boards, commissions, departments and agencies that make up the executive branch of government, thousands of small entities dot the political landscape. Almost 85% of them perform just one function, looking after water, sewers, cemeteries, pest abatement, harbors, parks, fire protection and myriad other public services.   

They can be powerful community forces, and generally operate out of public view.

Pietro Parravano, the harbor commissioner and a commercial fisherman, received $25,757 in cash and benefits for 21 meetings in 2012 that average a little more than an hour long. West County Wastewater District Director Leonard Battaglia averaged $592 an hour for the 85 hours he put in at meetings last year.

Reporters were met with skepticism by the high-priced talent when they were told what their hourly wage was and they may have truly been surprised because the lion share of their compensation was medical benefits. Parravano took home $7,200, but received $18,500 in medical benefits. Battaglia received $19,489 in cash and $30,743 worth of benefits.

The newspaper surveyed 300 of agencies in the Bay Area and found 1 in 5 offered medical benefits, leading to 15 people whose total compensation for part-time work topped $34,500.

Sometimes benefits extend beyond employment and sometimes beyond life. Sally Campbell, another San Mateo Harbor commissioner, carried her grandson (whom she had made a dependent by adopting) on her medical insurance and he continues to collect on the policy even after her April 2012 passing. That could cost taxpayers $100,000 until he drops off in 2019.    

Fourteen years ago, the independent Little Hoover Commission was asking, are special districts “Relics of the Past or Resources for the Future?” It didn’t answer the question.

The commission counted 3,800 districts, 2,200 of which were independent of any other body, like a county board of supervisors. Although it found the districts reasonably well-run, it warned that a lack of visibility was a problem. So was the pile of cash a lot the districts seemed to be sitting on.

Residents didn’t know they existed, much less what they did.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

$1,100 an Hour? Part-Time Service at Little Agencies Means Big Bucks and Benefits for Politicians (by Thomas Peele, San Jose Mercury News)

Special Districts: Relics of the Past or Resources for the Future? (Little Hoover Commission) (pdf)

Leave a comment