On December 14th, I received a letter from City of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, which he asked me to share with all of you. As you know, we have been receiving very negative publicity from a select few Phoenix City Council members regarding our allegedly inflated $100,000 per year salaries.
We know that the accusations are false. And now, we have these words from our Mayor to echo just how unfair and dishonest those statements have been. Please read them carefully, and if you like, leave a comment or say thank you to Mayor Gordon for his support during these difficult financial times.
“Yesterday, I posted a blog and sent out an email expressing my support for the more than 14,000 of you who make this city one of the world’s best. I did so because I felt that it was past time for people to hear the truth about our budget, the truth about City of Phoenix salaries and the truth about how hard we’re all working to do more with less.”
“Since then, I’ve been flooded with “thank you” emails and social media messages from across Phoenix. In return, I want to thank you for your support and let you know that you do have leaders in elected office who appreciate your many sacrifices and your hard work.”
“The time for silence is past, for me and, I hope, for you.”
“Feel free to take my thoughts below and pass them along to your members. Also, please don’t hesitate to add your voice to this debate in a respectful, civil fashion. Lies that go unaddressed have a way of becoming the truth. We cannot let that happen and have our city reach its full potential.”
Mayor Gordon’s Open Letter
How would you like it if you spent years working to build a city, making it the best place in the world to live, work and do business, only to watch self-serving naysayers tear it down, either to fatten their wallets or to make a grab for higher office?
You would feel frustrated. I know that, because so many of you have shared your frustrations with me. You’re sick of the constant negativity. You’ve spent years making this city a better place, fighting to create jobs, grow the economy and rebuild our downtown. You’ve told me you want the truth to come out.
Welcome to the City of Phoenix, where many of us have worked together for decades, and where city government strives every day not only to create a first-class city, but to conserve every last taxpayer dollar. We’ve heard you. We get it. We work for you. Every dollar we spend comes from you. We must do more with less.
That’s not an empty sentence. That’s how our city does business. Yet to hear the naysayers tell it, we’re a city full of pigs at the trough.
Let me give you an example of how those who seek to tear down the city use an old tactic – games with statistics – to do their dirty work.
Last week, Councilman Sal DiCiccio sent an email to thousands of Phoenix residents. I know Sal well. In fact, as he’d tell you if you asked, I was instrumental in having him appointed to his seat in District 6. That’s why Sal playing fast and loose with the facts disappoints me. How does he do it?
For starters, the email carries a headline that uses carefully chosen wording to distort the truth: “$100,000/yr city employees to get big bonuses.”
For months, this has been an unceasing refrain: That City of Phoenix employees make $100,000 a year.
There’s a word for that claim: False.
The average salary for every employee in the City of Phoenix, according to our Budget and Research team, is $60,104 a year. But let’s go inside the numbers.
About 3 percent of our employees earn a salary over $100,000. They’re our top management, our civil engineers, our architects, our judges – in short, the folks who make sure you have clean water, that our buildings are safe and that our laws are followed. Are they well-paid? Yes. Are they paid better than they would be in the private sector? Absolutely not.
After that group comes our police officers and fire fighters, first responders, men and women who run toward danger while we seek refuge. The average police officer salary in Phoenix is $70,437 annually. For a firefighter it’s $72,132. For police supervisors – our most experienced cops, our sergeants and lieutenants – it’s $86,257 a year.
Can we get cheaper heroes? I imagine so, but could we rely on those younger, less experienced heroes when we’re threatened by danger? I’d rather not find out.
Finally, there’s everyone else in the city, our librarians, our park rangers, our supervisors and managers. The supervisors earn an average of $68,000 per year. And the rest of the nearly 15,000 employees of our city?
That group – more than 7,000 positions, or about half our total head count – earns an average salary of $43,345 a year.
Is that a healthy salary? In these times, yes. But it isn’t $100,000 a year. In fact, it isn’t even close.
So how did we arrive at that fantastic headline? You know the old saying – there’s lies, damn lies, and statistics. Councilman DiCiccio simply takes every single dollar that could possibly be associated with the cost of employing someone and he treats it as compensation. That’s every workmen’s comp payment, every Social Security dollar, every unemployment insurance payment, every dime for Medicare, every dollar for insurance premiums, every uniform allowance, every dollar spent on police safety gear, everything.
Frankly, if I used math like that, I could start referring to Councilman DiCiccio as the “$100,000-a-year Councilman,” by counting not just his $61,600 annual salary from Council and his $7,477 “double dip” pension from his last Council term, but every other benefit and expense that accrues to his employment.
I wouldn’t do that, of course. Because, while it might be semantically accurate – and kind of funny – it’s not what I consider to be the truth, in context.
It’s like saying that the city paid more than $200 million last year for employee pensions. Is that a lot of money? Yes, but it’s also about 5 percent of the city’s $3.5 billion in total spending for the year. That ratio compares more than favorably with private sector businesses that employ 15,000 employees, many of whom receive defined benefit pensions.
As for the city’s health benefits package and holiday schedule, which the Councilman calls “Cadillac” and “generous,” again they compare favorably with private sector companies of a similar size. More important, though, is the trend in the size of Phoenix government and the measures we’ve put in place to steward taxpayer dollars.
I’d file those under “Things The Naysayers Never Bother To Mention.”
Here’s the truth, not the spin of a politician seeking elected office. As you likely know, I’m termed out in January 2012, so I’m not hamstrung by the need to spin.
The City of Phoenix General Fund budget for 2010-11 is $79.2 million – or 7.2 percent – lower than our budget five years ago. This despite a 6 percent population increase and the opening of dozens of new city facilities.
Our General Fund budget is $185.5 million less, or 15.5 percent lower, than our peak budget in 2007-08.
You can follow the logic, I’m sure. When times were flush and our population and economy were growing, city government worked to further that growth. As the economy turned sour and we looked for ways to cut back, we slashed spending and ramped up efforts to do more with less.
That’s why the city has cut its budget 6 out of the past 7 years. We’re likely the only big city in America who can make that claim, by the way.
That’s why city workers agreed to a 3.2 percent pay cut last year – an agreement set to save us $100 million over the two years. That’s why property taxes in Phoenix have dropped 40 percent. That’s why we’ve instituted an Innovation and Efficiency Task Force that, thus far, has saved our city more than $20 million. And that’s why our head count of employees has steadily dropped from a high of 16,171 in July 2008 to 14,531 employees today.
Today we have the smallest city government, per capita, that Phoenix has enjoyed in 40 years (despite having a larger population by more than a million residents). We have 1,600 fewer employees than we did at our peak, jobs we’ve cut through attrition, not gimmicks. We’ve preserved our AAA-bond rating and we’ve received numerous national awards for management excellence and budget transparency.
We’ve accomplished all that while keeping our neighborhoods safe – our crime rate is at a 20-year low – and keeping valuable services, like libraries and senior centers, operating at reasonable levels.
Is our city perfect? No. We’ve made mistakes and we still have problems that need solving. But we’re working hard to be the best city in America, even in the midst of an unprecedented economic downturn. We’re doing it by taking care of taxpayer dollars and telling you the truth, accusations aside.
Speaking of which, here’s my favorite: That the city has offered workers “a $16,000 bonus for doing a good job.”
Uh, guilty as charged. Kinda, sorta.
The truth is, yes, we’ve ramped up a bonus program for employees who make suggestions – a program that’s been in place since the 1970s. The idea probably sounds familiar, since you may very well have a similar program where you work.
Employees make suggestions meant to save the city money. If a suggestion is adopted, that employee gets a one-time bonus. Last fiscal year, we got about 175 ideas from employees. We adopted 20. That saved the city about $435,000.
The one-time bonuses? They totaled $20,600. All of them, together. A savings of $415,000 isn’t bad in return for a $20,000 investment.
This month, we changed the rules to give employees more incentive to get involved. We held numerous public meetings to discuss how an employee should be rewarded for saving the city a significant amount of money. The $16,000 figure Councilman DiCiccio quotes is the absolute top bonus available, the cap. To earn it, an employee would need to save the city nearly $2 million.
Compare that to the headline: “$100,000/yr city employees to get big bonuses”
You’ve come to me by the hundreds over the past year-plus, expressing your frustrations over the deceit, the distortions and the accompanying silence. You’ve told me you want the truth to come out, to hear about the progress we’ve made and the reforms we’ve passed.
I can’t simply stand by and allow baseless attacks to go unanswered. That’s why you’ve received this piece. I’m sure the naysayers will respond with more skewed stats and more distortions … but now you have the truth.
Please forward this message to all concerned taxpayers.
Mayor of Phoenix