Raises approved for elected officials, city manager


Exceptional performance bonuses were approved Tuesday for Laguna’s two elected officials and for the city manager in the form of a raise. 

Unlike all other city personnel, reviews of job performances, raises in salary and bonuses for the city clerk, the city treasurer and the city manager are subject to public debate. The annual discussion on exceptional performance pay is included in the public hearing on the city budget – awkward, if not downright uncomfortable for those being discussed and some folks in the audience.   

City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker was awarded a five percent exceptional performance bonus on a 5-0 vote. City Treasurer Laura Parisi was granted a two percent increase for her performance, also on a unanimous vote. The increases are for one fiscal year. Both received raises, consistent with all city employees’ cost of living increases.

“I am very appreciative,” said Chel-Walker.

The subcommittee on performance-dependent pay for City Manager John Pietig recommended a five percent exceptional performance bonus but that was amended to a two and a half percent raise in each of the next two fiscal years, starting July 1. That was in addition to the cost of living raises for all employees. 

Mayor Bob Whalen, who served on the subcommittee, cited Pietig’s role in the million dollar payoff from the lawsuit against the Moulton Niguel Water District, which the mayor said officials never thought the city would get, as an example of exceptional performance. 

“John performs at an extraordinarily high level,” said Whalen. 

Whalen also said the number of years Pietig has served the city plays into his salary. He has the second longest tenure as a city manager in the county and recently served as president of the Orange County City Managers Association, significant recognition of his abilities, said Whalen. 

Councilman Peter Blake, also on the subcommittee, supported the five percent increase as a way to motivate Pietig to stay on as city manager, but agreed to the salary increase instead. Pietig’s expertise is needed, Blake said. 

“I see key positions are transitioning into retirement,” said Blake. “The way John walked me through the system, showed me how he could help new employees and existing employees to move up in promotions.” 

Iseman was the only council member who hinted at measuring Pietig’s performance against a defined metric at the 2017 budget hearing, said council watchdog Michael Morris. 

“On that evening, she stated that going forward, she would partially judge Mr. Pietig’s managerial performance based on personnel hiring, training and retention,” said Morris. “I urge the council to follow best practices and establish defined and all-party agreed-upon criteria for ‘keep your job’ performance for the city manager and what would represent truly exceptional performance for the city manager and all other senior positions.” 

Jennifer Zeiter said Pietig’s performance should be weighed against the high standard set in his contract - and that he should not be compensated extra for meeting that bar but only for exceeding it, which she did not believe had been done.

Michele Monda, who defined herself as a fiscal conservative, said she was astounded at a proposed raise but the real problem for her was the exceptional performance pay. 

“I see a city manager who has not husbanded my tax dollars well,” said Monda. “He spent $500,000 to promote a failed ballot measure [Measure P, at the direction of council].

“I would like to know exactly what facts you, the city council, have to reward an ordinary manager with an exceptional performance raise. These are my tax dollars you are spending.” 

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said the city is financially well run.

“John is stingy,” said Kempf, who had been asked, along with Blake, to recuse herself from voting on Pietig’s bonus because they were so new to the council. 

Both declined.

The vote on Pietig’s exceptional performance pay was 3-2. Councilwoman Toni Iseman and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow opposed.