Two weeks ago, Richmond residents discovered in their mailboxes large flyers titled “Call the Mayor.” The mailers accused City Manager Bill Lindsay, who has served in that position since 2005, of receiving a salary higher than California Governor Jerry Brown and of mismanaging the city. A few days later, a ballot initiative that called for amending the municipal code to regulate Lindsay’s salary was also submitted to the City Clerk’s office.
The flyers put Lindsay’s photo right next to Brown’s. Below the photos were their 2013 incomes representing their total salaries and benefits. According to the flyer, the total for Jerry Brown: $176,142. For Bill Lindsay: $411,972. The flyer asks Richmond residents: “What do you think?”
The mailers also contained excerpted phrases from news stories that question how well Richmond is managed. On the back of the flyers, it asks: “The City Manager’s contract expires in February 2016. Should it be renewed?”
Right away, residents were puzzled over two things: Who sent the flyers, and could those numbers be correct?
The income figures used for Brown and Lindsay on the flyers were attributed to Transparent California, a website that provides information on the compensation of public employees in California by filing public records act requests. According to the Transparent California website, in 2013 Lindsay made $288,372 in wages plus $123,600 in total benefits, which adds up to a total of $411, 972.
But those numbers do not match the salary figures for Lindsay on record at the California State Controller’s Office. According to the Controller’s Office, Lindsay made $288,372 in wages and received $90,510 in retirement and health benefits in 2013. Using this lower figure for benefits results in a lower total than the one used on the flyer: $378,882.
After being alerted of the $30,000 discrepancy, Robert Fellner, project manager at Transparent California, followed up with the city to obtain a breakdown of figures. Part of the difference, about $7,000, was likely due to the inclusion of statutory benefits, or employer-paid benefits such as life or disability insurance, he wrote to Richmond Confidential by email. In a phone interview, Fellner said that his group typically does not report statutory benefits as benefits because the State Controller’s Office doesn’t, and they “essentially just piggyback off the Controller.”
Shannon Moore from the Richmond City Attorney’s Office confirmed via email that the discrepancy comes from statutory benefits. “As I understand it, the State Controller’s report asks for Medicare wages and Transparent California numbers includes benefits such as life insurance, long-term disability, etc.”
But Fellner thought statutory benefits alone would not account for the discrepancy, and that there might have been an accounting error. He said his agency would continue to work with the city, and would correct their files if the city could confirm an error.
A group called the Richmond Small Business Association is responsible for the mailers. Contra Costa County Fictitious Business Name records show that the Marina Bay development company Virtual Development owns the Richmond Small Business Association.
The development company’s founder, Richard Poe, confirmed via email that he is the founder of the Richmond Small Business Association. By email, Poe said that the person who filed the ballot initiative paperwork, Fritz Kunze, is a member of the association. According to Poe, the association aims to “to help our elected officials get the Richmond general fund in balance and allow Richmond to prosper.”
The Richmond Small Business Association’s online presence is limited to a website that only displays an exit poll the association commissioned after the November 4, 2014, municipal election. Poe declined to provide membership information about the organization “due to the concerns of reprisals.” But Poe said via email that the association sent out mailers because they are worried about the financial future of Richmond. “I share the concerns of my associates about the high salaries of our city manager and certain department heads of the under performing city,” Poe wrote. He’s especially concerned about the salary and benefits paid to City Manager Lindsay, Housing Authority Executive Director Tim Jones and Planning Director Richard Mitchell, Poe wrote.
“This concern of ever rising salaries of a city combined with a total pension debt of $415,441,600 which totals 180% of revenue, is a prescription for disaster,” Poe wrote. “Since pensions are tied to salaries, as salaries rise pensions rise with them. The growing burden has crippled other cities, such as Stockton, CA, which went into bankruptcy. Currently, Richmond’s CalPERS pension has a $214 million unfunded liability. We feel the voters should weigh in on the salary question in a special election.”
In addition to sending out mailers, the Richmond Small Business Association was also involved in the ballot initiative effort. According to Deputy City Clerk Pam Christian, a Notice of Intent for a ballot initiative proposing an amendment to the Richmond Municipal Code to regulate compensation levels for city officials and employees was submitted to her office on February 10 by Kunze, a registered voter in Richmond. “The executive board of the Richmond Small Business Association met prior to the filing by Fritz Kunze and supported his efforts,” Poe confirmed by email.
In his Notice of Intent paperwork, Kunze wrote that questions should be directed to his lawyer, Thomas Hiltachk. But as of press time, Hiltachk had not replied to emails requesting more information about his client.
The ballot initiative aims to “establish a mechanism by which the City Council shall set the compensation levels for City officials and employees,” according to the notice filed by Kunze. The stated reason for the initiative is that city officials and employees are making too much money: “City officials and employees earned a median salary of approximately $100,000 in 2013, almost double the median household income of Richmond residents,” according to the notice.
The notice targets the city manager’s salary and benefits specifically, saying that Lindsay “receives roughly seven times more than the median household income of Richmond residents,” “three times the salary and benefits of the Governor of the State of California” and argues that he “is paid even more than city managers in surrounding cities with larger populations.”
The mailers outraged many in Richmond, who credit the popular city manager with a Richmond renaissance, and who took to Internet comment boards to voice their opinions. “Bill Lindsay is priceless and deserves every nickel he earns,” Richmond resident Bryan Patrick Delaney commented on the Facebook group realRich. “Bill sat on the founding steering committee of the RYSE Center. He always brought integrity to the work and relationships,” RYSE center founder Kimberly Aceves commented on the Facebook group “Don’t Mess with Bill Lindsay.”
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, whom Lindsay hired in 2006, is very vocal about his support for Lindsay. “Can’t help but wonder how many really dedicated and hard working department heads in Richmond would start looking around for new jobs if Bill Lindsay was driven out of his job by one self-serving and wealthy developer who is deliberately misleading the public,” Magnus commented on the Facebook group “Don’t mess with Bill Lindsay.”
And in a phone interview, Mayor Tom Butt said that comparing Lindsay’s income to the governor’s doesn’t make much sense. “The governor gets a lot of perks beyond what his salary is. He gets housing, he gets cars, he gets airplanes,” Butt said. “If you add up the value of all of that, I’m sure it will be a lot more than any city manager in California makes.”
Butt also said it’s important to “compare each position with its comparable positions,” such as city manager to city manager and governor to governor.
According to the State Controller’s Office, Lindsay made $288,372 in wages and $90,510 in retirement and health benefits in 2013. During the same time, Vallejo’s city manager made $314,629 in wages and $79,891 in benefits, Berkeley’s city manager made $224,999 and $76,799 respectively, Walnut Creek’s city manager made $226,372 and $49,641 and Concord’s city manager made $244,146 and $98,437, according to State Controller’s Office. This puts Lindsay’s remuneration on the high end of the scale, but not at the top.
“Richmond is a more complex and challenging city to govern than these other cities,” Butt said. For example, he said, Richmond operates a port, but many other cities don’t. Richmond also has a higher crime rate compared to other Bay Area cities. He said that “being creative and continuing to bring that [crime rate] down is a huge challenge, and it takes a special city manager to do it.”
Butt also doesn’t agree with Poe that the city’s pension fund is an issue related to Lindsay’s salary. “All cities, counties in the state of California have significant unfunded pension fund debt,” Butt said. “It’s a problem that’s going to be addressed on the statewide basis. Richmond is going to have unfunded pension obligations regardless of who the city manager is, what they pay the city manager.”
Butt said the Richmond Small Business Association is Poe’s one-man band. “When people talk about an association, the usual connotation is that it is a group of people,” Butt said. “But the Richmond Small Business Association essentially is just Richard Poe.”
In his e-forum newsletter, Butt speculated that there was another reason for the Small Business Association flyers criticizing Lindsay’s salary: “A good guess is that it relates to his [Poe’s] often professed frustration with the processing of his application for approval of the Richmond Riviera project.”
According to a Planning and Building Service Department staff report submitted to Richmond’s Design Review Board for the meeting on February 25, Richmond Riveria is a housing project proposed by Virtual Development Corporation on a vacant 4.92-acre site located on Marina Way South in the Richmond Marina neighborhood. It’s right next to the Ford Assembly Building. Poe’s Virtual Development Corporation proposes to develop the site with 59 single-family detached homes.
The site “is designated under the 2030 General Plan as an Activity Center site,” according to the staff report. One of the reasons for such designation was to “encourage high-density projects to take advantage of the site’s proximity to the Ferry Terminal.” The staff report says Virtual Development proposed 12 dwelling units per acre, which “conforms to the wording of the General Plan.” But in the report, the Planning and Building Service Department staff recommends to the Design Review Board that “the project be substantially modified.”
Butt said that he has known Poe for years. Poe has been a contributor to Butt’s campaign and Butt’s architecture company has done some work for Poe, Butt said. “I don’t have any beef with Poe,” Butt said. “This is more about me defending my city manager than picking a fight with Richard.”
Poe responded via email calling Butt’s guess about Richmond Riviera “unfounded speculations,” and saying Butt should retract the title of newsletter he sent out that states “Richard Poe Files Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition Limiting City Manager Compensation” because he did not file the notice.
Lindsay declined to comment for this story.