INVESTIGATION: City salaries and your tax dollars

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma ranks 41 in the nation in household income; the statewide average is $43,225 a year.

However, if you are a worker in the city of Oklahoma City, the average is about $20,000 higher than the statewide average.

City salaries are public information, accessible by request.

The top salary in city government belongs to Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch, $215,189.28.

There are nine city employees who earn more than $150,000 a year:

  • Major Berry (Asst. City Mgr.) $180,236.16
  • Laura Johnson (Asst. City Mgr.) $169,942.32
  • Dennis Clowers (Asst. City Mgr.) $169,942.32
  • Kenneth Jordan (Municiple Counselor) $163,010.16
  • Marsha Slaughter (Utilities Dir.) $157,080.24
  • Eric Wenger (Public Works Dir.) $154,094.40
  • Bill Citty (Police Chief) $153,739.44
  • Mark Kranenburg (Airports Dir.) $153,468.00

There are 31 city employees who make $125,000 or more.

117 city workers make more than $100,000 a year.

500 employees on the payroll earn $80,000 to $90,000 a year, double the statewide average.

Dianna Berry is the Director of Personnel for the City of Oklahoma City.

Berry earns $132.441.84 a year and has worked for the city 29 years.

Berry said every salary is determined by a formula, based in part on an annual salary survey of other similar cities, like Austin, Nashville, Omaha and Fort Worth.

"We want to make sure we attract and retain qualified individuals," he said. "It's very easy for the private sector to pay their employees significantly more. We need to be competitive to make sure that we are offering a competitive wage and benefit package that's going to attract the most qualified individuals to come and work for the City of Oklahoma City. We've got to look at the ability to pay. Quite honestly there are times when we cannot offer individuals the kind of salary that they are wanting because we know they can go to the private sector and to other cities and make significantly more."

Oklahoma State Auditor Gary Jones is a fierce advocate for advances in online openness and transparency in government.

"I think it's important to have access to all that information whether it's salaries or purchases or how much you're spending for rent," Jones said. "In this day and age people want to know. They want to know what their tax dollars are going for." 

Oklahoma Director of Public Information Kristy Yager makes $105,235.20 a year.

Yager said the city is in the process of updating the website so employee salary information is available online.

Oklahoma County currently posts county employee salary information online monthly.

"We have learned that citizen confidence is extremely important," Yager said. "Citizens are confident in a transparent government and that's why we want to be able to provide information to people as quickly as possible and openly as possible."

The city defends 100 percent of their salaries.

Afterall, there are almost 1,100 city workers who make less than the statewide average.

The lowest paid worker is a custodian who makes $22,696 a year.

"I believe that city employees are proud to be city employees," Yager said. "We may give up a little salary for a the stability of being able to work for the city. It's important to most city employees that we're actually serving our citizens and we're making a difference." 

The city council approves the payroll based on years of service, job qualifications and the status of city coffers.

"Oklahoma has experienced a recession, not quite to the extent that the rest of the country has for sure, but at one point, we were looking at salary rollbacks," Berry said.

There is occasionally talk of cut-backs, salary freezes and moderate wage adjustments.

Many city workers got a raise this year.

It's also important to consider many city employees have union representation, including all firefighters and police officers.

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