Oct. 19--Looking for a low-key, part-time job with great benefits worth nearly $1,100 an hour? Try running for harbor commissioner. Or for almost $600 an hour, there's always a seat on a local sewer board.
Serving on the board of one of the Bay Area's more than 200 special districts that oversee everything from recreation leagues to cemeteries won't make you a household name in politics, but it could make you a five-figure salary-and-benefit package for very limited work.
Even the elected officials who benefit were surprised by the hefty hourly rates, which this newspaper calculated through an analysis of government meeting minutes and the Bay Area News Group's public salary database.
"No way, no way. Are you kidding me? It's nowhere near that much," said Leonard Battaglia, 84, a longtime director at the Richmond-based West County Wastewater District who received $50,332 in compensation for attending 85 hours of district meetings during the year -- a little more than two full-time weeks of work, which comes to a rate of $592 an hour.
But the El Sobrante business owner and political consultant later acknowledged he didn't know what his benefits -- including medical insurance and pension contributions -- cost the district.
San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Pietro Parravano got $25,757 in cash and benefits last year for attending 21 meetings that lasted on average 77 minutes each, the analysis shows. That's $1,094 an hour.
Parravano, 64, a commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay who also serves on several national fisheries commissions, said he's never questioned receiving full benefits for the part-time office he's held for nearly two decades. The harbor commission oversees two marinas and a park and employed 27 workers in 2012.
"It's what was offered when I got here," said Parravano, whose 2012 compensation included medical insurance worth $18,500 and $7,200 cash. "I am an employee and it's part of the policy."
But government spending watchdogs said compensation like Battaglia's and Parravano's is a needed reminder of something few taxpayers realize: the vast expense incurred for thousands of elected officials far beyond the state's counties and city halls. More than 3,400 of these little-known agencies are scattered throughout California, according to a 2007 state Senate report, compared with 478 incorporated cities and towns.
These agencies each provide, often with little public scrutiny, a special service such as water, parks, transit systems, harbors, open space, fire protection, mosquito spraying or sewage disposal. And the people elected to run them are sometimes paid more than other part-time elected officials who oversee city governments and school systems, often with thousands more employees.
The newspaper analyzed pay and benefits data, which was collected from more than 300 Bay Area government agencies and is displayed for the public at www.mercurynews.com/salaries. It shows that of special districts releasing compensation, nearly 94 percent of part-time board members were paid in 2012, with an average compensation of $6,650 last year. About one in five received medical coverage from the district they oversaw.
Parravano and Battaglia were among 69 elected officials at special districts in the region whose total compensation exceeded $20,000.
"If that's not milking the system, I don't know what is," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "It's mind-boggling. Anywhere else they'd get $100 a meeting and that's it."
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