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So basically, they’re making like almost $60,000 - $70,000 a year.  I’m going to move to Burbank.  OK.  No.  I love West Covina but … but …again not just based on Burbank OK and you go to Pasadena OK and Ontario OK $25,000 plus $8,899 they making like $30,000, $40,000 . . .

      ---Tony Wu, Councilmember & Former Mayor

City Council Meeting, September 19, 2023

Agenda Item 6.  Council Compensation and Benefits

City Council “Cherry-Picks” Cities to Justify a 165% “Salary” Increase

Compensation surveys are a common tool used to gain insight into what the highest and lowest salaries are in a given industry.  In the public sector, that process typically involves surveying “comparable” cities, identifying cities of size with similar characteristics.  Simply put, comparable is expected to compare something that is similar or equivalent to something else.   Comparability did not occur with the compensation survey the city council used to give themselves a huge salary increase.  Instead, a “cherry-picked” list of cities was used to make it look as if West Covina’s city council was severely underpaid and deserved a huge 165% “salary” increase.  This paper reviews the basic concept of “comparable city” survey.  Future papers will discuss the financial impact of using “wrong” data.

Our Concerns

During Council meetings, Mayor Pro Tem Tony Wu routinely equates West Covina with cities such as Burbank, Pasadena, and Ontario using just population size. He led the council discussion on increasing council compensation by emphasizing Burbank, Ontario, and Pasadena’s “salary” and benefit levels. By doing so, he focused the council and staff’s attention on three cities—Burbank, Pasadena, and Ontario. He passed his opinion off as “fact”.   This is not the first time this type of inappropriate, “cherry-picked” comparison has occurred.   Inaccurate data results in poor decisions.


Residents respond to this comparison that those three cities have features that contribute to each city’s tax base that West Covina does not have.   Burbank and Ontario have airports.  Burbank has the entertainment industry.  Pasadena has the Rose Bowl and convention center. Residents also recognize that a city’s daytime population increases as people come to work, play, and spend money in each city.  Resident concerns are dismissed and ignored.

There are many factors that can be considered when determining “comparable cities”.   We’ve taken the 12 cities selected to justify the council’s 165% “salary” increase and compared those cities using different factors.  The factors we used were picked at random but are relevant to residents.  When viewed from this perspective, West Covina does not look comparable to Burbank, Pasadena, and Ontario as Councilman Wu advocates.

We acknowledge a certain degree of “cherry-picking” occurs whenever cities do a “comparable city” survey.  It is usually, however, not this blatant.  For example, one city—Ontario—is in a different county with different tax requirements than Los Angeles County.  The three cities--Burbank, Pasadena, and

Click on image to enlarge.

Ontario—our City Council selected as “comparable” each have a different business model from West Covina.  These cities are quite a distance, 20 miles, away from West Covina.  The City Council Staff Report shows these three cities as having the highest total salary and benefits on their “comparable”  list: Burbank, $73,230; Ontario, $54,628; Pasadena, $39,435.  The Staff Report fails to note that Ontario and Pasadena report their mayor as “full-time”.  Not surprisingly, our City Council completely ignored nearby cities with a large population that provide a lower salary and less benefits than West Covina does. This is cherry-picking at its worst.  This is wrong.


The one factor these cities have in common is that one councilmember—Tony Wu--considers Burbank, Ontario, and Pasadena comparable and then leads the council discussions in a manner that supports his personal viewpoint.  Under such circumstances, it is understandable residents perceive the process underway as intended to satisfy councilmember desires for a high compensation regardless of what the city can afford over the course of time or what neighboring city council compensation is.

Changes We Would Like to See

Although population size is an easy and convenient factor to use, when used by itself, it is insufficient and misleading as the table above illustrates.  Population should be viewed as one factor.  Other factors, including the city’s long-term financial situation and tax base,  must be considered. 

The determination of which cities and factors to include in a comparable worth survey should be left to the City Manager and professional staff to determine without councilmember interference.  Having councilmembers involved or staff catering to council preferences with determining a “comparable city” survey is akin to having the fox guard the hen house.  It doesn’t work.

We would also like to see resident input and viewpoints taken seriously as the previous city council had done.

Additional Information

City of West Covina.  (September 19, 2023)  City Council Meeting.   Agenda Item 6.  Consideration of Council and Commissioner Compensation and Benefits.  YouTube.   Approximate Timestamp:  2:13:53  

City of West Covina.  (November 7, 2023)  City Council Meeting.   Agenda Item 5.  Consideration of Changes to City Council’s Allowance and Council Expense & Reimbursement Policy.  YouTube.   Approximate Timestamp: 1:48:57   https://youtu.beSUdjAz6Mwpw?si=ofK9LrNcyxVhXYx8

Passed without discussion as part of the Consent Calendar.

City of West Covina.  (December 5, 2023)  City Council Meeting.  Agenda Item 7.  Consideration of Council and Commissioner Compensation and Benefits.  YouTube.  Approximate Time Stamp:  2:24:28


Councilmembers used the terms “salary”, “stipend” and “benefits” interchangeably. There are differences.  These differences will be discussed in future papers.

11/28/23; Updated 12/22/23 jp

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