A Santa Monica police sergeant with a salary of about $137,000 made more than double that amount last year after accounting for overtime. And that’s before factoring in benefits and other income.

Indeed, overtime pay played a significant role in compensation packages for public employees in Santa Monica and across the county in 2015.

That’s according to data released Tuesday by Transparent California, a watchdog and advocacy organization that tracks salary data for municipal organizations across the state. The website features a searchable database and is affiliated with the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank.

Transparent California’s primary goal is to raise awareness among taxpayers about the cost of municipal government, according to research director Robert Fellner. It’s the reason his organization focused on overtime and total compensation in this year’s report.

The top five overtime payees in the county last year received compensation for the equivalent of 127-hour work weeks, he said.

“I really hope that’s a scam,” he said, “because no one should work that many hours.”

Excluding the City of Los Angeles, Santa Monica ranked third among cities in the county with an average annual compensation of $152,050 for full-time employees. That figure put the City slightly below Redondo Beach ($155,852) and Manhattan Beach ($155,850) but above both Beverly Hills ($150,648) and Downey ($150,129).

Median total compensation for the City of Santa Monica’s 1,751 full-time employees topped $127,000.

Fellner said averages and medians are both valuable for statistical analysis but that averages served as better indicators for the recently released data because it is a better representation to the actual taxpayer cost. He said the total compensation amount includes benefits and overtime in addition to the base salary.

The City’s 2,932 employees made more than $297 million in total compensation last year, figures show. The top 10 earners on the City’s books combined to make more than $4.4 million during that span.

Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks was the City’s biggest earner in 2015, when her compensation package totaled $478,120. That includes more than $306,000 in salary and more than $168,000 in benefits.

Jaime Hernandez Jr., the aforementioned police sergeant, was the No. 2 earner in the City last year with $475,546. He commanded a salary of $137,204 but made $179,950 in overtime pay as well as more than $109,000 in benefits and another $49,000 in other income.

Deputy Police Chief Alfonso Venegas ($455,914), assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence ($442,414) and assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek ($440,661) also made the top five last year for Santa Monica employees, according to Transparent California. City Attorney Marsha Moutrie was sixth at $439,969.

Matthew Wesner, a Santa Monica fire captain, made almost as much in overtime ($134,959) as he did on his salary of $146,262. His total compensation topped $424,000 last year.

Police captains Wendell Shirley ($423,554), Kenneth Semko ($419,554) and Daniel Salerno ($408,538) rounded out the top 10.

Fellner said high compensation numbers are expected in areas with high average incomes but issues surrounding overtime pay are more glaring in areas with low average incomes.

“I’m not blaming the public employee,” he said. “The only reason it’s an issue for government workers is when high salaries are coming at expense of people making much less.”

The U.S. Census department only provides median income figures, not averages or total compensation. Their most recent data states the median income in Santa Monica for 2014 as $74,534. The median income for government employees in 2015 was $89,306.

Santa Monica’s salary information is publicly available through the City’s Open Data portal. The site includes several years of salary information for all permanent and temporary city employees. For more information about Transparent California, visit http://transparentcalifornia.com.

jeff@smdp.com

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