OIB correspondent John Gilmore, who served as political reporter for the Bridgeport Post, predecessor of the Connecticut Post, shares this insight about the genesis of publishing a list of the city’s top wage earners.
Oh yes, the annual Top Wage Earner story! It’s one of the best-read stories in the newspaper.
Just from a historical (or maybe hysterical, take your pick) point of view, the origin of this journalistic endeavor started back in the days of Former Mayor John C. Mandanici, a bellicose, hard-charging individual who left many strong memories in his wake.
Mandy-–as known to one and all–-was complaining about the high cost of salaries among the top ranks of the Board of Education. “You should see what those guys make!” he’d scream, pointing to the third floor where the board was headquartered from his second floor office in City Hall on Lyon terrace. “They’re killing this city,” he’d rant. “You wouldn’t believe it!” Part of Mandy’s displeasure with the Board of Education stemmed from the fact they had a huge chunk of the budget and he had limited control over it.
So in the spirit of good journalism, I asked. “How much do they make? Can we see the list of the Top 100 wage earners in the city? It might be interesting.”
“Sure,” the mayor answered seeing an opportunity to skewer the board. With the wave of a hand he ordered then-City Comptroller John G. Norko to get the list of the Top 100 Wage Earners and release it. So far it sounds simple. But we waited, asked again, and waited some more and some more.
It wasn’t long before we recognized Mandy was stalling us. Now the story was starting to morph into a headline that might have read “Mayor reneges on pledge to release salary data!” (Not a good political scenario in anyone’s book.)
So Michael Daly (now Post Editorial Page Editor) and I had another sit-down with the mayor to press the issue to get him to agree to his promise to give us the data. It was during that meeting the mayor admitted that much to his chagrin Board of Education employees, superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals and the such (while represented on the list) weren’t at the very top of the list.
The top wage-earners were cops and firemen; specifically cops earning outside overtime, those lucrative jobs where they guard holes in the ground being dug by utility crews. The jobs are assigned to off-duty cops and paid for by the contractors as a form of enhanced overtime. In fact, one cop made more money guarding holes in the ground than doing actual police work! Years later former Mayor Leonard S. Paoletta also questioned the practice saying the overworking of a cop had to leave him tired at some point and was the city or the utility getting his services when he was exhausted?
The problem was clear to Mandy. He was in no mood to aggravate the uniformed services of the city. Most of them were still required at this point to live in the city. Extrapolating their number by including spouses, children over 18 years old and extended family members, neighbors and friends made them a potent voting block. Say what you want about the former A&P manager, he knew how to count votes.
But he also knew he promised delivery of the list before witnesses. Say what you will about the former mayor, in the end, Mandy manned up, stood by his word, release the list and watched the ensuing political storm unfold.
The real story here wasn’t and isn’t that a single cop topped the list that year or the identity of the top wage. The real story lies in the growth of municipal salaries and a look-see to determine if taxpayers are getting good bang for their buck.