$100,000 not even close here

Here's a bar bet idea for political junkies: Who was the highest-paid county employee in Stanislaus County last year?

Was it Chief Executive Rick Robinson? Or longtime county counsel Michael Krausnick? Or maybe a Sheriff's Department em-ployee working megaovertime hours?

None of the above, not even close. The honor goes to Dr. Robert Williams, the county's only oncologist. He works out of its Scenic Drive facility. His compensation totaled $494,787.50 in 2006, according to the county's chief executive's office, which supplied The Bee with a list of the 100 highest-paid county employees.

The county had refused to divulge the information, citing employees' privacy rights and a pending California Supreme Court case.

The court recently ruled that releasing the names and salaries of public employees is not an invasion of privacy and that the information must be disclosed under the California Public Records Act.

Medical professionals dominate the top of the list, with eight of the top 10 in medical fields. Dr. Marshall Lewis, psychiatric medical director at the Stanislaus Behavioral Health Center, is second at $302,717.43.

Krausnick comes in a distant third at $257,104.86, and Robinson is ninth at $211,785.09.

Above him are four more psychiatrists and county Public Health Officer Dr. John Walker.

The first law enforcement employee on the list is former Assistant Sheriff Maurice Sanders, who was paid $168,604.47 last year, putting him 21st on the list. That's deceptive, though, because almost $98,000 of that came from "other compensation," which includes things such as cashed-out vacation hours and deferred compensation.

So someone like Sanders or John Emerson, former chief information officer, who leaves the county payroll gets a large chunk of cash in addition to their regular salary. Emerson was paid $131,749.48, but $53,870 of that came under "other compensation."

Amount reflects the demand

The top 100 list of county salaries is dominated by medical professionals and lawyers, with county department heads and elected officials scattered among them. Between the district attorney, the public defender and the county counsel, Stanislaus County employs 80 lawyers.

How are the salaries set? It depends on the employee category, said Jody Hayes, county dep-uty executive officer.

Williams, Lewis and several other doctors have a negotiated personal service contract, Hayes said, and the amount reflects what the demand is for their specialty.

"In general, we are paying what the local market demands for the service," he said, noting that private employers such as Doctors and Memorial medical centers also have trouble attracting and retaining medical workers.

The big salaries in negotiated personal service contracts with medical doctors may be deceptive, Hayes added, because the county can bill the insurance com-pany or patient for the services they provide, generating revenue to offset the salary.

Many of the county's six-figure salaries are determined through negotiations as part of a union contract. The district attorney and public defender positions are unionized, as are the psychiatrists, Hayes said. That means the psychiatrists get overtime and on-call pay, which can amount to $50,000 or more over the course of a year.

Dr. Hiep Voguy, a psychiatrist, for instance, earned $194,334.40 in salary and $60,661.39 in overtime and other compensation.

"They get called back in on weekends to cover the Behav- ioral Health Center for emergencies, and they also get on-call pay to be available to respond to issues," Hayes said.

Lowest of 100 is $114,313.88

But the job market is the underlying factor, whether or not the employees are unionized.

The attorney contract last year was negotiated with an eye on comparable salaries for public agency lawyers, Hayes said. The Stanislaus County attorneys had fallen behind those in similar counties, he said.

"They have become high- demand positions," Hayes said. "Many counties are having to pay pretty significant salaries to retain their attorney staffs."

The lowest paid of the top 100 is a deputy district attorney making $114,313.88. A list of county employees making more than $100,000 might extend to an additional 40 or 50 positions, Hayes said. The lawyers who dominate the bottom of the top 100 are the top-level attorneys, he said, and there are many more who earn $100,000 to $114,000.

The county employs 4,603 people full time. By comparison, the city of Modesto had 1,217 full-time employees in 2006, and 98 of them made $100,000 or more. Most of them worked in public safety jobs such as police officer and firefighter, and were pushed above $100,000 because of overtime.

The salaries of county department heads and elected officials are set by the Board of Supervisors. The board recently reorganized department head salaries to bring them in line with the level of responsibility each one handles. The board balked at raising the salaries of elected officials, however, saying the matter needed more study.

The county paid $318 million in salary and benefits in fiscal year 2006-2007, which was 37 percent of total expenditures that year.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.