Burczewski: Story advocating for raise in pay for city manager?

Posted 9/2/21

I don’t subscribe, but this publication was put into my mailbox. I saw this story (“5 in city government paid $140K-plus: Records reveal Apache Junction’s top 25 highest-paid …

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Burczewski: Story advocating for raise in pay for city manager?


I don’t subscribe, but this publication was put into my mailbox. I saw this story (“5 in city government paid $140K-plus: Records reveal Apache Junction’s top 25 highest-paid workers,” on the cover of the September 2021 issue of the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon Independent) and couldn’t help but respond to the kissing up for pay raises.

I have an actual job, so I don’t have a lot of free time to edit or proofread, so forgive any errors.

In the latest edition of the Apache Junction Independent there is a below-the-fold, front-page story about the city manager and his pay. This story is so fawning that it’s painfully obvious in its intent, which is to promote an upcoming possible raise for Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell.

Except that Powell already makes $165,000 a year. What’s the average per capita income in Apache Junction for the regular people? According to 2019 U.S. Census data, the per capita income in AJ is $26,637, the median household income is $45,653.

That means that Powell makes six times the indicated per capita income in AJ or 3.6 times the median household income. He makes 3.6 times what the typical entire household in AJ makes. But he wants a raise, right?

The city manager is an unelected ruler of the city. He gets to decide city policy and instructs — oh sorry — “advises” the City Council and the mayor what to do and how to do it. Despite local elections and changing of representatives in the city, Powell gets to continue pursuing his vision of what he wants for the city and is able to keep pushing it regardless of who you elect as mayor or council members.

I’m not saying or suggesting that Powell is specifically doing anything nefarious, because of course, no one has any idea what Powell’s goals or intentions are, he doesn’t have to tell anyone, because, you know, he’s not elected. Not by us anyway. Did your council member or any council member ask you who you wanted for city manager before they ratified Powell? Did they even give you a choice or another option? But here he is, in a city of less than 50,000 people, making six times what you make and he wants a pay raise. Has/have quality of living in AJ increased six fold?

The laughable part — and why I characterize it as “fawning” — is because the article then goes on to state that Powell isn’t even one of the 25 highest paid city managers in the Phoenix area. Wow, that’s terrible for Powell. The author then goes on to compare to Phoenix city manager and Scottsdale city manager and Mesa city manager specifically to make it appear as though Powell is underpaid. Scottsdale has over 250,000 residents and, you know, super rich people live there. Pinnacle Peak, Arcadia, Kierland, Paradise Valley — all part of Scottsdale. Phoenix has 1.6 million residents; that’s 32 times the population in AJ. Does Powell make 1/32 of what the city manager makes in Phoenix? Do you think maybe he should? The president of the U.S. makes $400,000. Mr. Powell doesn’t manage half of the U.S. There are 300 million people in this country. So, go ahead and make comparisons, they are irrelevant.

The story then goes on to mention that oh, by the way, Powell, as well as City Attorney “Joel” Stern are both up for contract/salary renewals. Surprise. The first three paragraphs were clearly softening you up for it.

My understanding is that Powell and Stern are both from/trained in California and it’s no surprise that their idea of “public service” means getting ridiculously fat paychecks working for the government, whereas most people think of “service” as volunteering.

According to U.S. government stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median attorney income in U.S. for 2020 is $126,930.

The article indicates that Stern currently makes $150,000; that’s almost $30,000 over the median. But he deserves a raise?

In the private sector, you have to continuously prove your value and accomplishments, but in government work, it seems that you are guaranteed, not just a job, but pay increases as well. Not because you did anything, but just because other people in super rich towns or super-populated towns make more money than you do. This is the most asinine thing that I have ever heard.

I’m sure that many people here have never heard of Robert Rizzo. The illustrious Rizzo,— or maybe better referred to as “infamous” Rizzo — was the city manager of a tiny little California city of Bell. The actual number of residents in the city of Bell was very small — 35,000 residents — but somehow Rizzo kept getting raises until magically he was getting paid $800,000 a year. You heard that right — $800,000 per year. Eventually people started to notice that, hey, this guy doesn’t do anything and he is making ridiculous money.

Eventually, it was discovered, he was fired and even faced criminal charges. You can go ahead and read all of the news stories about it yourself.

I’m not saying or even alleging that Powell or Stern are incompetent or doing anything nefarious per se. I am just pointing out the dangers and lack of rational discussion about who in the city deserves to make six times what the residents do, how to determine whether they have earned a raise and what that benchmark should be.

It definitely should not be just an automatic “gimme” because the local “news” paper editor writes a softball puff-piece for his pals about how much money some other people make.

Don’t turn Arizona, or Apache Junction, into Bell. Or California. Exercise some oversight of “our” officials and demand justification for their jobs.

I have since moved out to the “unincorporated” areas of AJ and stopped participating in city representation, and I’m glad for it. But fact is, despite getting tagged with an Apache Junction address, I have zero representation in the city of Apache Junction, so I implore the residents in town to actually pay attention to this stuff, otherwise you will incrementally lose Apache Junction to a bunch of slick, fast-talking corporate types who will rule over you like the modern money-sucking tyrants that they are. You are taxpayers to them, that is all they see you as. Sheep to be shorn when they need a new art sculpture or millions of dollars for new cars or need a pay raise.

Editor’s note: Jim Burczewski is a resident of unincorporated Pinal County near Apache Junction.