‘Transparent California’ website reveals Emeryville’s highest paid City Employees

3 mins read

Amid ongoing budget discussions and threats of programs and service cuts, its prudent for residents to not only understand how the city makes its money — but how it spends it. Every year, the website Transparent California aggregates publicly available data into a searchable database for the public to browse and scrutinize.

The headline for the local media this year was the City of Oakland Planner that quadrupled his salary through overtime totaling $484,175 in compensation ($63K more than Oakland City Manager Sabrina Landreth). The data for Emeryville didn’t reveal that level of abuse of overtime in our city, but it was telling of how our city’s budget is allocated.

Seven of the top-ten and fourteen of the top twenty highest paid full-time employees (FTEs) were Emeryville Police Department positions. Emeryville’s “Top Cop” Police Chief Jennifer Tejada was the top earner in the city with total pay & benefits commanding $253,633. The highest overtime earner in the city was Officer Michael Lee who earned $55,359 in overtime pay to bring his total pay & benefits $252,634.04. Lee was the second highest earner in 2016 and is in the top-5 earners in every searchable year including being the top earner in 2013.

Summary for City of Emeryville Employee Pay (2016):

Total number of city employees: 290
Total number of full-time, year-round city employees: 120
Median pay for full-time, year-round city employees: $97,446
Median pay and benefits for FTEs: $122,644
Total city employee compensation: $18,923,707

These public safety employees compensation figures as a percentage of our budget have remained fairly constant according to City of Emeryville Finance Director Susan Hsieh. “They range from 29%-32% for Police and 17%-19% for Fire in the last five years.”

Possibly validating the high pay of Emeryville officers is the fact that our city consistently ranks among the highest in crimes reported per capita in the nation. The satisfaction of the force among the public is generally in the high 80th percentile. Emeryville, unlike our neighbors, has been relatively scandal-free and may be reflective of our stringent hiring practices and training regiment. Paying a competitive wage in an area with a high cost of living in a profession that often requires working nights, weekends and on-call duties may be necessary.

54% of Emeryville’s 2017 General Fund Expenditure Budget goes to employee Salaries & Benefits.

Despite these high salaries, Police Departments continue to see a decline in recruitment and retention because of the risk and continued decline in public perception of the profession in the wake of a series of high-profile officer involved shootings. People shot and killed by police, despite many media accounts to the contrary, is slightly down over the past three years according to The Washington Post’s Pulitzer award-winning report. Meanwhile, the killing of police officers is up substantially according to CNN.com (64 killed in 2016. Annual average over the past decade: 53).

California’s law officer staffing has not rebounded since the 2008 recession according to PPIC.

Research shows that increased police staffing is a cost-effective way to prevent crime according to data provided by The Public Policy Institute of California. Crimes reported in Emeryville are up a dramatic 18% from last year according to data recently compiled by the FBI giving us the statistical label as “The Most Dangerous City in America“.


This 2016 SacBee report has a chart of average police wages where Emeryville ranks 15th in the state at $141K per (second highest in Alameda county after Fremont). Alameda Firefighters also average about $141K.

Councilmembers receive a relative pittance for their time. Councilmember Dianne Martinez, who served her turn as Mayor in 2016, received a base bay of $13,162.56. Martinez increased her total compensation to $27,655.59 with travel stipend and through serving on regional committees and boards. Councilmember time is not charted but it is generally assumed that they spend upwards of 25 hours per week dealing with city and citizen communications.

Much of this oversight provided by Transparent California and others is in response to the City of Bell scandal where city officials paid themselves exorbitant wages including $787,637 annually the city manager despite a large percentage of its population living below the poverty line. CALPers, whom our city and others are rapidly accumulating debt liability to, was fingered by then California Attorney General Jerry Brown for knowing about the salary spikes for four years without raising any issues.

Transparent California notes in its FAQs that it is provided by the Nevada Policy Research Institute as a public service. NPRI describes itself as a “non-partisan think tank that focuses on, among other things, empowering citizens and elected officials with information they need to make informed public policy decisions.”

Browse the entire database on TransparentCalifornia.com →

This story and others made possible through the contributions of our supporters.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. You’d think with all of the resources going towards police officers that Emeryville wouldn’t be the most dangerous city in America. Or that we would see cops more often in the community. Or that my Amazon packages would be safe…

  2. These high numbers are disgraceful. How do they explain these salaries for a city that is just over 1 square mile? We don’t even have a traffic cop in Emeryville! Not one. Given the poor condition of some of Emeryville’s public spaces, our low ranking schools, and persistent crime, the only explanation for these salaries is corruption. Emeryville city officials should be ashamed.

    • How to explain Emeryville?

      Union police + Union city staff + Union campaign contributions + Union members on city council + Unions writing the ordinances

      We’d call the place Union City but that name was taken.

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