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Gavin Newsom may be the city's top official, but he's not its highest paid--not even in his own office

Wednesday, Apr 11 2007
In City Hall it's good to be the boss, but it pays better to be Stuart Sunshine. Sunshine, Mayor Gavin Newsom's new deputy chief of staff, is pulling in $213,980 a year — that's nearly $24,500 more than Newsom himself makes. Sunshine's generous compensation also dwarfs that of mayoral chief of staff Phil Ginsburg, who earns a more modest $130,130 salary.

There's just one big problemo with Sunshine's bloated paycheck: The city charter prohibits aides from making more than the mayor. In fact, staffers are not supposed to exceed 70 percent of the mayor's pay. So what makes Sunshine so special?

A couple of months ago, Newsom brought Sunshine over from the Municipal Transportation Agency, where he'd served as its deputy executive director, to be the mayor's point-man on transit issues. Newsom's press flack, Nathan Ballard, says that the mayor tapped Sunshine because he wanted to make sure that transit issues "get the attention they deserve."

What about the fact that Sunshine makes more than the boss? Well, the Mayor's Office has devised a clever loophole to get around the charter's rules: Only 40 percent ($85,592) of Sunshine's salary is paid from the mayor's budget; MTA is paying 60 percent ($128,388).

"Sunshine wears two hats," Ballard explains. "It's an arrangement that benefits both the Mayor's Office and MTA. This arrangement is perfectly legal and appropriate. City employees are often loaned to other departments."

Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda agrees with Ballard that Sunshine's pay is all legal-like. Zmuda says that previous mayors have negotiated similar shared-pay deals with departments, although she couldn't recall if any of those folks actually made more money than the mayor.

But former state Sen. Quentin Kopp says the mayor and controller are full of baloney.

Kopp spearheaded the 1991 initiative that, in part, limited the compensation of mayoral aides. Kopp, now a judge in San Mateo County, says that the way the city is paying Sunshine "does not comply with either the intent or the spirit of the initiative."

Supervisor Chris Daly has asked the budget and finance committee to hold a hearing on the propriety of the cash-strapped MTA paying part of Sunshine's salary. Daly speculates that the mayor's people recruited Sunshine as a "fixer" to help Newsom navigate transit issues in an election year. Muni, after all, is one area where the popular mayor is vulnerable. Hmmm, maybe Daly has a point: Does anyone remember the "ride Muni for free" idea that came out of nowhere last month?

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