The snapshot of salaries of public officials released by State Controller John Chiang this week was a deceptive one, according the head of Hesperia's park district.
Cal Camara, who has been general manager of the Hesperia Recreation and Park District for 26 years, made $225,320 in taxable wages in 2009, according to information released Tuesday.
Chiang's latest release of public employee salaries and benefits -- a series of such releases that come in the wake of the public corruption scandal in the city of Bell last year -- covers the salary, pension benefits and other employee compensation for several hundred cemetery, electric, financing and construction, facilities, flood control and water conservation, recreation and park, and community service districts.
According to the data, Camara was the second highest-paid parks official in the state.
In 2009, Joseph Donofrio, the former general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, made $306,474 with an additional $16,500 in deferred compensation. Donofrio's successor, James Sulentich, has told news outlets that he makes half of what his predecessor made. The Monterey Peninsula district employs 17 full-time employees. Hesperia' park district has 16 full-time employees and more than 200 part-timers. The third highest-paid park district employee, the manager of the Conejo Recreation and Park District, made $202,000.
Camara's actual salary, he said Thursday, was inflated in the figures released earlier this week.
"The $225,000 is with $40,000 of additional benefits because I needed some extra money for" family medical expenses, he said.
Like many government agencies, the Hesperia Recreation and Park District allows employees to cash in accrued sick days and vacation time. Up to 50 percent of accrued days can be cashed in on retirement, or at other times with park board approval.
"I don't even know if I like the system, but it is the system," park board president Jack Hamilton said on Thursday. "This was a one-year blip in the compensation and that was because of the buying back, or whatever you want to call it, the vacation and the sick time. ... His salary in '08 was $158,000 and his salary in '10 was $161,000."
With car and cell phone allowance and other taxable benefits, his total taxable compensation works out to be $185,000 annually, according to Camara.
"I will absolutely admit that my salary is at the top of the range" for service district officials, he said, "But it's not extreme."
"Obviously, all this contract negotiation is before my time on the board, and obviously Cal Camara's salary is way outdated, too high for the economic times," said board member Kelly Gregg, who ran in 2010 on a platform criticizing the district for being out of touch with residents.
It's also Camara's final salary: In March 2011, he announced his intention to retire in June of this year. His successor, Lindsay Woods, will start at a $114,000 base salary.
"That's low for a [district] manager," Camara said. "That's low for a [city] department head."
Although Camara's salary is higher than the managers of the parks departments in Victorville and Apple Valley, those department heads have fewer responsibilities than he does. (The Hesperia Recreation and Park District is a separate government agency in Hesperia, and it predates both the City of Hesperia and the Hesperia Unified School District by decades.)
"He's our number one guy, he's our number one manager, he doesn't have any people over there, so that's where the buck stops," Hamilton said.
"He is the longest-standing general manager for a park district in the state of California, so there's really no comparison for him to regular department heads, because Cal does a lot more work than a [city] department head," said Gregg.
Since January, Camara has also pulled double-duty in the district: "I thought it would be a kick in the pants to be a caretaker for the last couple of months" of his time with the district.
He and his wife have been caretakers at Timberlane Park, trading their labor for rent following the sale of their home.
"Most of it is when people are in the park at night, you have to remove them," Camara said. "The vandalism and homeless you get rid of," having a caretaker at district parks "really helps."
Following his interview Thursday, Camara said that he and his wife would be leaving the caretaker position this week, out of a concern for their privacy.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.