Incoming Laguna Beach city manager to earn more than some coastal peers

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Incoming Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Newport Beach city manager Grace Leung’s annual base salary. On Jan. 26, 2021, the Newport Beach City Council approved raising Leung’s salary to $281,220. The Independent regrets the error.

When the Laguna Beach City Council approved incoming city manager Shohreh Dupuis’ employment agreement, councilmembers argued the chief executive should earn a $275,000 base salary because she is charged with blunting impacts from more than 6 million annual visitors.

However, public documents show that Dupuis will earn more than her counterparts in Dana Point and Huntington Beach—both of these coastal cities have much higher populations and also see millions of beachgoers every year.

Shohreh Dupuis’ contract, approved on a 5-0 vote, to take on the top job at Laguna Beach City Hall represents a 15 percent salary increase from her current salary as assistant city manager. In July 2022, she’ll be annually eligible for a cost of living adjustment offered to other senior city staff in addition to an annual bonus worth 2.5 percent of her base salary—unless she receives an unsatisfactory review from councilmembers.

During a May 4 public hearing on the city manager contract, Councilmember Toni Iseman highlighted that Laguna Beach’s chief executive oversees an annual budget of more than $100 million to render public services to both the 23,000 residents and millions of visitors.

“Managing the 23,000 and making them happy is one thing but the burden the 23,000 people bear by the 6 million visitors is another story,” Iseman said. “So our obligation to residents is to make sure they’re protected by the onslaught and they can live in peace.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf also praised Dupuis for her work on rolling out the LB Cares grants to businesses and residents deeply impacted by COVID-19 as well as a new $2 million plan to deploy parking and sales tax revenue to mitigate environmental and public safety impacts from visitors.

“I think we’ve seen particularly during the pandemic—and you see this all over the place—where the real leaders step forward in very difficult times,” Kempf said. “If any time there was a chance to observe somebody and how they were going to respond in very difficult situations for so many reasons, you really showed your mettle.”

Following these accolades from her future bosses, Dupuis is poised to earn more than some of her coastal peers.

Huntington Beach city manager Oliver Chi earns $260,000 per year, according to his employment agreement. He’s responsible for a city with a population of 200,259 residents plus 3.74 million annual visitors, according to the most recent research.

Dana Point city manager Mike Killebrew earns $236,250 for an annual base salary, according to his employment agreement. He’s charged with serving a population of 33,769 residents.

Dupuis still isn’t nearly the highest-paid city manager in Orange County.

Newport Beach city manager Grace Leung earns $281,220, according to her amended employment agreement. She oversees services to 85,694 residents. Newport Beach attracts 7.3 million annual visitors.

Newport Beach city manager Grace Leung. File photo

Anaheim city manager James Vanderpool earned a base salary of $310,975 last year, according to public records.

“The proposed annual base salary is within the range of salaries for city managers in other full-service cities in Orange County,” City Attorney Phil Kohn wrote in a May 4 staff report.

Outgoing city manager John Pietig is earning an annual base salary of $286,829, according to a staff report. He would have jumped to nearly $294,000 last year if he hadn’t volunteered to forgo a raise due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The discrepancy in municipal executive pay within two of Orange County’s largest coastal cities has raised red flags with local government watchdogs.

“Why are we paying our new city manager more than both Newport Beach and Huntington Beach?” Michele Monda wrote in an email. “Newport Beach, paying $3.28 per person, has almost quadruple our population. Huntington Beach, paying $1.29 per person, has almost nine times the population. Why, as the smallest city with 23,000 people, are we paying her $11.96 per person?”

The Dupuis contract also lays out terms for her pension and non-salary compensation.

Like other city employees, Dupuis is required to contribute eight percent of her compensation to help pay for the cost of her retirement. In the event the City Council terminates her employment without cause, taxpayers would be liable for severance pay worth nine months of her annual base salary.

Dupuis also gets a $500 monthly car allowance for using her personal car on city business. The city also covers her dues for statewide and county-level city manager professional associations.

Monda and other residents have complained that the City Council hired executive search firm Bob Murray & Associates to conduct a nationwide search but then hired the internal candidate. That effort included three listening sessions to collect public input and produced five external candidates interviewed by council members. But none of these prospects bested Dupuis.

The recruiter billed Laguna Beach for $17,914.55 on services related to the city manager search, according to invoices obtained via the California Public Records Act. The approved contract was not to exceed $30,000.

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Daniel is currently managing editor for the Laguna Beach Independent. He first started reporting on Laguna Beach in 2018. Daniel moved to Orange County from his hometown of Santa Barbara in 2008 to attend Chapman University. He wrote for the college newspaper, The Panther, for nearly four years before obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English with an emphasis in journalism. While attending Chapman, he started interning at the Orange County Register as a community blogger in Orange. In 2012, he was hired as a staff writer covering Orange and Villa Park. He went on to cover the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum as well as housing, development, education, water, and local politics in other Orange County cities. Since leaving the Register in 2015, he has written for Law360, the Foothills Sentry, the Newport Beach Independent, the Laguna Beach Independent, Los Angeles Times Community News, BehindtheBadge.com, and the California Business Journal. When Daniel isn't busy covering Laguna Beach, he serves as ​engagement editor for a nonprofit newsroom, The War Horse. He lives in Irvine with his wife and son.

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