They hover outside car washes, wander around office parking lots or sometimes even go door to door. They find a chip in your windshield, then launch into a hard sell for instant replacement.
Complaints about windshield bullies come from all around the country but are particularly common in places like Florida and Arizona. Just this week, the Tallahassee, Fla., Police Department issued a warning about door-to-door salesmen after a series of unexpected doorbell sales pitches were reported by residents.
The salesmen aren't necessarily criminal. In fact, windshield incidents run the spectrum from legitimate, convenient replacement, to overly aggressive marketing, to outright fraud. In some cases, the salespeople are accused of damaging windshields, then ringing door bells and offering to repair them.
There's big money in windshield fraud. Last year, a Florida woman in Hernando County accused of damaging windshields told police that she earned $45 for every sales referral – not a bad take, given that online referrals for items like mortgages typically earn tipsters only $5 or $10 apiece.
But firms don't need to engage in property damage to make big money off of auto glass insurance fraud.
In 2008, a Washington state glass company named DKN Industries pleaded guilty to lying about the geographic location of the repairs it performed in order to earn higher commissions (rural repairs get a premium over urban repairs). During a three-year stretch, the firm received an extra $6 million in insurance payments that way. And last year, the vice president of Florida-based Lee and Cates Glass Inc. was among 10 people arrested and charged with filing half a million dollars in false claims, allegedly lying about the quality of the glass the firm installed.
Erin Klug, the spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Insurance, said she had a door-to-door sales agent ring her door bell not long ago, offering to replace her windshield.
"They didn't stay long," she said. "They couldn't even see my car, it was in the garage."
Windshield chips are a way of life in Arizona, where desert driving often takes a toll on auto glass. That makes the state a prime target for aggressive repair services.
"There is a very real problem with auto glass fraud in Arizona and elsewhere," said Klug. Door-to-door sales are a new flavor of the old problem, she said, but some firms have recently taken to aggressive telemarketing in Arizona, too.
In a particularly egregious version, Kluz said, consumers who've agreed to have their glass repaired by a disreputable firm are visited a week or two later by confederates and told the glass was installed incorrectly. They are then persuaded to allow a second replacement, giving the firm a second bite at an insurance claim on the same car.
It's nearly always a bad idea to pay for a service you weren't planning to buy when solicited by a "surprise" sales pitch, such as door-to-door roof repairs. Consumers should always research such purchases, and get a couple of competitive bids. If the sales pitch is at all tempting, get a business card, go home, do some research and call the firm tomorrow.
An area ripe for fraud But high-pressure, on-the-spot sales firms are particularly attracted to auto glass repairs because insurance rules make things easy for them. In so-called "zero deductible" states -- Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts and South Carolina -- insurance companies are required to pay the full cost of windshield repair for drivers holding comprehensive coverage. That enables instant repair sales firms to give a great pitch: "We can fix this for free! We'll even do all the paperwork."
Even in states where a deductible of $50 or $100 might apply, the profit margins on glass replacement are so high that firms can swallow that payment and still earn a hefty return. Craig Fairfield, a special agent for the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Washington state, said replacement glass can cost as little as $50 to $75, but insurance reimbursement is often $300 or more.
As a result, he said, door-to-door sales can be lucrative.
Last November, a company named Go To Inc. announced in a press release that it was expanding operations using that mode.
"Go To, Inc. follows a marketing model unlike most traditional auto glass companies," it said. "The company does not use conventional advertising; instead its marketing efforts consist of face-to-face meetings generated from visiting businesses in an area where a windshield replacement or repair has been scheduled."
Go To said it had a marketing partnership with a firm named Coast to Coast Auto Glass, one of the larger firms in the door-to-door sales space. Coast to Coast has been the target of numerous complaints online, and the firm currently has an F rating with the Florida Better Business Bureau.
Rhonda Jacobson, a spokeswoman for Coast to Coast, said the firm takes complaints seriously.
"At Coast to Coast Auto Glass, direct customer service and satisfaction is a priority," Jacobson wrote in an e-mail. "Any customer queries or complaints that come into our corporate offices/headquarters in Chandler, Ariz., are investigated and handled immediately. Unfortunately, there is often no way for Coast to Coast to respond to grievances that are posted anonymously online or to those that are never sent into our corporate offices. Specifically, with regards to local BBB complaints, Coast to Coast is in the process of contacting all local bureaus in the appropriate markets to ensure that they have the correct contact information."
Klug said high-pressure glass sales take many forms in Arizona. In some cases, drivers are approached at gas stations, with a seemingly helpful employee offering to wash the driver's windows, then discovering chips and offering replacement service. In many cases, the sales agent is an invited guest of the station owner, who might earn commissions for sales. Others are trespassers, she said.
While door-to-door glass repair outfits can be perfectly legitimate, Klug said consumers have a lot to fear from them. Improperly installed glass can pose a safety hazard. Unnecessary repairs -- many drivers complain these agents see defects that aren't there -- lead to unnecessary claims and raise insurance rates for everyone. And in one flavor of the scam, the repair firm asks the consumer to pay up front, promising full reimbursement from the insurance firm, which never comes.
And that's not all.
"There have been cases where people's insurance ID cards are stolen, and claims submitted, when there was no repair done at all," she said. In other cases, the firm merely plugs a small glass chip, but submits a bill for full replacement.
And there's another possibility drivers should fear: While glass repair claims generally don't cause rate increases, obviously an insurer will find a way to ding a driver who makes excessive claims. Allowing a firm to unnecessarily replace your windshield could come back to haunt you when you really need it done.
RED TAPE WRESTLING TIPS Klug said drivers who have windshield imperfections that interfere with driving should have their glass repaired as soon as possible. Drivers can pick any glass company they wish, but she strongly recommends making arrangements with the insurance company first.
"We encourage you to file a claim and make those arrangements first," she said.
Fairfield, the insurance crime bureau agent, said consumers should make sure to get and read documentation and warranty information from any glass repair firm before agreeing to have work done.
"The most important thing is to try to get something in writing from the vendor, have them explain the type of glass that is being used. Make sure it is OEM -- original equipment manufacturer -- glass so that it will be safe and hold up in event of accident," he said.
Alleged Russian spy Anna Chapman appeared on the cover of the Russian edition of Maxim this week.
By Bob Sullivan, Columnist, NBC News
It seems that international spy rings are borrowing the luck of the Irish, and the Irish don't like it one bit.
Irish passports have become the document du jour for international spies and assassins, a trend that highlights the immense challenges facing those who wish to keep U.S. borders safe.
In 2005, Eunan Doherty, a fireman from the remote northwest Ireland county of Donegal, went to the Russian Embassy in Dublin to get a visa for a vacation trip to Russia. His holiday allegedly turned him into an unwitting participant in a now-famous international Russian spy ring.
Four years later, a Russian agent using the name Richard Murphy flew to Rome to pick up a forged passport bearing Doherty's name, and was told to bring it into the U.S. and give it to another Russian spy, according to an affidavit made public by the U.S. government in June. Murphy was told to identify the courier by uttering the line, "Excuse me, could we have met in Malta in 1999?" the affidavit said.
Irish news organizations reported that Doherty's wife's identity was also used by the spy ring, too.
Likewise, Catherine Sherry, a volunteer with the Irish orphan-aid organization To Russia With Love, had her identity used by the same spy ring, and a forged passport created in her name.
The spy ring unraveled in June, when American investigators exposed it with great fanfare, and 10 alleged Russian secret agents were expelled -- among them, the now infamous Anna Chapman, who began her career as pin-up model this month as the cover girl on Maxim magazine's Russia edition. During the investigation that followed, officials determined that forged Irish documents played a key role in the conspiracy.
This month, Irish authorities said as many as six Irish nationals had their identities stolen and used by the ring, an incident which had Irish commentators crying foul. But it's not the only recent incident in which Irish passports were used by agents of international intrigue.
When senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated in a Dubai hotel room in January by a hit squad, eight of the suspects held Irish passports. The investigation of that incident is ongoing, but an Israeli diplomat was expelled from Ireland in June as part of what the Irish government called a "protest action."
As a traditionally neutral and friendly nation, Irish passports are seen as desirable for would-be secret agents, as they can enable freer movement across borders, and the friendly relationship between Ireland and the United State typically invites few questions at crossings.
But Irish citizens are complaining that their neutrality and generally good name are being borrowed by foreign agents. You've heard of medical identity theft, or criminal identity theft? Call this national identity theft.
The passport scandal was called a "humiliation," by Irish Independent columnist Michael Brennan, who said that the incidents have "badly damaged" the Irish reputation for being friendly and neutral. Ironically, news of the six Russian forgeries hit just as Russia's national soccer team defeated Ireland 3-2 in a critical Euro 2012 match in Dublin, adding insult to injury.
"They are not only taking the points we need to qualify for the European Championships, but they may very well be taking our passports, too," Brennan wrote.
Putting everyone at risk But the passport forgery is hardly a laughing matter, said U.S.-based security expert Mark Rasch.
"They are putting everybody who is Irish at risk and under suspicion," said Rasch, former head of the computer crime unit at the U.S. Department of Justice and now director of cybersecurity and privacy at computer security firm CSC in Virginia. "People at the border will think, 'Maybe they are a spy,' The Irish are right to be concerned."
Irish passports are a target for a few simple reasons. Spies who want to be mistaken as members of English-speaking societies will generally avoid being identified as U.S. or U.K. nationals, which can raise suspicions, preferring identities connected to Ireland, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, Rasch said. In fact, four of the Russian spy ring members claimed to be Canadian, including one who assumed the identity of a baby who died shortly after birth decades ago near Montreal, according to CTV Toronto.
But Irish passports offer the added benefit of allowing free movement within the European Union.
Passport forgery is not a new problem, and the U.S. government has taken steps to make life harder for imposters. In 2006, the U.S. government radically changed the nature of international travel by requiring that each new U.S. passport include a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip and creating biometric requirements for visitors to the U.S. Chip-enabled passports are theoretically harder to forge, as they can contain an image of the rightful passport holder and other biometric information, such as a fingerprint scan. Many other developed nations followed suit and began adding chips to their passports, but there are still millions of valid passports that predate the technology. That means border officials are obliged to accept older, paper passports. Investigators believe the Irish fakes were the old-fashioned kind.
'We are all connected now' The incidents highlight the difficulty facing immigration officials who want to balance efforts to identify travelers with keeping borders open for tourism. U.S. border officials are forced to trust passport-issuing authorities at nations around the world -- both their ability to positively identify individuals before they issue passports and their ability to produce documents that can't be easily forged.
"We are all connected now," Rasch said. "The only way we can trust a passport is if we trust the issuing agency. This is the idea of cascading trust. For example, if I can hack computers that make French passports, Chilean passports or, Swiss passports, I can for all intents and purposes take that system over and get them to issue what will be a valid French, Chilean or Swiss passport. And we trust these documents issued by foreign agencies."
The risks are real, said Rasch. As a federal prosecutor, he helped investigate a crime where a passport official was bribed by criminals and persuaded to issue fraudulent U.S. passports.
"But let's take it a step further," he said. "Say the French accept a birth certificate for issuing a passport. I just have to hack a local agency in France to get a birth certificate, apply for a passport with it and their computerized records will indicate (the document is ) valid and will cause them to issue a passport."
Since the mandatory RFID requirement was put in place, the U.S. State Department has issued more than 50 million passports. By 2016, old-fashioned chipless U.S. documents should be out of circulation. Still, chips have exploitable flaws, and security experts continue to demonstrate the technology's fragility. While the biometric information on chips does make it harder to alter information on the passport, they do little to prevent someone from obtaining a new passport using fraudulent so called "breeder" documents, like birth certificates -- an issue sometimes referred to as the "initial authentication" problem.
Other flaws dog the international passport system, Rasch warned. Not every border guard at every crossing has full access to databases that instantly reveal biometric information stored on passports, he said, rendering that part of the system ineffective. Many countries have yet to sign up for the public encryption key system designed to authenticate the passport issuing agency and prevent fakes. And the U.S. will continue to be forced to honor other nations' chipless passports for a long time. Canada, for example, won't start requiring RFID passports until next year.
It means that for the foreseeable future, a traveler presenting an Irish passport may well be a Russian spy or a potential assassin – and keeping the country safe will require a little bit of Irish luck, in addition to the state-of-the-art technology.
The headlines conjure up every parent's nightmare: "Teachers fired for flirting on Facebook with students."
The New York Post reported this week that three New York City teachers are accused of inappropriate "friending" -- and worse. One teacher left comments like, "This is sexy," under girls' pictures, school officials told the paper. Others made lewder comments, and some even used Facebook to initiate real-life relationships with students, it said. All three have been fired.
New York holds no monopoly on disturbing stories involving teachers and social networks. In Pennsylvania, a teacher was suspended after students saw photos of her on Facebook posing with a stripper. In Florida, a teacher was suspended after posting a note saying he "hated" his students and his school. A Washington, D.C., special education teacher faced scrutiny after the phrase, "You're a retard, but I love you," was found on her personal page. In August, a 54-year-old math and science department supervisor was fired after she called her students "germ bags," on Facebook and described parents as snobby and arrogant. And news stories have chronicled the discoveries of photos showing teachers in compromising situations, striking sexual poses or drinking alcohol in glorified ways.
But the issue cuts both ways. In Colorado, students created a fake profile of a teacher and tried to portray him as a pedophile. Meanwhile, biting teacher parodies abound, and Facebook is littered with Web sites that publicly attack teachers and administrators.
Social networking is a digital minefield for school districts, adding to the already complex world of teacher-student relationships. Many districts are struggling to set workable policies around social networking, while at the same time, using Facebook and other similar tools as part of their educational program. How do they create virtual boundaries that protect teachers and students without squelching potentially useful technology tools?
In New York City, school officials said they had no specific policy on use of social networks by teachers. But around the country, some districts are laying down the law. The situation has become so untenable that Lee County, Fla., recently told teachers they simply shouldn't "friend" students. The state of Louisiana has gone one step further. Last fall, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a law that essentially makes Facebook contact with students illegal.
"It’s wonderful that our teachers and administrators can now directly email our kids and work on assignments quickly over the Internet, but we cannot allow these same devices to be used as an avenue to prey on our children, out of sight of parental supervision," Jindal said in signing the law. "This new law is an important step to help protect our children from abusive and plainly inappropriate communications from educators.”
Keeping kids and teachers away from each other on Facebook may seem to be an obvious precaution, but it's not as simple as it sounds. Many districts now encourage Facebook use by using fan pages, which are far easier to update than websites, to publish announcements or school photographs, while at the same time discouraging school-related use by teachers. Some teachers say they like being connected to students online because they can see if the kids are up to no good; others fret that they could incur additional legal liability if they failed to report things they saw online.
Lisa Soronen, staff attorney of the National School Boards Association, said the agency doesn't have an official position on Facebook use, but she regularly gives talks about its peril.
"If it were me, and I were a teacher, I'd say just don't do it," she said. "Don't engage in social networking with students at all. The name says it all. It's about social networking. Social. Those are not the kinds of relationships that teachers are supposed to have with students. ... A wise district says to teachers that they should never engage in peer-like activity with students -- ever. Every interaction between students and teacher should be professional."
School district-issued email addresses or social networks set up by the district to allow students to communicate are sufficient tools to take advantage of new technologies, she said.
Photo with a stripper posted Of course, telling teachers not to "friend" students is one thing. Keeping students from finding teachers' pictures and information is quite another. Outside obviously creepy activity like the allegations from New York, most school district Facebook headaches have come as the result of accidents, such as incorrectly managed privacy settings or other typical Facebook foibles.
"A surprisingly large number of school employees don't know about their settings, and they assume (their information) is private," said Michael Simpson, general counsel for the National Education Association, a teachers union. "Most of them get into trouble because of that."
Simpson cited a series of "hit pieces" run by newspapers around the country that saw reporters hunt on Facebook for teachers who had unintentionally left their profiles open to the public, then publish embarrassing results.
In one such piece, headlined "When Young Teachers Go Wild on the Web," a Washington Post reporter found that teachers exposed questionable postings to anyone who joined the Washington, D.C., network on Facebook. One elementary school teacher, for example, wrote in her profile: "I only have two feelings: hunger and lust. Also, I slept with a hooker. Be jealous."
Other postings were much tamer, but still might be considered questionable for teachers who present themselves as authority figures to children each day, such as the substitute teacher photographed lying down with a bottle of tequila next to her head.
Soronen, the school board association official, noted that Facebook is in the business of getting people to share information about themselves, and said teachers need to recognize that.
"(Facebook's) interests are not aligned with the interests of a user who wants to stay private," she said. She cited recent repeated changes to Facebook's privacy settings, which often left users exposing more information than they realized.
Not in college any more A related problem, Soronen says, is that many young teachers making the leap from college to their first job make some mistakes along the way – or don't know how to strip their online lives of potentially embarrassing pictures and statements. Teachers, fairly or unfairly, are like public figures in their communities and have to take a very conservative approach to Internet use, she said.
"What was appropriate in college or postings made in college just aren't appropriate now," she said. "School districts should offer professional development around this. All the ignorant behavior can be trained away."
Of course, all embarrassing Facebook moments can't be eliminated. Sometimes, they don't even involve active participation by the victim. Ginger D'Amico, a teacher in Brownsville, Pa., was suspended for 30 days this year after a friend posted a picture of her on Facebook with a stripper at a bachelorette party attended by a group of teachers. D'Amico asked that the photo be removed within days, but not before it was brought to the attention of school officials. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, D'Amico sued and won back pay.
But the story shows how hard it is for a teacher to have control over what goes on Facebook and who sees it.
Fake profiles attack teachers, administrators On the other side of the coin, it's nearly impossible for teachers to control their Facebook personas. While teachers are told not to engage with students, students have a constitutionally protected right to parody and criticize teachers and administrators online, including social networking sites.
In Florida, a student named Katherine Evans was suspended and faced other punishments for creating a Facebook fan page devoted to calling her English teacher "The worst teacher I've ever met," and inviting others to join. With help from the ACLU, Evans sued and earlier this year a U.S. District Court in Florida sided with her, forcing the school district to clear her record.
Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, said that the law is still evolving on the issue of what is and isn't permissible for students to say online.
"Prior to electronic media, no one would have claimed that a student saying something negative in a mall about a teacher or a school wasn't protected speech, and I don't think a school would have contemplated trying to discipline a student for that," he said. "So we start from a premise that that's how you have to first look at these kinds of things."
The little bit of applicable, established law in this area says this: School districts generally have no right to control what students say off campus unless their speech could lead to a serious disruption on campus – say, inciting a riot – or unless the off-campus speech is transported onto campus by a student. But technology continues to muddy the legal waters. What about Facebook parody pages that are accessed by students using school computers or mobile devices while on campus? Marshall wouldn't hazard a guess.
Ironically, in two Pennsylvania cases with very similar facts decided on the same day earlier this year, two Circuit Court panels reached opposite conclusions. In the first case, involving a middle school student who created a MySpace page insinuating that his principle was a pedophile, the panel found in favor of the school, citing potential disruption. In the second case, another middle-school student created a profile critical of his principal, indicating that he used marijuana, and inspired other students to do the same. Despite the fact that some of the sites were accessed on school grounds, the judicial panel found in favor of the student, saying no serious disruption of school activities occurred. Both cases are now being considered by the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which will try to sort out the legal mess.
"This truly is a fascinating area," Marshall said. "We're trying to apply old legal principles to new situations, and that can be a challenge."
Where is the respect? For Simpson, the teachers union attorney, there is an age-old principle that would help sort out the mess, but it seems in short supply.
"Part of the problem with schools is we don't have that respect from students to teachers anymore," he said. "My sense is that teachers should be respected by students, not just in school but also when they are out of school … and students should be held accountable for what they do online."
One other factor complicating the virtual boundaries between teachers and students is that all professions have seen a collapse of the hard division between work and home life. Employees are now expected to read work email at home, but they also often shop for Christmas presents at work.
Soronen said the breakdown of this division has made life even harder for teachers.
"Since the dawn of time, teachers have engaged in behavior they don't want the whole world to know about, but before the Internet, no one found out about it," she said. "Now all this behavior can be depicted online in unexpected ways. The fact that a teacher got drunk at a party has been happening forever, but now there is a change in who can know, and what it means for them to know."
State and local government budgets are by all accounts in dire straits. Last year, collectively, they faced a $100 billion budget shortfall. After 12 months of belt tightening, emergency aid, layoffs and tax hikes, things are even worse. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a report this year that the gap could be $140 billion. And last week, respected analyst Meredith Whitney suggested that state governments will collapse unless the federal government offers a trillion-dollar bailout that will rival the bank bailout of 2008.
And yet, across America, many government workers are getting rich off taxpayer-funded salaries. City managers get free luxury cars, firefighters get half-million-dollar lump payments and, in California, one city worker is being paid $500,000 annually during retirement. In New York state, $100,000 salaries can't be called rich, but at a time when unemployment remains near 10 percent, there are 99,000 state and local workers bringing home six figure salaries.
Two weeks ago we published a survey of government workers with super-sized salaries and invited Red Tape Chronicles readers to do some digging. You weren't shy. More than 1,000 tips came streaming in via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and this blog, and we researched each one. Here are the best – or worst -- examples you sent.
1. Phoenix – double-dipping top cop
Two frequent causes of outsized government worker pay are so-called “double-dipping” and lump sum retirement payouts due to banked sick time, vacation and other benefits. In the case of Phoenix top cop Jack Harris, we have both. Harris retired from his post as police chief in 2007, receiving a one-time payment of $562,000 and beginning to draw his annual pension of $90,000. Two weeks later, the city rehired him as its “public safety manager” – critics say he’s doing exactly the same job -- at a base salary of $193,000 per year. While it’s common around the country for police officers and other government workers to retire, collect their pension and keep working, the state of Arizona passed a law specifically banning the practice earlier this decade. Conservative think tank Judicial Watch has filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County on behalf of a local resident, alleging the Harris is breaking this law.
"It appears that the senior law enforcement official in the city is gaming the system," said Judicial Watch's Christopher Farrell. "That is deeply corrosive to the whole sense of the rule of law." Farrell said he doesn't spite Harris his pension, but both the end-run of state law and the high salary – particularly at a time when Phoenix police were threatened with hundreds of layoffs – are egregious, Farrell said. "It's a gag reflex kind of thing."
David Leibowitz, spokesman for Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, said that Judicial Watch's lawsuit is politically motivated and maintained that Harris' compensation is in line with police chief pay in other major U.S. cities.
"The chief has served the city of Phoenix for many years. He's incredibly well qualified and his salary and total compensation is well within line with the largest cities in America," Leibowitz said.
Phoenix is America's fifth-largest city. The seventh-largest, San Antonio, pays Police Chief William McManus $183,000. Philadelphia, which is nearly the same size as Phoenix, pays Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey $195,000, though his pay will be cut to $187,500 this year.
Leibowitz said the method for arriving at Harris' salary shouldn't be a consideration.
"You (should) look at the overall money you are spending … and put it in context of the results you are getting," he said. "It's really cost effective. … We want people in Phoenix to believe they live in the safest large city in America."
Meanwhile, Phoenix pays a pretty penny to many other uniformed officers. There are 180 police officers and firefighters earning more than $100,000 annually. And fully 90 percent of the agency's budget goes to salaries, according to AZCentral.com.
2. In California: A pension check and an unemployment check ? As we've seen, it's common for government workers to quit, collect a pension, and then go back to work. What happens when these double dippers get laid off due to budget constraints? In California, they collect unemployment checks, discovered recently thanks to some great reporting by the Sacramento Bee. There's no hard data on these special kinds of double dippers, but to give you a flavor, reporter Robert Lewis found that 53 former sheriff's deputies in Sacramento County collected a total of $300,000 in unemployment benefits last year, along with their regular pensions.
3. In Illinois suburb, a $435K parks director with a $166K pension There is little debate about the ticking time bomb of state government pension obligations, which total an estimated $2 trillion nationwide. How did that number get so high so fast? In many cases, pension loopholes are exploited, exploited and exploited again. In Highland Park, Ill., a northern Chicago suburb, park district Executive Director Ralph Volpe and the local parks commission provide an instructive example. Volpe's salary in 2008 was $164,000, but the commission added $270,000 in bonuses. That raise was nice, but even nicer was the step up in his pension, which is based on an his last-year salary. The bonuses helped bump Volpe's pension up by more than $50,000 per year. The $166,000 he'll make annually now that he's retired exceeds his top base salary for the job. Residents forced three parks commissioners to resign after the deal was exposed by the Chicago Tribune, but they still have to pay Volpe for life.
3. In Bellwood, Ill., $250,000 for life Meanwhile, west of Chicago, Roy McCampbell, a retired city administrator in Bellwood, earned $472,000 in 2009 – tops for any municipal worker in the state. His base salary was a modest $129,000, but that was beefed up by a series of enhancements, including $126,000 for unused sick and vacation days. Salary sleuths should take a close look at government workers' vacation and sick day provisions. They are often a contract sweetener used to disguise the real cost of a contract. McCampbell's last-year windfall raised his pension by $70,000 per year. He now holds the top pension payout in Illinois, $250,000 annually. That's more than the price of most single-family homes in Bellwood, a primarily African-American, working-class town of 20,000 with a per capita income of $24,000 and an average home value under $200,000. Of the 138 homes recently sold in the town, according to Zilliow.com, the top price was $182,000.
4. Miami – Amid budget crisis, average salary is $100,000 How bad are things in Miami? Earlier this year County Manager George Burgess sent a memo out urging employees to stop buying bottled water. This came as the city was facinga $118 million budget shortfall and the mayor was calling for nearly 200 staff layoffs.
Meanwhile, Burgess' salary and benefits package totaled $425,000 last year. It includes use of a 2010 Infiniti M35, which cost taxpayers $30,000 for a three-year lease, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Miami has plenty of well-paid employees. Nearly 100 earn more than $200,000 per year, costing the city $23 million annually, according to a 2009 analysis by the Biscayne Times (pdf). And 1,751 of the city's 3,964 workers earn six-figure paychecks. Fully 80 percent of the city's budget is devoted to salaries, a crushing amount that leaves precious little for parks or road improvements.
5. Laughlin, Nev. – Burning down, or burning through cash?
Laughlin is a tiny Nevada border gambling town, a little Las Vegas for Northern Arizona residents. Not including tourists, the city had a population of 7,000 during the last Census. Last year its top 10 employees pulled in nearly $3 million in pay, making it a perfect example of another bane of taxpayers– overtime pay.
As KLAS-TV in Nevada noted in a recent story about excessive overtime pay, "One might expect the town of Laughlin to be a blazing inferno." One Laughlin firefighter alone earned $92,000 in overtime pay last year.
Laughlin is in Clark County, which also includes Las Vegas. Other firefighters from around the county are also well compensated. The two top earners, who collected $474,000 and $444,000, were firefighters who won large disability payments, according to KLAS.
The nearby city of Henderson, also in Clark County, generates some heavy paystubs, too. The assistant city attorney earned $550,000, including $433,000 in a one-time payout; the city attorney earned $435,000, $350,000 of it in a one-time payout, and a fire battalion chief earned $400,000, almost all from a one-time payout. Not to be outdone, North Las Vegas' assistant fire chief earned $661,000.
6. Clarkstown, N.Y. -- an average salary of $150,000 Clarkstown, N.Y., is a pretty town of 85,000 about an hour north of New York City. But an ugly taxpayer revolt is under way there, in part because of police salaries. Disclosures that retiring police Capt. Thomas Purtill pulled down $543,000 last year –- tops for all municipal workers in New York state -- led to creation of the "Disgusted Taxpayers of Clarktown" political action committee and an organization called simply "Clarkstown Taxpayers."
Purtill's earnings included a one-time $250,000 payout to settle a dispute over sick pay. According to the local Journal News newspaper, Purtill injured his back in 2006 and was only able to work two days per week until he retired. In 2008, he earned $335,000.
Purtill wasn't alone: Four of the top 10 municipal workers among the state's 1,500 municipalities were Clarkstown cops. Nearly 150 of Clarkstown's 173-member police force earned six figure salaries in 2009, not including overtime, for an average salary of $151,000.
8. Norfolk, Va.-- a great $29,000 a year job Twelve years ago, Jill McGlone, an employee of the Norfolk Community Services Board, was placed on administrative leave during a personnel investigation. She never set foot in the office again, but no one seemed to notice. McGlone continued to draw paychecks – including regular raises – for 12 years, until her story was brought to light this year. Her salary last year was $29,000. Local officials are befuddled by the incident, and five employees have lost their jobs since McGlone's no-show job came to light. A criminal investigation has begun, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
The city manager of Norfolk earns $213,000 in base salary, by the way, according to data collected by the Pilot. Two assistant city managers split $300,000, and two assistants to the city manager earn about $90,000 in base pay while serving the city of 230,000.
9. Jefferson County, Ala. -- money flushed down the sewer In Alabama, Jefferson County Attorney Jeff Sewell earns $375,000. Given that his county is in the biggest financial mess in the entire country and the nation's biggest-ever government bankruptcy is looming, the salary doesn't look too bad. It looks like an outright bargain compared to the $500-per-hour salary being paid to John S. Young, a court-appointed receiver who's trying to figure out how the county will catch up on $500 million in default payments. In case you're wondering, $500 per hour equals roughly a $1 million annual salary, assuming he puts in 40 hours a week and takes two weeks vacation.
Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, started down the road to perdition in 1994, when it was sued over a failing sewer system. The county began construction of a new one to satisfy a judgment, but costs ballooned to $3 billion. Unable to service the debt, the county turned to Wall Street for help. Investment banks sold officials on credit default swaps and other tricky funding mechanisms. We all know how that worked out. In this case, the county ended up with swaps that made it liable for nearly $6 billion. Now Jefferson County is in danger of becoming America's largest government bankruptcy in history – shattering the old record of $1.7 billion set by Orange County, Calif., in 1994. Incidentally, nearly two dozen government officials have been jailed over shady deals and alleged bribery by brokers competing for the county's business.
"Through a long series of ill-conceived financial transactions, the sewer ratepayers of Jefferson County have been saddled with a debt of roughly $11,491 per residential sewer customer." Bad Wall Street bets raised the city's interest on debt from 3 percent to 10 percent almost overnight, increasing its debt service payment from $10 million to $23 million, which is why the county simply can't pay its bills.
Young, who left a private sector water company job that brought him $1.6 million in 2008 to take on the receivership, told local journalists that he was worth it, as he expected to negotiate significant interest and fee discounts from creditors
"I know I have more value than the price they're paying me," he told John Archibald of the Birmingham News.
10. Pahrump, Nev. – Heidi Fleiss, a DA, and two crashes, DUI in one day Robert Beckett's job is to prosecute crimes in an almost-forgotten part of Nevada called Nye County that borders Death Valley. At $105,000 annually, his pay is set by the state, and doesn't sound egregious for an attorney with 16 years on the job. But Beckett allegedly helped himself to additional funding and committed other crimes, making his salary seem quite excessive.
In 2008, midway through his fourth term, Beckett crashed a county-owned Ford Expedition in the desert near Shoshone, Calif. Six hours later, he crashed a Dodge pickup truck on the same highway. Soon after, he failed a breath alcohol test, according to the Associated Press.
Then, in May, he was arrested in his office and charged with 20 counts of fraudulent appropriation of property for allegedly raiding a "bad check fund." Nevertheless, he continued his campaign for election to a fifth term before losing in a June primary.
The pressure was apparently too much for him. In September, former famed Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss – who now operates a laundry business in Pahrump -- called police to report a suspicious vehicle parked near her home. Inside was Beckett, police say, asleep behind the wheel of a county-issued vehicle. Beckett later failed a breath test and was arrested.
"I feel bad for the guy, but drunk driving is like shooting a gun in a crowd of people," Fleiss reportedly told the Pahrump Valley Times. "If I'd known it was him, I never would have called the police. I would have told him to lay down in the guest house and sleep it off."
11. Utah Transit Authority John Inglish
Utah is among the most forward-thinking mass transit states in the United States, as Salt Lake boasts a modern and rapidly expanding light rail system that is the envy of many cities. Still, General Manager John Inglish's salary of $350,000 last year -- exceeded the pay of top transportation bosses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix. Inglish even makes more than the head of the highly scrutinized Washington, D.C., Metro system chief John Catoe, who was paid $315,000 annually before stepping down earlier this year. And it's roughly equal to New York City transportation chief Jay Walder's, who is currently facing calls to accept a salary cut amid fare hikes and service cuts.
CALIFORNIA – A special section
Bell, Calif. started the era of outrage over public servant pay with revelations that the city manager was earning $800,000 per year. That story spurred several news outfits and bloggers to hunt for the second highest-paid government worker in California. As is the case with these things, it all depends on how you count. So we've included a representative sample of highly compensated public officials. Many of them came to light because the League of California Cities, in response to the Bell incident, conducted a statewide survey of city manager compensation, which it released on Sept. 10. Aware of the target this placed on their backs, many managers included extensive explanations in the "special issues" field, which makes for amusing reading if you have the time. In all, 16 city managers pulled down more than $300,000 in salary last year, the survey found.
12. Escondido City Manager Clay Phillips is not the best paid city manager, though his base salary of $225,000 is nothing to sneeze at. But his contract is typical, and offers benefits most workers could only dream of, inflating the city's cost of his employment to $326,000. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, he receives than 14 weeks of paid time off every year, along with a $9,000 auto allowance, a $1,000 computer stipend, a full $15,000 contribution to his 401 (k), and a life insurance policy. As another perk, he's allowed to bring his spouse on up to three conference trips every year, all expenses paid. His contract also has a clause that is somewhat like the "franchise player" status in the NFL. His salary can never drop below the third-highest city manager in San Diego County.
13. Bruce Channing of Laguna Hills is one of 16 city managers reporting salaries north of $300,000 – Channing earned $321,000. His municipality of 33,000 also provides him with use of a $60,000 Toyota Sequoia SUV. A local report suggests his benefits package is worth more than $400,000, but Channing disputes that.
14. Stephen H. Williams of Palmdale, earned $367,518, making him appear to be the top-paid city manager in post-Bell California. But he indicated in his disclosure that his salary appeared to be inflated because that amount included a "Banked Leave Time Cashout of $93,360.05," a "Stipend for Waiving Health" worth $600, an auto allowance worth $7,200 and $1,508 in life insurance premiums.
15. Joe Tait of San Juan Capistrano, a relatively small hamlet of 36,000, earned $324,000 last year, but didn't initially show up on the high-salary radar because he actually holds two jobs with that city – city manager and utilities director. Both pay him less than $200,000 per year. City officials defended the arrangement, according to the Orange County Register, by saying Tait actually saves them money.
16. Vernon -- Tait has nothing on Bruce Malkenhorst, however, who until recently held five jobs in the industrial the city of Vernon – population 96. He served as manager, clerk, treasurer, finance director, redevelopment director and utilities director. Now retired, Malkenhorst is the state's top pensioner, collecting $500,000 per year. He's but one of 24 California retirees receiving more than $200,000 annually, and one of nearly 5,000 earning six-figure pensions. While Malkenhorst cashes the checks, he is awaiting trial on charges he embezzled $60,000 while in office. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has reported that Malkenhorst's salary has actually been underreported, and that in 2005 he actually earned $910,000.
17. San Ramon -- Since Malkenhorst is retired, the title of highest paid city manager could fall to Herbert Moniz, who helps run San Ramon, a town of 64,000 in Contra Cost County. Moniz earned $359,000 last year, after receiving a 10 percent raise in 2008, according to the local Patch.com site. He presides over a payroll of 582 – 101 of whom earned more than $100,000 last year. Meanwhile, the city is cutting services: drop-in fees at senior centers are going up, street sweeping has been reduced to once per month, landscaping has been cut back and the city's aquatic center will close more often next year, according to a newsletter recently sent to residents recently.
18. San Francisco - Of course, city managers aren't the only California city employees with salaries that appear outsized. In San Francisco, there is considerable consternation over the salary of Deputy Police Chief Charles Keohane, who retired in the middle of 2009 but still ended up as the highest-paid city worker, earning $516,000 with one-time payouts for vacation and sick days. Asked how he felt about it, Keohane told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Not so good, if it's going to get my name in the paper."
Keohane was hardly alone in the six-figure ranks of city employees, however. Six city workers eclipsed $300,000 (including four police officers) and nearly 100 earned $200,000. In all, nearly 10,000 San Francisco workers – or one-third of the workforce -- earned $100,000 or more last year, when including overtime pay. While we're in the City by the Bay, we can also mention that one in five of the city's 5,000 transit workers – who are employed by a separate agency -- also eclipses $100,000,too.
19. Avenal, Calif. -- It might easy to miss an entirely different set of well-paid government employees – those who work in special agencies or commissions. Fortunately, Red Tape readers sent in plenty of examples. Here's one: Timothy Malan, chief dentist of the state correctional facility in Avenal. Being a dentist to prisoners is probably an awful job, but he's well compensated –earning $621,000 last year. In fact, The Washington Times reported that 37 state dentists earned $290,000 or more last year.
20. State Compensation Insurance Fund – The more arcane and obscure the agency, the more likely you'll find surprisingly large paychecks, like the one granted to Janet Frank for running the state's workers comp program – she earned $1.6 million during a two-year stint. In one of the most dramatic stories of paycheck inflation as you'll ever read, Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Rothfeld reported how an agency already rocked by scandal recruited a top-notch candidate with a $450,000 salary and a $140,000 signing bonus in 2008. By the time those expensive two years had passed, Frank had somehow accumulated $107,000 worth of unused vacation days when she cashed out and went home to Colorado.
It's not too late for you to get in on the fun. Here's a list of some resources to get you started. Find out how many six-figure salaries your tax dollars are supporting.