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Issue Date: April 2003 Issue

Real People's Paychecks

Colleen Mytnick

How We Did It

How much do you make a year?

Most people don't like that question — and for good reason. If your answer is perceived as too much, your co-workers will resent you. If it's too little, you risk embarrassing yourself in a society that often equates money with worth.

But as much as people don't like to share their salary with others, they love to know what others are making. Which is part of the reason we decided to do this story, even though we knew it wouldn't be easy.

To unearth the salaries of the 100-plus people in our story, we asked at least four times that many people. We made cold calls to businesses in the Yellow Pages. We sent e-mails to anyone we could think of. We sent our intern, Katie Gallagher, on cab and bus rides to ask the drivers how much they earn. We scoured financial reports for publicly traded companies and reviewed the tax filings of nonprofits.

Many of the people on our list had absolutely no obligation to reveal their salary. While probably 90 percent of the "private" people we asked turned us down, quite a few were willing to tell all. "It didn't seem like a big deal," explains bartender Brandy Rybak (see page 50). "People always wonder what bartenders make."

The "public" people on our list — such as nonprofit heads and CEOs of public companies — were a different story. The law requires them to provide tax filings that contain information on executive compensation. In other words, their salary is a matter of public record, a fact many of the people on our list were none too happy about. As one nonprofit leader bluntly asked, "What incentive would I have to do that?"

A spokeswoman at another nonprofit was downright angry at our request, calling our story "intrusive" and "salacious" and accusing us of blackmail. Another nonprofit head charged us $1 a page, plus 37 cents postage — for public information. She was the only person on our entire list who charged for it.

Other nonprofits were much more helpful. The American Red Cross, United Way and Cleveland Tomorrow were quick to comply with our request. The government offices we contacted were also responsive.

One thing to remember when reading the list: While most of the salaries are for 2002, the figures for nonprofits and publicly traded companies are generally for the year 2001, the last year that is currently available.

In the end, we collected 116 salaries. We promise to hold off a while before asking about sex, politics or religion.

Salary comparison

Kelly Holcomb
Cleveland Browns
Tim Couch
Timing is everything when you're a quarterback. Unfortunately, Kelly Holcomb signed a two-year contract extension just before his stellar performance filling in for Tim Couch last season. If he had waited, he could have pursued a starting job as an unrestricted free agent. "One bird in hand is better than two in the bush," Holcomb told The Plain Dealer.
Orin Smith
President and CEO
Starbucks Corp.
(includes bonus)
Dianna Lott
Barista (server)
Starbucks, Playhouse Square
$1,151 (six months of part-time employment at $6.75 a hour)
Despite the fact that CEO Smith earns about 1,000 times as much as she does, Lott's not complaining. She cites good benefits, cool people and a pleasant atmosphere as perks of the job. Plus, she makes an additional $2 to $3 an hour in tips. "It's not like you're over a grease pit," she notes. Still, her latté days are limited. In the fall, she heads for Seattle to earn her master's degree in computer engineering.
David M. McGuirk
Executive assistant to the mayor
City of Cleveland
Jane L. Campbell
City of Cleveland
How does the mayor's assistant make more money than the mayor? Campbell's salary is set by the city charter, but she sets the salaries of those who work for her. To attract top talent, explains chief of public affairs Rodney Jenkins, you have to pay well. "She has a lot of people who make more money than her," he notes.
Daniel Ross
Avon Lake School District
(until December 2003)
Daniel Ross
Avon Lake School District
(after December 2003)

Ross will soon be making $28,000 a year less, but he'll actually be taking in more money. Following in the tracks of a dozen or so superintendents across Northeast Ohio, Ross plans to retire and then be rehired, allowing him to collect both a salary and a pension. The deal saves money for Avon Lake and makes money for Ross, but it drains the already hurting state teachers' pension fund, according to Richard A. DeColibus, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. While many teachers double-dip, too, DeColibus says the average teacher does not have the guarantee of being rehired that most superintendents do. "[Superintendents] have access," DeColibus says. "They can make the backroom deals, with a high degree of certainty that they will be rehired."

Avon Lake School Board president Mike Mannino says Ross had no such assurance. "There is never a guarantee of re-employment," he says. "That was our choice in this case. Dan does a tremendous job." Mannino points out that Ross could have easily gone to another school district after retiring and earned a full salary. Instead, he chose to stay in Avon Lake and work for a reduced salary of $95,000.

For the complete story of Real People's Paychecks, pick up Cleveland Magazine at your favorite newsstand, or subscribe today!

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