Five women are among the 10 highest paid employees of the City of East Lansing — an increase from December 2019 according to information provided by the City through a Freedom of Information Act request — in part due to the retirements of some of the highest-paid men employed by the City since 2019 resulting in more women ranking among the highest paid employees. Some women also moved up in the ranking in terms of gross salary paid out.
ELi requested and received information about the 20 highest paid City employees in 2022 and intended to compare that against similar data from 2019, which City Pulse had previously requested and received. However, the City apparently no longer maintains the list from 2019 that the City Pulse was given. So, to make an accurate comparison, City Finance Director Jill Feldpausch provided ELi with a ranking of “strictly gross pay” for City employees as of Dec. 2, 2019.
The 10 highest paid employees in almost all cases took home a significantly higher gross salary than their stated contractual salaries due to other benefits in their contracts, including cell phone bill reimbursements and car allowances.
Many of the top paid employees in 2019 have since left their employment with the City. More women are now in the 10 highest paid employees.
As of December 2019, Feldpausch ranked third, East Lansing Public Library Director Kristin Shelley fourth, 54B District Court Administrator Nicole Evans tenth, and Human Relations Director Shelli Neumann came in eleventh.
ELPD Lieutenant Tresha Neff, who ranked 15th in 2019, retired in 2020. In 2016, Neff sued ELPD for discrimination, arguing that she had been denied promotions and educational opportunities that her male colleagues received. Her suit was thrown out by a federal judge in May 2017. Neff had been promoted from sergeant to lieutenant by ELPD in March 2017.
All other employees in the Top 10 for 2019 were men, and many of them have since left their employment with the City.
Kenneth Lehto of the East Lansing Fire Department and Director of Planning, Building & Development Tim Dempsey both left the City’s employ in 2019. East Lansing Police Department Chief Larry Sparkes retired in 2020, and Fire Chief Randy Talifarro and Parks and Rec Director Tim McCaffrey both retired in the summer of 2021.
Director of Public Works Scott House was ranked 11th (ninth among non-retirees) in 2019, but he has been on leave for military service since April 2021.
From the men among the top 10 paid employees of 2019, only City Manager George Lahanas remains employed by the City. He remains the top paid City employee, according to the data from 2022.
Dawn Carson, who was promoted to Fire Chief in 2021, is the second highest paid City employee, up from 17th in 2019. Feldpausch and Shelley remained the third and fourth highest paid employees, respectively. Evans moved from 10th highest paid in 2019 to fifth highest in 2022 and Neumann from 11th to eighth.
Two more women — Interim Director of Public Works Nicole McPherson (12th) and ELPD Sergeant Kristine Khoury (17th) — made the top 20.
Of the women in the top 20 in 2022, only Carson had been given a promotion. McPherson, who was twelfth on the 2022 list, is DPW director until House returns.
Cathy DeShambo was promoted to lead the Parks and Rec. Department in August 2021 but did not appear among the 20 highest-paid employees in 2019 or 2022. Her predecessor Tim McCaffrey had clocked in at fifth in 2019.
Women make up 49.8% of the City’s employees, but they only account for 36.5% of full-time workers. In comparison, they make up 73.8% of regular part-time employees and 68.2% of all part-time contingent workers for the City.
Most of the highest paid employees grossed tens of thousands of dollars more than their official salaries listed in their contracts thanks to fringe benefits.
In January 2022, ELi Founder Alice Dreger filed a FOIA request for the contracts for many department heads. By comparing the stated salary with the actual amount paid to employees, ELi found that employees often received a gross pay that was $12,280 to $40,112 more than their stated contractual salary.
Only ELPD Chief Kim Johnson did not make more than his contractual salary, as he actually made $1,049 less than stated in his contract. The City told ELi that this was due to Johnson taking furlough or unpaid leave time during Fiscal Year 2021.
Additionally, the City responded to an ELi FOIA request for the contracts of Evans, former ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez, and ELPD Lieutenant Erich Vedder with only Evans’ contract.
When asked for comment, Neumann, the City’s HR director, said the City only has formal contracts with department heads. Vedder is covered under the City’s collective bargaining agreement with the Command Officers Association of Michigan, but Gonzalez is not since that agreement only covers lieutenants and sergeants.
ELi used the base amount stated in the contract. Some employees have yearly raises included in their contracts and others longevity pay.
The discrepancy in contractual base pay and actual gross pay is because employees often receive some fringe benefits included in their contracts. The FOIA returned said that salaries represented “amounts paid to an employee including wages, overtime, allowances, paid time off payouts, as well as employee reimbursements.”
When ELi asked for clarification, Feldpausch wrote over email that these benefits can include things like, “Longevity and medical buyout amounts (which are paid directly to the employee) would be included in the gross earnings amounts. The value of any benefit plans or retirement contributions are not included in those amounts.”
Contracts that ELi has received for the top 10 paid employees outline benefits “that include but are not limited to” paid time off, holiday pay, health, dental, and long-term care insurance, and contributions to various retirement plans.
Benefits like paid time off and holiday pay would show up in the salary information provided to ELi, but retirement contributions made by the City and health insurance costs not paid to the employee would not show up in the salary.
All top paid employees with contracts also have clauses that state that the City will incur reasonable costs related to professional development of these employees, such as attending trainings and local, state, and national meetings and conferences. The City will also reimburse “certain job affiliated expenses” that are “reasonably incurred in the conduct of City business for lunches, dinners, and the like.”
How the City handles cell phones varies by employees. Some have phones provided by the City, and others have their cell phone bills reimbursed. Many contracts provide employees with the choice between either option. All top paid employees also receive either a monthly car allowance, or in the case of the police and fire chiefs, a vehicle provided directly by the City.
The City Manager has several benefits unique to his contract, including the option of cashing out 40 hours of unused paid time off if certain other conditions are met, a computer provided by the City, home internet paid for by the City, and a $400 credit line for work-related expenses.
ELi is unable to provide a line item analysis of what reimbursements employees received and why, but payouts of the benefits listed above can result in a significantly higher gross salary.
For example, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Elaine Hardy was promised a salary of $81,583 in her contract but still didn’t crack the top 20 where the lowest noted salary was that of Police Captain Chad Connelly at $107,896. Meanwhile, Neumann’s contract outlined a salary of $79,498 and she got paid $119,610, or $40,112 more than her base salary.
Similarly, Parks and Rec Director Cathy DeShambo has a contractually stated salary of $104,838, but did not appear among the highest paid employees. However, DeShambo has been in her position for less than a year.
You can view all the contracts referenced in this article here.