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In salary comparison, CFO Williams is top earner

Monday, May 10, 2010
by Alex Parker

Is Cook County CFO Jaye Williams overpaid?

She earns more than the chief financial officers of several other large municipal governments surveyed by the Current, including New York City and the City of Chicago. 

Her salary became an issue when news that several employees under County Board President Todd Stroger’s purview got sizable raises as the county grapples with fiscal challenges.

Stroger said Friday that the $54,000 raise given to CFO Jaye Williams is commensurate with what the manager of a $3 billion budget would make.

So I poked around and found the salaries of CFOs at other large counties in the country.

Cook County is the second largest county in the United States. First is Los Angeles County; third is Harris County, Texas, which encompasses Houston. They are followed by Maricopa County, Ariz., (Phoenix) and San Diego County.

Williams is now the highest-paid city or county CFO in the country, according to this analysis, which examined CFOs or their equivalents in the largest cities and counties, by population.

Have a look:

  • Los Angeles County ($23.6 billion budget): Wendy Watanabe, $214,000, according to a county spokesman.
  • Cook County ($3 billion): Jaye Williams, $230,000 ($54,000 raise boosted salary from $176,156)
  • Harris County (about $1.4 billion): Barbara Schott, $197,985 (according to a database of public employees’ salaries compiled by the Texas Tribune)
  • Maricopa County ($2.1 billion): Shelby Scharbach, $137,696, (according to a database of public employees’ salaries compiled by the Arizona Republic).
  • San Diego County ($5 billion): Donald Steuer, $211,494 (according to a county spokeswoman)

Now let’s see how Williams’ salary stacks up against CFOs of the country’s largest cities (by population). In order, those are New York City, LA, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix.

  • New York (proposed 2011 budget is about $64 billion): Nancy Goodman, $113,401 (2008 salary, via database from
  • Los Angeles ($7 billion): Antoinette Christovale, $197,420 (according a database of city employees’ salaries from the Los Angeles Daily News)
  • Chicago ($6.1 billion): Gene Saffold, $164,000
  • Houston ($4 billion): Michelle Mitchell, $103,016 (according to a database of city employees’ salaries from the Houston Chronicle).
  • Phoenix ($1 billion): Jeffrey DeWitt, $143,728 (according to a database of city employees’ salaries from the Arizona Republic)

Here's how it breaks down in terms of top earners:

1) Jaye Williams, Cook County, $230,000

2) Wendy Watanabe, LA County, $214,000

3) Donald Steuer, San Diego County, $211,494

4) Barbara Schott, Harris County, Texas, $197,985

6) Gene Saffold, Chicago, $164,000

7) Jeffrey DeWitt, Phoenix, $143,728

8) Shelby Scharbach, Maricopa County, Ariz., $137,696

9) Nancy Goodman, New York, $113,401

10) Michelle Mitchell, Houston, $103,016

So from this comparison, it’s clear that Williams does well, at least in comparison to other public employees. Her starting salary, $186,156, certainly would have put her in the middle of this group of public employees. And her raise, of course, puts her in an elite position.

Of course, that's not the only yardstick. Stroger says her salary is appropriate for the CFO of what amounts to a $3 billion corporation. 

For a comparison of what they make in the private sector, CFO Magazine reports that for corporations that rake in between $1 billion and $8 billion, the top-paid CFOs make a median salary of $430,000.

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