Retiring New Orleans S&WB head says replacement will cost more

Marcia St. Martin, the outgoing head of the Sewerage & Water Boards, believes the utility will have to pay her replacement more than her, she said at an executive committee meeting Friday.

St. Martin, who called her $206,000 annual salary a “bargain” at the meeting, is set to retire in December with a $175,000 annual pension.

Though she didn’t name a salary figure, she alluded to it when asked how much the utility expects to spend on the national search for her replacement. St. Martin said her staff is in the process of drafting a solicitation for a search firm.

“Traditionally, the search firm’s fees are between 25 and 35 percent of the compensation,” she said.

The budget will probably be between $60,000 and $75,000, and possibly as much as $80,000, she said.

Based on those fees, the pay for the new executive director would range from $171,000 to $320,000. St. Martin said the Sewerage & Water Board will have to offer more than $206,000 to attract qualified candidates.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge to replace me for my current compensation,” she said. “I think the market is a little bit more than what the current compensation is.”

If the board follows St. Martin’s advice, her replacement could be the highest-paid employee in local government. That distinction now belongs to New Orleans Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad, who makes $227,000 a year, according to the Department of Civil Service.

St. Martin makes more than the top administrators in City Hall. New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas earns $189,000 a year. Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin is paid $179,000. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is paid $140,000 annually.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, to which the Sewerage & Water Board belongs, said the group doesn’t have the typical salary for a water system director.

Similar positions in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes pay $118,000 and $162,000 respectively, according to parish records. The director of the Austin Water Utility in Texas, which serves nearly 900,000 customers, makes $169,000 a year, according to a report in The Texas Tribune.

St. Martin has been with the Sewerage & Water Board for more than 20 years and has served as director for the past nine. She started that post with a salary of $150,000 — $40,000 above her predecessor, according to a 2004 Times-Picayune story on her appointment.

The Sewerage & Water Board has lately come under scrutiny for St. Martin’s generous retirement package. As WVUE-TV reported in April, when she retires she will receive an annual pension of $175,000, plus a one-time payment of nearly $700,000 from cashing out a Deferred Retirement Option Plan.

“I don’t think the local press thinks so,” St. Martin said, “but it has been a pretty good bargain.”

This story was reported by The Lens, an independent, nonprofit newsroom serving New Orleans.

Read the story: Marcia St. Martin says S&WB should pay her replacement more than $206,000