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— The fortunes of San Diego city taxpayers may be in free fall as city hall awaits long-delayed audits and possible indictments of city officials in the great retirement-fund scandal, but city-council staffers aren't feeling the pinch. Beset from all sides over the way they've mismanaged city finances, councilmembers have managed to take care of their own with generous salaries and benefits in most cases far higher than what they made only a half-decade ago, according to documents recently obtained from the city under the state public records act.

Highest-paid staffer at $101,982 is Ana Molina-Rodriguez, who now works for Eighth District councilman Ben Hueso. She held the same spot in the office of Hueso's predecessor, Ralph Inzunza -- convicted in the Cheetahs strip-club bribery scandal -- and testified briefly at his trial last summer. Molina-Rodriguez is the only one of the eight chiefs of staff who is actually making a bit less than her predecessor. In April 2001, the Union-Tribune reported that Inzunza was paying then-chief of staff Lawrence Cohen $105,379.

Next in line at the taxpayer-fed trough is Aimee Faucett, who receives $99,008 working for the Seventh District's Jim Madaffer. That represents a comfortable increase from the $74,212 she reportedly got in 2001. In addition to her city hall duties, Faucett also managed her boss's reelection campaign. Fifth District chief of staff Lance Witmondt, who works for Brian Maienschein and ran his campaign back in 2000, makes $91,208, way up from the $66,527 he was paid back in 2001 when he was reportedly the lowest-compensated chief of staff.

Next comes Steve McNally, employed by Second District councilman Kevin Faulconer. McNally, who once "owned and operated a manufacturing and distribution company that specialized in radio and wireless test equipment," according to the councilman's website, is paid $89,502. Five years ago, then-incumbent Byron Wear paid $69,330 to chief of staff Kay Carter.

Then there is Jimmy Slack, who makes $87,559 in the Fourth District offices of Tony Young. In 2001, George Stevens paid $73,701 to his chief of staff, Charles Lewis, who later succeeded Stevens. (Lewis died in August 2004 and was indicted in the Cheetahs case in August 2003.) The First District's Scott Peters pays Betsy Brennan Kinsley $84,510. She once worked as a "Legislative Clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Commerce in Washington, D.C.," according to the councilman's website. Five years ago, Peters chief of staff Chris Cameron got $75,692.

In the District Three office of councilwoman Toni Atkins, Denise Price is paid $82,992. She boasts of having once handled "community and media relations for elected officials, including Speaker Emeritus Antonio Villaraigosa, Assemblymember Mike Gotch, and San Diego city councilmember Valerie Stallings," according to the Atkins website. In 2001, Atkins paid then-chief of staff Jeff Gattas $69,614.

Bringing up the rear in the salary derby is Sixth District chief of staff Steven Hadley, who makes $82,397 as aide to onetime mayoral candidate Donna Frye. Five years ago, Frye's Sixth District seat stood vacant after the resignation of Valerie Stallings as part of a plea bargain she reached with the district attorney over her role in the John Moores influence-peddling scandal. But her chief of staff,Jane Potter, holding down the fort while awaiting a special election to fill the vacancy, still made $73,680.

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