A county sheriff and a small city councilman made more money than the President of United States. A firefighter earned $100,000 in overtime alone every year. Those are not jokes. They are facts.

It is how various levels of American government do things. It should not be a matter of if but when they will collapse under their own weight. These public employees openly “stole” our hard-earned money and it is happening all over America.

Transparent California, which is tied to a Nevada-based, libertarian-minded think tank, recently released its annual compilation of data on public employee compensation. Riverside County payroll grew almost 11 percent last year, and two retiring executives cashed in a combined $743,000 worth of unused leave. More than 640 people who worked for the Los Angeles County Fire Department last year earned at least $100,000 in overtime.

A few years back, the tiny city of Bell in Southern California with a population of mere 35,864 people was strapped for cash. It was revealed that five city councilmen had enriched themselves with an annual pay of more than $100,000 each. The annual pay for the city manager was $788,000. The assistant city manager got $376,000. The police chief made $457,000 a year. The person who has to govern such a vast country, the President of United States, only makes $400,000 a year. Under California law, the same level city councilman can make no more than $8076 annually. Four city council members were convicted on graft and corruption charges.

Once again, Transparent California uncovered the unreasonably high salaries for the public employee in some cities. It shows that such “fat cats” phenomenon are widespread among American cities big and small. What we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg.

In America, a local government has a lot of say about how to spend its money. In addition to tax dollars from the state and county, the city council gets to decide how to spread the wealth. They can close the door and enrich themselves, “befriending” city manager, police chief and the fire department. It will not be unusual to divide the spoils with unreasonably high salaries. All paid for by the taxpayers.

God only knows how busy can the city employees be to manage a city under 100, 000 people? The annual salary of such a “laid back” job can actually match the President of United States is unthinkable. Many public employees, especially the supervisors, stopped taking vacations right before retirement. They used the yearlong unspent vacation days to be counted as hours worked toward overtime to pad their compensations. It will come in handy when they calculate their lawful retirement money.

In general, a public employee can get 80 percent of the original salary as retirement benefit. With all these “padding”, no wonder we are seeing so many retirees making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Is it any wonder the public employee retirement fund will someday face the crisis of spending it all?

These “legally-stealing” public employees claim that they devoted their entire lives to serve the public. They deserve to get more money with retirement. It is legal, and everyone is doing it. There is nothing inappropriate and disturbing. “Brother firefighters” and police officers are the protectors of the people and are often the heroes who save lives.

However, when there is no fire to fight and no need to enforce the law, their jobs are relatively easy. Firefighters work three days a week and are on call 24 hours a day. Even when they sleep, eat a meal or play poker and chess, they are considered as working. That is why there are more people than needed to apply for the job. With a $100,000 annual payout, the overtime has exceeded the base pay. Does it make any sense?

In fact, the United States is on the decline from a superpower. The federal and local governments are both strapped for cash. In many regards it is by our own doing. In a worldwide sensational report, a Chinese BART janitor earned over $276,000 in overtime in 2015. Then there was this story that the Pentagon paid $640 for a toilet seat and $7,600 for a coffee pot.

With so many outrageous stories, it means the American system has been out of whack. It has lost the ability to monitor and self-correct itself. That is worse than corruption. If you are unable to find the root cause and correct it, there is no way you can make America great again.

L.A. Voice is the opinion of the World Journal’s editorial board.

Due to a translation error, a previous version of this story misstated the population of Bell. 

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