During a closed-door meeting, the Santa Ana City Council Tuesday night approved a $17,000 performance bonus for City Manager David Cavazos, an incentive council supporters said was needed to keep their "MVP" player.
After the private discussion, the city attorney announced publicly that it was granted on a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilwoman Michele Martinez voting no. The council members who voted yes were Sal Tinajero, Vincent Sarmiento, David Benavides and Roman Reyna, and Angelica Amezcua.
Before the meeting, council members who voted for the bonus, which will be added to a $319,000 base annual salary and other compensation worth over $500,000 per year, described it as rewarding Cavazos for the city’s financial turnaround. The city had gone from a year-to-year projected budget deficit to a solid reserve and even surpluses.
The bonus was calculated as 5 percent on a $342,240 salary, which includes base salary and other pay like housing allowance.
Martinez and Pulido have been the critics of Cavazos in recent years, with Pulido and Cavazos engaged in a behind-the-scenes battle for control over City Hall. Martinez has indicated that Cavazos has received too much credit for improvements in the city's finances that were the result of hard choices made by the council before he arrived.
Council members had considered a similar bonus at the end of 2014, a little over one year after Cavazos was hired. But they opted not to grant the bonus after public backlash and media scrutiny. Instead, they later approved a $4,000 permanent salary increase that would be deposited into a retirement health savings account.
This time around, there was little public outcry.
After the meeting, Cavazos rattled off a list of accomplishments that he believes warrants the additional pay. Most were financial benefits to the city, like a renegotiated federal contract that increased bed rental rates at the city jail.
Cavazos also took issue with Voice of OC reporting on the bonus that stated he left Phoenix less than a year after that city granted him a $78,000 raise. Phoenix council members there had indicated the raise was meant to be an incentive for Cavazos to stay. Instead, Cavazos left the city to come to Santa Ana, where council members had matched his $315,000 Phoenix salary and then some.
Cavazos said he had been at Phoenix for 26 years, and that the increase had nothing to do with negotiating leverage used to compensation package worth over $500,000 in Santa Ana. "The argument that I used that as leverage is not true," he said.
"I stuck around in my last job for 26 years," Cavazos said.
Cavazos also said that a council subcommittee will be convening to negotiate an extension to his contract. When asked if he would commit to staying in Santa Ana, he said he would commit to a "mutually agreed" contract, but that doesn't mean he's "committed for a thousand years."
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the amount of City Manager David Cavazos' performance bonus. We regret the error.