The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday night will have a behind-closed-doors conversation about a proposal to give City Manager David Cavazos a performance bonus worth up to $16,000, multiple sources have confirmed to Voice of OC.
This is the second time since Cavazos was hired in 2013 that council members have considered giving him a bonus. Just over a year ago, the council refrained from giving him a similar bonus to his $315,000 base salary after public backlash and media scrutiny.
Instead, a few weeks later they approved a nearly $4,000 permanent raise.
At the time, the idea of giving a bonus to Cavazos, who is already among the highest paid city managers in Orange County with a compensation package worth over $500,000, was controversial.
Now, council members who support the bonus say Cavazos has done a yeoman’s job in turning the city around, particularly in regard to its finances. They say the bonus is a necessary incentive to keep their star player from being lured away by other cities.
Before Cavazos took the helm, the city was teetering on bankruptcy, and the city’s management consultants were projecting a five-year budget deficit, said Councilman Roman Reyna, who is leading the supporters of the bonus.
“This is a high quality city manager,” Reyna told Voice of OC.
Reyna said he is considering a bonus worth between 2.5 and 5 percent of base salary. At the top of that range, the bonus would be $16,000.
“If we treat him like shit, like Miguel has, he’s going to leave,” Reyna said, referencing Mayor Miguel Pulido's behind-the-scenes battle with Cavazos for control of City Hall.
Yet, a significant raise from the Phoenix City Council didn't keep him from leaving that city's employ.
In fact, Cavazos came to Santa Ana less than a year after he took a $78,000 raise in Phoenix, a move council members there said was intended to be an incentive to stay but was used instead by Cavazos to negotiate his compensation in Santa Ana.
And the bonus has its critics on council, most notably Councilwoman Michele Martinez. Martinez has in the past been complementary of Cavazos, but said many of the improvements during his tenure were the fruit of hard decisions the council had made prior to his arrival. Now, Martinez opposes a bonus on grounds that the budget might be hit by recent stock market declines.
“The market continues to fall and that worries me,” Martinez wrote in a text message. “Hence, I would like to see a mid-year budget review and if our projections are in line with the current spending.”
In an email to Voice of OC, Cavazos said he couldn’t comment on the council’s pending closed session because it is a “personnel matter.” But he said there’s been “outstanding progress” since he was appointed city manager.
“The best news is the remarkable financial turnaround that includes millions in new services, employee raises, and community investments,” Cavazos wrote. “The truth is we are just getting started and we are all grateful to the City Council for their leadership during the turn around from the brink of bankruptcy.”
Yet Cavazos’ tenure so far hasn’t been without controversy.
There’s a city investigation looming over Cavazos connected to revelations late last year that he is involved in a romantic relationship with a city employee, an arrangement that government ethicists have criticized as a possible conflict of interest and an ethical violation.
The investigation, which is ongoing, includes other allegations, according to sources close to City Hall.
Reyna and other supporters dismiss such concerns as little to worry about. They point out that the city manager hasn’t violated the city charter, and that they’ve heard little about the investigation, an indication they say means Cavazos will come out clean.
“Given we haven’t received a final report and haven’t received any precautions or any type of report on concerns, I anticipate the conclusion is going to be there wasn’t any type of impropriety,” said Councilman David Benavides.