The compensation offered to the candidate for Santa Ana’s new city manager could be more than $500,000 annually during a three-year contract, easily putting his pay in the top tier among city managers in the state, according to figures released by the city.

And when City Council members decided in closed session to hire David Cavazos, city manager of Phoenix, the decision wasn’t announced immediately after the closed-door meeting, a violation of the state’s open government law known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, according to Terry Francke, general counsel with for group Californians Aware and Voice of OC’s open government consultant.

The Council is expected to vote on Cavazos’ pay package tonight in open session.

According to city documents, Cavazos would earn $558,625.85 his first year, $515,395.08 his second year and $515,895.08 his third year. The annual compensation includes his $315,000 annual base salary plus retirement, medical insurance, life insurance, relocation allowance, temporary housing and time-off costs.

Santa Ana, a city with a bare-bones budget that has struggled to maintain basic public services and narrowly avoided municipal bankruptcy, has become accustomed to large payouts to high-ranking managers.

For example, when he retired in 2011, former City Manager Dave Ream received payments of $431,158, making him the second-highest paid city manger in the state for that year, according to a database maintained by state Controller John Chiang. Included in Ream’s compensation was a $365,000 lump-sum payout in unused time off.

Ream’s payment came after the city gave a controversial $191,000 payment to former City Attorney Joe Fletcher. Fletcher had collected that amount in unused vacation, holiday and sick leave through unusual clauses in his employment contract that allowed him to accrue time as if he had been hired 13 years prior to his actual hiring date.

And most recently, former City Manager Paul Walters received an severance package valued at $706,396. Walters was ousted earlier this year in an effort by the City Council to wrest control over the city bureaucracy from longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido, who was seen as close to Walters.

Walters is still earning $264,999 for one year as the city’s police commissioner.

Meanwhile, Francke questions whether the disclosures about the decision to hire Cavazos complied with the the Brown Act.

A city news release last week announced that the council is “unanimously poised” to hire Cavazos.

The Brown Act requires that such a consensus be announced after the closed session meeting during which council members arrived at that conclusion, Francke said.

“Came to a consensus to hire means they’ve decided to hire. They made a decision, and they should have announced it,” Francke said.

Councilman David Benavides, the only member of City Council who could be reached, declined comment on the matter.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.