Santa Ana Extends City Manager’s Contract, Publicly Approves Bonus

Amid allegations that the Santa Ana City Council illegally approved a $17,000 bonus for City Manager David Cavazos behind closed doors last month, council members Tuesday night approved the bonus, plus a contract extension in open session.

Both items were approved in a pair of 5-2 votes, with Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilwoman Michele Martinez opposed. Pulido and Martinez had also voted against the bonus in closed session, with Pulido saying it was improper to grant the incentive while Cavazos is under a city investigation for his romantic relationship with a city employee, among other allegations.

Council members who support the bonus said keeping Cavazos was crucial because he is an “MVP” who was key to turning around the city’s finances.

Cavazos’ contract wasn’t set to expire until Oct. 21, 2017. The new deal extends that date to Feb. 16, 2019. It also contains an amendment that allows Cavazos to cash out a portion of his accrued unused sick leave. Before the amendment, Cavazos couldn’t cash out any sick leave, he told Voice of OC.

In addition to Cavazos’ bonus, the council in a separate vote approved a performance bonus for City Clerk Maria Huizar worth nearly $8,200. Her bonus passed unanimously.

When the council first approved Cavazos’ bonus last month, statewide open government expert Terry Francke said the council had violated California’s open meetings law, known as the Ralph M Brown Act, when it met behind closed doors to discuss the incentive. Francke said the law was broken because the meeting agenda didn’t notify the public that the bonus would be considered.

After the vote, Cavazos told Voice of OC that the bonus was approved in public to address a “question mark” about how the vote was previously taken. “In the spirit of transparency, it’s always good to put it on the agenda when there’s a question mark,” he said.

Despite the public vote, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said she believed the meeting was legal because Cavazos’ contract already calls for the council to consider a performance bonus. She also said it was her “personal preference” to conduct the vote in public.

In light of Cavazos’ relationship with a city employee, Pulido asked the council to consider a contract amendment that would bar the city manager from dating city employees, a provision that Carvalho dubbed a “morality clause.” However, his suggestion was shot down in a 5-2 vote without discussion that mirrored the votes on Cavazos’ contract extension and bonus.

Pulido also had questions about whether the council had truly decided in closed session to form a three-member ad-hoc committee to make recommendations on Cavazos’ contract extension. Pulido said he doesn’t recall that decision.

Martinez criticized the process, saying that doing it behind closed doors and in secret was how former city leaders at Bell — a tiny municipality in south Los Angeles County known for exorbitant salaries that landed city officials in prison — found themselves in trouble.

Martinez said neither the city clerk nor the city attorney were present for the vote on the bonus, and that when Carvalho reported it publicly out of closed session, the information came to her from Cavazos.

“We all know the Bell experiences,” Martinez said.

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

  • kburgoyne

    Who says government doesn’t operate more like private businesses? This mirrors what goes on in way too many (but not all) corporate board rooms.
    #1. So they meet in secret behind closed doors to hold the entire discussion/debate about what, if anything, the manager should get. Completely without any opportunity for comments FROM THE CONSTITUENTS THEY ARE “SUPPOSED” TO REPRESENT. Then they claim “it’s all well, good, and proper” because after we’ve already held the entire discussion/debate in secret we’ll come out and perform a public vote. But we won’t let anyone know anything that the vote was based upon.
    #2. Did anybody notice the lack of specific goals to be accomplished tied to any bonuses? The bonuses are essentially based on a “we feel good about the guy” criteria. “Hey, he gives great shoulder rubs in our secret private meetings. Who wouldn’t want to give the guy a bonus!?!?!?!”
    To be fair, this is all disgustingly similar to how so many (not all) corporations are run these days:
    #1. The board members hold their “real” discussions in secret and largely treat shareholders (the REAL owners of the corporation) like mushrooms.
    #2. The executive + board members buddy system cranks out high salaries and bonuses for executives often not tied to any specific performance goals. Because if the executive buddy of the board members actually had a specific public goal to achieve before getting any bonus, the board members would look extra foul if they tried to give their buddy a bonus after the executive failed to reach the goals. Better to just not have any goal get in the way of the bonus to begin with.
    Bottom line, it’s become a culturally engrained system where both the people running corporations and the politicians running governments both mirror each other and accept it as “too easily gotten away with” that they don’t think twice about engaging in the practice.

    • LFOldTimer

      It’s definitely verboten for corporate managers to date subordinates for liability purposes. Trust me.
      And you forgot something. Government is run 100% with our taxdollars. Most Corporations finance their businesses with private money and most suffer consequences for poor business decisions. When’s the last time a government went out of business for messing up?
      When government managers mess up nothing happens to them. Only the taxpayers suffer. Have you followed County government?
      So let’s put all this into perspective.

      • kburgoyne

        I’ve forgotten nothing. I merely point out that every aspect of this is mirrored in the private space (I said NOTHING about his relationship nor were my comments intended to be purely about him), and that what happen in the private space is simply being mirrored back again in the public space. They are operating under the same attitudes. And no, many large corporations do not openly suffer consequences of having buddy system over paid executives because the alternative is never demonstrated. Or actually, I’m wrong. EU executives tend to be paid less than US executives, yet in many markets EU companies compete equally with and sometimes surpass US companies.

        • LFOldTimer

          Let me repeat the previous factoid that I mentioned. Government operates with 100% taxpayer financing and has 0% chance of going bankrupt, regardless of how incompetent their management is. Private business operates with private financing and has a significant chance of going bankrupt. In fact, about 80% of private businesses fold in their first 5 years of operations. Now let all that sink in.

          • kburgoyne

            Let me repeat my point. Many LARGE (as I said) business executives and elected government officials feed off each other’s mentality. Your point is fine, but non-applicable to my basic point. My point is they feed off each other, and both are wrong.

            Your 80% number does not apply to large businesses. Your 80% number applies primarily to small business which I intentionally excluded from my comments. A small business is normally run by somebody who takes actual personal damage as a result of mismanagement.

            Large corporations are typically run by executives who typically have no down-side risk. Their risk often stops at “possibly” not being able to get the benefits of having been more successful, but they are almost never worse off than before if they fail.

            Now let all that sink in. I’m not making excuses for the elected officials, just like I’m not making execuses for the buddy-system executives.

          • KenCoop

            LFoldFart labors under the delusion that corporate execs actually care about the companies they run and the people who work in them. He must have been asleep in 2008 when all of that was shown to be false. Back in the days of the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Vanderbilts, that might have been true since their names were at stake. Those days are long gone. Typically execs at Fortune 500 companies own little if any of the company they manage.

            Those folks ran their companies into the ground almost taking the US economy with them. Yet none of them were harmed financially in the process.

          • LFOldTimer

            Hi Ed. Nice to see you back. Did you bowl with Ralph and Alice last night? Say hi to the boys at the Moose Lodge for me.
            You don’t seem to get it. Capitalists will cheat, steal, and lie to make a buck if they can get away with it. It’s always been that way. One role of government is to stop the capitalist thievery. But Clinton, Bush and now Obama allowed the foxes to raid and clean out the chicken coop. Government promoted criminality. Got that, Coop? It has been particularly appalling for Obama to turn a blind eye after he saw the massive economic damage sustained by the entire globe after 2008. Yet his justice department has failed to prosecute even one Wall Street crook as the Statute of Limitations expired. So point the finger back at yourself for voting for Obama, Ed. But it’s easier to blame everybody else, isn’t it? 😉

          • KenCoop

            None of which changes the fact that execs of companies don’t care about anything but themselves. Only a complete idiot believes otherwise.

          • LFOldTimer

            Wall Street couldn’t have blown up the economy without the complicit cooperation of government, Ed. The dems had the majority in congress during the Bush term. They could’ve prevented the meltdown. They didn’t. They filled their pockets with Wall Street money and sold the Country right down the river. And you elected them to office! Blame yourself.

          • KenCoop

            Here you go LFOldFart. Here’s a prime example of execs making a decision that screws the employees.


  • Paul Lucas

    If I understand this right, this was done on the same night the council was to consider the expansion of the beds for feds program to incarcerate specifically transgender detainees for deportation. And none of those protesters decried the bonus to the man who initiated the plan to incarcerate specifically transgendered detainees. Has the LGBT community taken a position on this city manager?

    • LFOldTimer

      I don’t think they can connect the dots between the pols and what happens in the jails. I guess they don’t understand that the cops just carry out the policies that the pols create or rubber stamp. Sad.

  • Leopold Arguello

    The Bell of santa ana is ringing louder each time, city council and mayor are gilty as ever to bring this hungry money romantic man, which are the merits to give bonus and and extend his never should be contract, everything decided in close doors with the city attorney complicit, that’s not new, he crafted a five year tax on santa people supposedly to fix neglected water structure and i don’t see any work on the streets, i guess the only honorable person is martinez, well one these days it’ll be in the good news that got in jail like their friends from city of Bell..

    • kburgoyne

      “with Mayor Miguel Pulido and Councilwoman Michele Martinez opposed” — Ummm… did you miss that part?

  • LFOldTimer

    So it’s apparently okay with the SA City Council for executive managers to date subordinate city employees. What could possibly go wrong with that? ha. What a clown circus. What’s next? A designated break room where city employees can smoke medical marijuana, as long as the product was purchased within the city limits? ha. This is almost like watching an old Gene Wilder / Richard Pryor movie. It’s quite amusing standing outside looking in. But I suppose it’s a little painful from the inside looking out. My heart goes out to all of you who live in SA and feel helpless.