The city of Santa Ana has hired away Phoenix's city manager and has agreed to a salary and benefits package of more than $500,000, making him one of the highest paid city employees in California.
David Cavazos is a long-time Phoenix city employee who rose through the ranks from intern to city manager over 26 years.
In Santa Ana, he will earn a base salary of $315,000, the same base amount he made as manager in Phoenix, which has a population of 1.47 million. Santa Ana has a population of about 330,000.
With benefits, the city expects to pay Cavazos $558,625 in the first year of his contract. In the second and third year the city is poised to pay him about $515,000, according to a report prepared for the council.
Among the benefits Cavazos will receive are $36,000 for housing in the first year and $24,000 per year after that. In addition, he will receive $7,500 in moving expenses, several sick and vacation days and insurance benefits.
In an interview with The Times, Cavazos said he doubts he'll reap all of the benefits allotted to him in his contract.
"I haven't taken a sick day in 10 years. Some of those costs are not going to occur," he said.
"I'm not leaving for the money. I'm not going there for the money. Just like I came here for an opportunity. I'm going to Santa Ana for an opportunity."
He noted that he helped Phoenix emerge from a $277-million budget deficit and the city now has "the highest contingency fund in city history."
Santa Ana leaders praised Cavazos for his experience and said they believe he will help bring economic development and federal dollars to the Orange County city.
"You get what you pay for," said councilwoman Michele Martinez. "We wanted the best and we didn't want to short change our city. He's very qualified; we didn't want to nickel and dime."
Phoenix officials gave Cavazos a $78,000 pay raise late last year, boosting his base salary to $315,000. The raise sparked controversy in that city. Defenders argued it would help retain a talented manager and make his pay in line with cities similar in size to Phoenix.
Santa Ana was hard hit by the recession and housing market crash and in recent years faced steep budget cuts and talk of possible bankruptcy. Last year, it passed its first balanced budget after years of financial turmoil.
Earlier this year, the city pushed out City Manager Paul Walters, who had been serving in that position after working for years as the city's police chief. Walters was hired to help resolve the city's multi-million dollar budget shortfall and was seen as an ally of Santa Ana's longtime mayor Miguel Pulido.
"Right now we're in a much better condition than we were a couple of years ago," said Councilman Vincent Sarmiento. "We see this as bringing on somebody who has resources that were not available here in the city."
"I'm confident that with his experience in business attraction and business retention we'll be able to make up tenfold the first year the difference in salary compared to what we were paying our previous city manager," said Councilman David Benavides.