SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — Santa Ana's new city manager is under scrutiny for allegedly making nearly $800,000 in pay, perks and pension this year.
Residents accuse him of gaming the system.
David Cavazos is receiving a $315,000 salary, making him one of the highest-paid employees in the state. It's the same amount he made before retiring as city manager of Phoenix, which is almost five times larger than Santa Ana.
He's also collecting another estimated $243,000 in perks and benefits his first year in Santa Ana, including a car, moving expenses and a housing allowance.
Now, add his pension; Cavazos is collecting $234,536.04, according to Toni Macarrone, a City of Phoenix public information officer.
All in all, it totals to approximately $792,000.
Cavazos declined to comment on the situation when CBS2 reporter Cristy Fajardo showed up at his office and sped off in his city-owned car.
He finally agreed to discuss the matter at a city council meeting.
"I have a car that's provided to me. It's an electric car. You saw it the other day," Cavazos said.
"No one is questioning the legality, but some people are calling it unethical," Fajardo said.
"Oh, we had the highest ethics," Cavazos said. "I did comply with the contract, I was paid according to the contract, so it's absolutely very ethical to do that."
That is true, but many city leaders in Phoenix say they still feel duped.
Amid a hiring freeze, they gave Cavazos a $78,000 raise. They said it was implied that he'd stay but, instead, it just increased his pension.
Less than a year later, as soon as Cavazos qualified to cash in on retirement, he left and took a job in Santa Ana.
Phoenix city officials say they feel he planned this all along.
"I didn't come here for the money. I didn't leave there for the money," said Cavazos, who stressed that he earned every penny he made during his 26-plus years working for the city, four of those as city manager.
"My pension is about $125,000," Cavazos told Fajardo, when it actually turned out to be more than $234,000.
Cavazos boasts he hasn't taken a sick day in years. Critics say that's not so noble considering he cashed in on $199,000 in unused sick time and other perks to almost double his pension in Phoenix — it's a practice known as spiking.
"Would you advise the city of Santa Ana to close similar loopholes for their employees," Fajardo said.
"I'm a big supporter of pension reform. When I was the city manager [in Phoenix] and actually had the opportunity I actually recommended pension reform...it's going to save $600 million in Phoenix and I'm very proud of that," Cavazos said.
"But it didn't save any when it came to you," Fajardo said.
"Well, I did tremendous work in Phoenix," Cavazos said.
The city official does have supporters who argue he would have been a fool not to collect as much money as the system and his contract allowed.
His new boss, Mayor Miguel Pulido, says he's glad to have him.
"Some people say he's gaming the system," Fajardo said to the mayor.
"He did a very good job in Phoenix and I think he's entitled to what he's entitled there," Pulido said. "And, now, he's doing a good job for us here and I stand behind him."
But in a city where census figures show the median household income is $54,000, some taxpayers are left wondering how they can trust a man who's drawing so much in taxpayer money.
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