David Cavazos, who was hired away from Phoenix, will be one of the highest paid city employees in California. ‘You get what you pay for,’ one councilwoman says.

By Paloma Esquivel
August 7, 2013, 9:29 p.m.

Santa Ana has hired away Phoenix’s city manager and has agreed to an annual salary and benefits package of more than half a million dollars, instantly making him one of the highest paid city employees in California.

David Cavazos, a longtime Phoenix employee who rose through the ranks from intern to city manager during his 26-year tenure, would have a total compensation package of $558,625 in his first year in Santa Ana.

Only the city manager in tiny Indian Wells is listed as having a higher salary and benefits package at $677,172, according to the state controller’s office, which most recently released data for 2011. That paycheck included a severance payout to the city manager, who was stepping down .

In Santa Ana, Cavazos will earn a base salary of $315,000, the same basic salary he made as the chief executive 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, with the figure dropping to $515,000 in his second and third year, according to a report prepared for the City 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.”

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