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Update: The El Paso City Council on Monday abandoned an effort to override Mayor Oscar Leeser’s veto of the city manager’s contract extension passed last week. But the council then voted to extend his contract through 2029, without the possible additional pay included last week. Read more here.
El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez’s contract has changed repeatedly over his eight years in the job, with his salary growing 69% and a number of benefits being added.
The El Paso City Council today is scheduled to take several possible actions on Gonzalez’s contract. One is a possible override of Mayor Oscar Leeser’s veto of the council’s 5-3 vote last week to extend his contract another five years, through 2029. The modifications create the possibility of boosting his pay from the current $404,377 to up to $450,000, with the possibility of going higher. The council acted after Gonzalez was named a finalist for the city manager job in Frisco, Texas.
Separate from the veto override vote, the El Paso City Council today will consider modifying the contracts of Gonzalez and City Attorney Karla Nieman.
Gonzalez has declined to comment about his contract.
El Paso Matters reviewed the city manager’s contracts obtained through the Texas Public Information Act since he was hired to replace Joyce Wilson in 2014.
Here are the key changes to Gonzalez’s contract since he was hired eight years ago — including his base salary increase of 69% over the years.
Initial employment term: Five years set to expire June 22, 2019
Annual evaluations: Every June with 5% pay raise with an “exceeds standard” annual evaluation rating as well as unscheduled evaluations at City Council’s discretion
Paid leave: Beginning balance of 80 hours of vacation and 40 hours sick leave
Health insurance: City pays premiums for the same group health care plan for administrative employees
Retirement benefit: City manager can participate in the city’s pension plan
Deferred compensation: $15,000 per year on the same schedule as salary payments
Car allowance: $500 per month
Relocation expense: $10,000 reimbursement
Temporary housing allowance: $2,500 per month for the first six months of employment
Severance: City Council or city manager must give 30-day notice, payout is 12-month salary as well as unused vacation and sick leave and benefits
Contract signed by Leeser during his first term
Contract extension: At the 2019 expiration, the contract would renew on a year-to-year basis unless City Council gave 120-day notice; the agreement would otherwise enter a year-to-year automatic renewal
Severance: City Council and city manager must now give 60-day notice, payout is 12-month salary and benefits
Salary adjustments: Clause added to conduct bi-annual market-based review of the city manager’s salary and increase pay if appropriate
Relocation expenses: Increased to $26,522
Pension plan: Clause added that if the city manager separates from the city before becoming vested in the pension plan, the city would make a lump sum payment equal to the amount of refund contributions paid at the time of separation
Changes were signed by then-mayor pro tempore, former District 8 city Rep. Cortney Niland
Key changes to Gonzalez’s contract in 2015 coincided with a controversial 25% pay raise after his first year on the job. Leeser and the council approved the nearly $61,000 raise despite pushback from the community. The move to approve the robust salary boost resulted in a subsequent City Council effort to retract the raise, but the effort failed, drawing criticism from the community, according to reports by the El Paso Times.
Salary: Base salary increased to $300,000 in lieu of 5% merit increase
Paid leave: In addition to the credited balance of 80 vacation hours and 40 sick leave hours, the city increased the annual allotment to 160 hours of vacation as well as unspecified sick/personal leave other civil service employees receive
Health insurance: An annual Executive Health Exam at the Cooper Clinic for Preventative medicine in Dallas is added to be paid by the city, with the city manager paying for travel expenses to the clinic
Deferred compensation: Increases to $20,000 paid on the same schedule as salary payments with the stipulation that the city may increase it by $5,000 per year not to exceed $40,000 per year
Changes were signed by Leeser during his first term
Changes to Gonzalez’s contract during this time followed a string of controversies.
The indemnification clause added to Gonzalez’s contract stemmed from the results of an outside ethics investigation following multiple investigations by the El Paso Times into the city government in 2016.
One of those investigations resulted in Leeser and the City Council’s hiring of an Austin attorney to look into a request by former city Rep. Larry Romero and Gonzalez to rebid the city’s financial adviser contract with a firm Romero had ties to.
The attorney found that although Gonzalez was within his authority to initiate a request for qualifications for a new financial advising firm, he might have violated city purchasing policy by asking to shorten the bid window. The attorney also found possible discrepancies in Gonzalez’s financial disclosure statements, which the city manager corrected.
After the council amended Gonzalez’s contract, it voted in December 2018 to reimburse Gonzalez’s nearly $60,000 legal fees.
A change to the performance evaluation clause in his contract was made after Gonzalez criticized his 2017 evaluation score despite receiving a 5% pay raise.
At that time, the evaluation documents had a score sheet that allowed the mayor and council to rate his performance on a scale from 1 to 5. Gonzalez received a 3.81 overall score. He argued it should have been higher because the “zero” answers by members of council — which meant “don’t know” — should not have been calculated as part of the score.
Employment term: Contract was renewed for five years from June 2019 to June 2024 with two automatic two-year terms
Salary: Base salary is adjusted to $330,750
Salary adjustments: In addition to the original 5% merit increase, the city manager is now also entitled to across-the-board pay raises, service time increases and any other new benefits other non-collective bargaining city employees receive; clause added for annual market-based review of base salary
New indemnification clause: City adds a clause that would indemnify the city manager from any legal proceedings brought against him from serving in his capacity as city manager, including any costs or fees; the city agrees to reimburse the city manager for any legal fees incurred as a result of ethics investigations and allows him to choose his own legal counsel
Paid leave: One-time grant of an additional 160 hours of vacation and 80 hours sick leave
Maximum accrual: Clause added to pay a lump sum payment equivalent to six months vacation and six months sick leave in the event the contract is terminated by either party
Health insurance: City manager’s travel and accommodations to his annual health exam in Dallas are now covered up to $2,500; the city previously did not pay for this
Life insurance: City will now pay $5 million annual life insurance premium as long as he’s employed with the city
Disability insurance: City will reimburse city manager for long-term and or short-term disability insurance while he is employed with the city
Deferred compensation: City changes plan from the schedule of salary payments to one lump sum of $20,000 annually to be paid in January
Performance evaluation: A clause is added that his annual performance reviews and evaluations will be “reasonably related” to the city manager’s job description and be based on performance goals that are jointly developed and adopted by the City Council and city manager
Severance: Council or city manager must give 120-day notice, payout is 12-month salary and six months each of unused accrued paid and sick leave and benefits
The changes were approved by then-Mayor Dee Margo
With all the raises, Gonzalez’s pay has increased 69% in eight years.
Since 2018 alone, his base salary jumped from $330,750 to $404,377 — or about $74,000 from across-the-board increases and merit raises.
If the mayor’s veto is overturned, he can be paid up to $450,000 — if not more. That’s because the city council’s recent amendments do not prevent Gonzalez from being paid above $450,000.
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