Recent changes to City Manager Tommy Gonzalez’s employment contract put his benefits package well above those of three other Texas city managers, an El Paso Matters analysis shows.

When compared to the city managers of Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, some of Gonzalez’s benefits are much more lucrative, documents obtained through the Texas Public Information Act show.

His pay, however, is on par with his peers despite the other city managers overseeing much larger organizations.

The El Paso City Council, for the second time this year, amended Gonzalez’s contract on Aug. 23, boosting a variety of his benefits ultimately paid by taxpayers. The contract also caps his base salary – though the cap can be increased depending on various factors.

The changes were approved by a 6-2 vote. City Reps. Alexsandra Annello and Joe Molinar voted against it.

Gonzalez’s contract has been amended five times since he was hired in 2014, several well before the contract was close to expiring.

“When does it stop?” Molinar said. “The taxpayers are the ones that are going to be like – if they were angry and upset before, they’re probably going to get more angry and upset.”

City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez, who has advocated and voted in favor of the contract amendments, said the goal is to keep Gonzalez’s contract competitive to retain him.

The most recent round of changes to Gonzalez’s contract came just months after a controversial five-year contract extension to 2029, which was vetoed twice by Mayor Oscar Leeser. The move came after Gonzalez was named a finalist for city manager in Frisco, Texas. Gonzalez withdrew his name from the running after the extension.

Gonzalez did not respond to El Paso Matters’ interview request for this story.

Employment terms

While there are similarities among the four city manager’s benefits – such as paid time off, sick leave and expense reimbursements – Gonzalez’s contract includes perks not afforded to the others.

Gonzalez is the only city manager among them who has two-year automatic contract extensions built into his agreement after it expires in 2029.

San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh, appointed in 2019, was hired for an indefinite term, but can serve no more than eight years in the role. Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax, appointed in 2017, has an indefinite term and can be removed at any time. Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk’s position is established by city ordinance, so he does not have an employment contract and no set employment term. He was appointed in 2018.

Health exams & insurance policies

Gonzalez’s contract entitles him to a paid annual executive health exam. It specifically stipulates the exam is to be conducted at the Cooper Clinic for preventive medicine in Dallas.

Broadnax is the only other one entitled to a paid annual physical. His contract does not specify a clinic.

The city of El Paso was initially only paying for Gonzalez’s physical, but over the years, travel expenses were added. The total cost of the exams and travel to date is up to at least $42,000.

The city added $10,500 in benefits for travel, accommodation and expenses for follow-up visits for the annual physical and reimbursement for any follow-up treatment, procedures or prescriptions that are not covered by the city’s health insurance.

Since 2018, Gonzalez has had a $5 million life insurance policy, whose premiums are paid by taxpayers while he is employed with the city. The policy’s annual cost is $23,315. The city will now also pay an unspecified amount of taxes for the plan.

Walsh also has a clause in his contract for an unspecified employer-provided life insurance policy, but the Dallas city manager and Austin city manager’s benefits do not have similar clauses.

The city also pays for Gonzalez’s work-related legal fees, including the recent legal fees for his contract negotiations with his own attorney.

Salaries & pay raises

Gonzalez, who manages a $1.2 billion budget and about 7,000 employees – now has a base salary of about $431,000. That’s an 80% increase since he was hired eight years ago at $239,000 – the same salary as his predecessor Joyce Wilson when she resigned. 

He received a controversial 25% raise after his first year on the job.

Gonzalez has a built-in 5% merit increase if he meets an “exceeds standard” score on his annual evaluation. He also receives service-time increases and the same percentage pay raises non-uniform city employees receive.

Walsh, in San Antonio, started at $312,000 and by 2021 that had increased to $437,000. He oversees a $3.4 billion budget and about 13,400 employees. 

The San Antonio City Council doesn’t build automatic pay increases into the city manager’s contract. Instead, Walsh receives the same pay raises as other non-uniformed city employees.

The Dallas City Council sets Broadnax’s pay raises on the basis of a salary and performance review made at least annually, but does not have a set percentage increase. 

Broadnax’s starting pay was $375,000 and was bumped to $395,000 after his first year on the job. In 2021, his salary was about $441,000. He oversees a roughly $4 billion budget and about 14,000 employees. 

In Austin, Cronk oversees a $5 billion budget and about 13,500 employees. His starting salary was $350,001. In 2021, his pay was about $380,000.

The  Austin city ordinance does not mention set pay raises for the city manager, but rather, stipulates that benefits are contingent upon the city’s budget.

New “salary cap”

The El Paso City Council added what it calls a “salary cap,” initially set at $450,000, to Gonzalez’s contract.

But that cap can be increased to either the average base salaries of the three highest-paid city managers in comparable cities or his base salary with the merit or other increases – whichever is lower.

Annello has also repeatedly voted against changes to the city manager’s contract.

“I don’t know why we are doing it,” she said.

Hernandez said she felt the salary cap was important to negotiate, but it was initially scrapped with Leeser’s first veto in May.

“It included some provisions that members of council, including myself, really wanted in there, and that was just some of the protections for an ever-increasing salary,” she said.

Hernandez said it was important for Gonzalez’s salary to be more market-based and in line with the pay of city managers in other cities.

Annello said the cap is not a savings to taxpayers.

The updated contract also stipulates that any pay above the cap Gozalez would be entitled to will be diverted back to the city for street repairs at the request of the city manager.

“You still have to take this money from taxpayers to put it in streets and still give him all of his benefits,” she said.

Gonzalez will also not receive his service-time pay raises during the regular pay periods, but rather, as one annual lump sum payment beginning in 2024.

Molinar, who has consistently voted against changes to the city manager’s contract, said he does not know why another round of negotiations started after the council extended Gonzalez’s  employment in June. The city manager was given a pay raise after his annual evaluation that same month.

He said he did not support the changes because Gonzalez still had two years left on his contract. Council should not have negotiated new terms, he said.

“That’s not the way it works,” Molinar said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...