San Benito gives city manager better contract terms

SAN BENITO — In the past six months, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa’s fate with the city has dipped and soared.

After surviving a push to fire him, he received high marks on a job evaluation to boost his salary by $5,000.

Then he lost a bid to land a higher-paying job.

Last week, De La Rosa signed a new three-year contract with San Benito that beats his current contract.

“I sincerely appreciate the support and confidence the City Commission has placed in me to help lead this community forward,” De La Rosa stated yesterday.

De La Rosa was hired in late 2015, replacing former City Manager Manuel Lara, who died about six months earlier.

“It is gratifying that the City Commission has put their trust in me for the future growth and development of San Benito,” he stated. “I look forward to making more good things happen for all citizens in the next several years.”

On March 26, Commissioners Carol Lynn Sanchez and Rene Villafranco voted to approve De La Rosa’s contract while Commissioner Rick Guerra cast the lone dissenting vote.

The vote came eight months before De La Rosa’s current contract expires.

Guerra has said he tried to postpone action because Commissioner Tony Gonzales, who would have opposed the contract, could not attend the meeting because he was in the hospital.

Contract terms

De La Rosa’s new deal, which runs from April 1 to March 31, 2022, boosts his salary from $120,000 to $125,000 while including a clause which automatically renews the agreement for one year barring six-months’ notice of its termination.

Under the new contract, De La Rosa would continue to receive six-months’ severance pay if he is fired without cause.

The new contract also boosts his severance benefits such as health insurance coverage from six months to nine months “or until the city manager obtains other full-time employment and coverage through a group health insurance plan from the city manager’s new employer, whichever occurs sooner.”

Meanwhile, the new contract also includes a clause under which “above-average” job evaluations automatically trigger annual $5,000 pay increases.

Yesterday, Mayor Ben Gomez said he allowed the clause to remain in the contract despite previously saying he would remove it from any new contract.

Contract negotiations led him to accept the new terms, Gomez said.

Negotiations

At first, Gomez said, De La Rosa proposed a salary of $135,000.

However, negotiations brought that figure down to $125,000.

As part of negotiations, Gomez said, he allowed the contract to include the clause under which “above-average” job evaluations trigger annual $5,000 pay increases.

After three years, $5,000 pay increases based on above-average job evaluations would boost De La Rosa’s salary to $140,000.

That remains well below the state’s average $154,000 city manager salary for like-sized cities, Gomez said.

“It’s still going to be below the salary of city managers for cities this size,” he said.

How we got here

In the past six months, De La Rosa’s future appeared to flutter.

Last September, Gonzales and Guerra called a meeting to discuss firing him.

After meeting behind closed doors, Gomez announced commissioners had taken no action.

Then in December, Gomez, Sanchez and Villafranco gave De La Rosa an “above-average” job evaluation, triggering a $5,000 pay increase.

Meanwhile, De La Rosa was looking for a new job.

In January, he lost his bid for Del Rio’s city manager position, for which he was a finalist.

At the same time, he reminded commissioners he was “in the last year of my employment contract, unless the city commission wishes to extend it.”

In December 2015, a previous commission hired him at a salary of $95,000, giving him a three-year contract.

After December’s pay increase, his salary stood at $120,000.