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7 SoCal city managers among state’s highest paid thanks to lucrative exit packages

Because the talent pool is shrinking, one city official said, ‘you wind up with city managers with baggage, or they’re inexperienced’

Former Commerce City Manager, Edgar Cisneros, in a picture taken while he served on the Montebello Unified School Board. (Photo courtesy Montebello Unified School District)
Former Commerce City Manager, Edgar Cisneros, in a picture taken while he served on the Montebello Unified School Board. (Photo courtesy Montebello Unified School District)
Joe Nelson portrait by Eric Reed. 2023. (Eric Reed/For ɫ̳/SCNG)
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Generous exit packages, fringe benefits and leave cash-outs placed seven Southern California officials onto a list of the Top 10 best-paid city managers in the state in 2023, according to from the State Controller’s Office.

The former city manager of the tiny city of Commerce, Edgar Cisneros, topped the state’s chart, with his total wages landing at $639,326, thanks to an extra $400,000 in lump-sum payments made following in November. Cisneros’ wages bypassed the runner-up, Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan, by nearly $50,000.

The bulk of Cisneros’ extra pay from Commerce, home to about 12,000 residents, came from a separation agreement in which the city agreed to pay the remaining 13 months left on his contract and to cash out his accrued sick and vacation time, records showed.

Cisneros stepped down after he was identified in and as questions mounted about his administration’s with Despite the controversies, the City Council, eager for new leadership, did not have cause to dismiss Cisneros and opted to pay him out to avoid potential litigation in the future, Mayor Hugo Argumedo said.

“We tried to make it as amicable as we could,” Argumedo said. “It could have become contentious and that’s what we tried to avoid. It was a lot cheaper for us to move in this direction.”

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Six of the seven highest paid city managers in Southern California last year separated from their cities and collected an average of $238,858 in extra compensation on the way out the door, the data showed. That’s only slightly less than what a typical city manager in California makes as their regular salary.

Pomona, Rialto near top of list

Former Pomona City Manager James Makshanoff and former Rialto City Manager Marcus Fuller were the third and fourth highest paid city managers in the state in 2023, earning $584,525 and $555,106, respectively, according to the State Controller’s Office.

Then-San Clemente City Manager James Makshanoff during the City Council meeting in San Clemente on Tuesday, November 20, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Then-San Clemente City Manager James Makshanoff during a City Council meeting in San Clemente on Nov. 20, 2018. Makshanoff later served as Pomona city manager for four years. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

In December, Pomona and Makshanoff that Makshanoff, who had served as Pomona’s city manager for four years, would be departing following a leave of absence. The reason for his departure was not disclosed, and it was unclear whether he voluntarily resigned or was forced out. Per the terms of Makshanoff’s separation agreement, the city agreed to pay him $604,975 in installments in 2023 and 2024.

By comparison, Makshanoff in 2022.

Meanwhile, Fuller resigned from Rialto in January 2023 after 18 months on the job. The city attributed his departure to “management differences.”

According to his separation agreement, Fuller received $99,161 for earned salary and accrued benefits through January 2023, plus a lump sum of $430,000.

Rialto Councilmember Ed Scott said the lump sum covered 16 months of additional pay for Fuller, through April 2024.

Rialto City Manager Marcus Fuller during city council meeting at Rialto City Hall in Rialto on Tuesday, December 13, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Rialto City Manager Marcus Fuller during a City Council meeting at Rialto City Hall on Dec. 13, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Rialto has churned through three city managers in the past five years. The most recent, David Carmany, lasted less than three months.

Qualified candidates hard to find

Scott said Rialto is not the only city struggling to find and retain qualified city managers. The problem is statewide, he said.

The talent pool is small, and many of the most qualified or talented city manager candidates, according to Scott, are seeking work as consultants in the private sector, which pays substantially more. It forces cities to compete by offering higher salaries, even to those with spotty backgrounds or little experience.

“When you search for city managers, there’s not a big pool to select from. So you wind up with city managers with baggage, or they’re inexperienced. We need to rethink how we negotiate contracts,” Scott said. “They all want a lot of money, but they don’t have a lot of experience.”

Orange County exits

In Orange County, former Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and former Huntington Beach City Manager Al Zelinka both walked away with more than half a million dollars in wages in 2023.

Dupuis’ came roughly two years after she was promoted to the top spot. In at the time, Laguna Beach stated Dupuis’ decision “comes as a result of a mutually agreed-upon separation agreement that was negotiated in response to a hostile workplace claim filed by Dupuis following a period of conflict with a City Councilmember.”

During that tense year, unknown vandals at her home.

“This agreement represents the best path forward as we address the many issues facing our community,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a statement. “By following this course of action, we limit the potential legal and financial exposure to the City and can move forward with finding a new City Manager and prioritizing the public’s business.”

Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis during a city council meeting in Laguna Beach on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis during a City Council meeting on May 16, 2023. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The included nine months of severance, a settlement payment of $223,077, and $10,000 to cover Dupuis’ legal costs. Her total wages in 2023 landed at $514,080 as a result.

A spokesperson for Huntington Beach declined to provide a copy of an agreement entered into with Zelinka at the time of his resignation, stating that it is a “confidential personnel document.” Zelinka he had decided to resign to care for his elderly mother. that same year.

The state controller’s public pay database lists Zelinka as receiving $278,828 in regular pay, $44,389 in lump-sum pay and $183,766 in other pay.

City Manager Al Zelinka seen in 2015. (File photo)
Huntington Beach City Manager Al Zelinka seen in 2015. (File photo)

Inglewood longtime city manager

Inglewood’s longtime city manager, Artie Fields, landed in the eighth spot. Fields joined the city in 2011 and helped guide it through a dramatic transformation that included securing homes for three national sports teams. He announced his retirement at the end of 2023.

Fields told he decided to retire because he is a single father and wants to spend more time with his son.

Fields collected $304,146 in regular pay, $132,369 in lump sum pay and $67,222 in other pay, according to the State Controller’s Office. The lump sum included a cash-out of his accrued leave and he received a $20,000 merit bonus, according to Mayor James T. Butts Jr.

Beverly Hills City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey is the only Southern California city manager among the state’s Top 10 highest paid who is still on the job.

Hunt-Coffey, who began her tenure in January 2023, made $477,790 last year, including about $90,000 in extra pay, records showed.

Staff writer Mercedes Cannon-Tran and audience engagement producer Dorothy Elder contributed to this report.

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