By Adam Andrzejewski
In 2019, the city manager in Laredo, Texas, made $880,486. It doubled the earnings of the President of the United States ($400,000) and tripled the earnings of four-star generals in the U.S. military ($268,000).
In fact, in two of the past three years, Laredo employed two of the most highly compensated city managers in the nation.
Between 2017 and 2019, those two city managers collectively made a total of $1.85 million in cash compensation, not including the cost of benefits such as health insurance, the public pension and other perquisites.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com discovered this by filing 41,500 Freedom of Information Act requests each of the last three years. We captured and mapped by ZIP Code 23 million public employee salary and pension records annually.
We uncovered an eye-popping amount of money flowing to Laredo’s managers, despite the fact that the border city is home to 261,000 residents with an average income of only $15,127 per year.
In May 2017, the Laredo city council promoted Horacio De Leon, Jr., to interim city manager and the permanent position by August. Earnings for De Leon in 2018 were $314,556. The manager had worked his way up through city government and enjoyed a good reputation locally.
But in a surprising move, the city council parted ways with De Leon in 2019 – only 20 months after hiring him. Our records request showed that De Leon received a $880,486 golden parachute, an all-inclusive payout including severance.
Laredo officials provided an official breakdown of De Leon’s 2019 compensation:
- severance pay ($569,082)
- lump sum vacation and sick leave ($192,790)
- regular hours ($76,319)
- deferred compensation 457 employer-contribution ($23,269)
- holiday pay ($9,288)
- vehicle allowance ($4,984)
- annual leave payment ($4,128)
- cell phone allowance ($623)
This was the second time in three years that the city council terminated a contract with their top administrator.
In 2017, the previous city manager, Jesus Olivares, received $651,867 – including severance. According to records produced by the city, Laredo hired Olivares in March 2015 for $242,002 and bumped his pay in October 2016 to $259,745.
Just like with De Leon, however, the Olivares termination resulted in large contractual payments. For example, both will receive taxpayer-paid lifetime health insurance coverage.
The city provided an official breakdown of Olivares 2017 all-inclusive payout:
- severance pay ($278,022)
- lump sum vacation and sick leave ($192,371)
- regular hours ($156,696)
- deferred compensation 457 employer-contribution ($11,076)
- holiday pay ($8,991)
- vehicle allowance ($3,923)
- cell phone allowance ($784)
We reached out to the city for comment and officals provided De Leon’s original employment contract – and the details of the all-inclusive payouts listed in this piece.
Laredo’s lucrative contracts are rare, but not unprecedented in local government. However, previous examples sometimes resulted in backlash.
In the late 2000’s, the City of Bell, California, paid their city manager $800,000 in salary and up to $1.5 million in total compensation. After the feds stopped the party, five officials were convicted of misappropriation of public funds and served time.
A couple of years ago in San Antonio, Texas, residents were so upset by the city manager’s $574,594 salary that frustrated voters passed a referendum slapping a cap on pay and term-limiting employment to eight years.
This hasn’t happened in Laredo yet. The jury of public opinion is still out.