The Nogales City Council voted earlier this summer to raise the pay range to $135,000 to $160,000 for its top administrator as it opens a search for a new city manager.
But another employee is already benefitting from the city manager search: Deputy City Manager John Kissinger.
Kissinger was appointed acting city manager at the council’s Aug. 7 meeting and will earn an annual salary of $134,588 – the salary of former City Manager Frank Felix – while he serves in that role.
That’s a nearly 38-percent raise from what he had been earning as Felix’s deputy.
Meanwhile, Deputy City Attorney Michael Massee has been serving as interim city attorney since April, but confirmed to the NI that his pay has not changed.
And once a new city manager starts, Kissinger will return to the deputy city manager role with a pay increase.
He will earn $104,826, up from his previous salary of $97,856.
Kissinger asserted that he should earn more than the highest-paid city department head – whom he identified as Nogales Police Department Chief Roy Bermudez, who now earns $98,000 per year after a July raise – because the departments are supervised by the city manager and deputy city manager.
But at the Aug. 7 meeting, Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. questioned whether it was right for the council to give Kissinger a raise, citing a recent compensation survey that showed that nine out of every 10 city employees earns a salary more than 10 percent below the market average.
Kissinger is already among the city’s highest earners; only 14 public employees at the city, Santa Cruz County, and local school and fire districts earn more than $100,000, according to data provided by local government agencies for a story published July 26.
“What happens to those people,” Varona asked about the city’s lower-paid employees, “because they don’t have a voice here?”
Mayor Arturo Garino defended Kissinger by saying that three department heads had received raises in recent months.
In fact, Bermudez is the only department head who received a raise in 2019, according to information provided by city Human Resources Director Carmen Fuentes. He is also the only city employee earning more than $50,000 that received a raise in 2018 or 2019.
But Councilmembers Hector Bojorquez, Nubar Hanessian, and Esther Melendez-Lopez all spoke in favor of giving Kissinger the raise.
“He really deserves it,” Melendez-Lopez said.
When Garino asked Councilman Jorge Maldonado for his opinion, Maldonado appeared to express cautious approval.
“I’m in agreement,” he said. “I was questioning, due to the fact of the financial problems that we’re having, that was my main question, you know. But the numbers are there.”
The council approved the order with Varona casting the only “No” vote.
Two years ago, Kissinger was reinstated as deputy city manager and received a six-figure payout after settling a wrongful termination suit with the city.