Let’s have a discussion about City manager Christopher Lopez. I want to make it abundantly clear that this information is no way a reflection on the amount of work the City Manager performs. Personally, he works his **** off, no question. He’s not particularly effective at delegating to his subordinates (a little editorializing here) & he winds up trying to do too much. In my humble opinion, he has been working both sides of the fence (not unlike some other city employees or council members). Just wait until the new council members are sworn in & the wind blows in a different kind of direction. He’s going to have to change his game plan. But he’s a smart guy, he’ll manage.. I also want to say that Chris Lopez has always been respectful & professional in his demeanor when I’ve gone to him with questions. He hasn’t stone-walled me.

I think there’s been some misinformation about what the current City Manager gets and/or doesn’t get in terms of benefits. I’ll try to explain it as clearly as possible. I’m attaching a copy of the “at-will” contract Mr. Lopez has with the City of Hemet. It’s public information (see the 12/10/19 council minutes. It took me a couple of hours to find it, so I’m making it easy for you.

**It’s illuminating to see what his actual compensation package is. In view of the fact that long-time rank and file employees have not received raises in at least 14 years, it seems incomprehensible that this package should be made as lucrative as it is. We can blame the City Attorney in part for these actions. ** [A little editorializing here: I’m not particularly a union person, but I think the union has been slacking off in terms of helping their members. There is a new union rep for SEIU local 721 & she is loaded for bear. Do not think for a moment that the employees or union are being greedy. The city would like you to believe that, but that just isn’t the way it is. The union takes the dues from the employees but seems pretty ineffective. The Public Works employees definitely need raises. This may change. But I digress here]

This contract was signed on 12/10/2020 by our overpriced City Attorney Eric Vail, Lori Frontella (the interim city clerk at that time), Mayor Russ Brown and the City Manager, Christopher Lopez.

We’ll highlight almost the entire contract so you can understand how this works.

  1. The “at-will” agreement is a 5-year agreement. This employment package was based on a prior contract with former City Manager Allen Parker (who the city ceremoniously discharged).

2. Mr. Lopez’s base salary is $220,000 per year. He is eligible for merit increases and performance bonuses (at the discretion of the City Council). The bonuses can be as high as $20,000 total per year.

  1. He receives a very nice benefit package in terms of medical, etc. The city contributes an amount equal to 2.5% of his base salary ($229.17 each pay period, into a city provided deferred compensation plan (457 plan). Here’s a brief definition of a 457 plan. A 457 deferred compensation plan allows you to save and invest money for retirement with tax benefits. The value of the account is based on the contributions made and the investment performance over time. A 457 plan is designed to supplement your retirement income. Mr. Lopez will likely live very comfortably when he retires.
  2. As in the past, with the prior 13 city managers, the city can terminate this contract pretty much for any reason (for-cause or not-for-cause). If Mr. Lopez is fired no-for-cause, he’ll be entitled to 30 days’ notice and 6 months’ severance pay. Not bad, huh? The severance will be prorated based on his annual compensation.

Moving on to the fiscal impact. Theoretically, the city has saved untold dollars & will be able to absorb this fabulous package. No one bothers to explain how those savings came about. I’d have to go back to the 2020-2021 budget and most of us know what a fiasco that was (particularly in view of the fact the Measure U money went into the general fund). Lots of mixed dollars**. I wonder how much of Measure U money is going to be used to help cover this?** We may never know.

  1. City Manager reports directly to the City Council

2. City Manager’s term of 5 years started 12/11/2019, meaning he will be City Manager until 12/11/2024 (maybe, just depends on who’s on the council). Mr. Lopez can not set policy, only the city council can set policy and theoretically, the City Manager has to comply. Collective bargaining doesn’t apply to the City Manager.

3. He (& his family) is entitled to $953.91 per month in medical benefits.

3. Fully paid dental and vision (how many of you get that?)

3. Life insurance benefit of $440,000 (2 times base salary)

4. Long term disability insurance

5. Gym program

  1. I’m not sure what the city’s Employee Assistance Program entails, but the City Manager is entitled to participate in it. That requires a lot more research.
  2. City Manager receives up to $500 per month for vehicle reimbursement (use of his own personal vehicle for city business). At least the city doesn’t pay for his liability insurance. What puzzles me is why they are only insisting on $100,000 limit of liability for this high value employee. They should be asking for anywhere from $300,000 to $1,000,000. in liability coverage (particularly since he has to name the city as an additional insured).

8.. If he has to do Jury Duty, he’ll get his regular paycheck, no need to worry about Jury Duty compensation (he has to turn any jury duty compensation over to the city).

9.. Personal time off, vacation time off, holidays, standard benefits.

10.. I’m not sure how the city categorizes “administrative time off” or just what it covers, but 40 hours is available if need be, at full pay.

11.. Retirement benefits:

2.5% at 55 plans (as described above.

Post retirement survivor allowance of 1 full year ($220,000.) pay

He does have to contribute to the above

City will pay $100 per month into a tax-deferred account in lieu of health, vision & dental plan. At least they didn’t give away the farm on this one)

To be clear, salary and all benefits are in excess of a half million per year.

As regards termination, it gets confusing. I think you should just read the agreement & see if you can figure it out. It looks like smoke & mirrors to me, but I’m not an employment attorney & I don’t want to possibly misrepresent the facts of the agreement.

Since the City Manager is an “at-will” employee, it means the city can fire him at any time, for any reason or for no reason (as long as it’s not an illegal reason) without incurring legal liability. He has to adhere to all the laws regarding conflict of interest, political conflicts, all kind of reasonable things that you would definitely not want to see any employee guilty of.

If the city decides to terminate the City Manager without cause, the Manager is still not leaving in terrible shape.

1. He gets 30 days’ notice

2. The city will give him 6 months of base pay as severance payment along with any accrued benefits.

3. City Manage is also eligible to receive 1 additional month of base salary as severance for each additional full year up to 12 months maximum.

4. He gets FREE health care up to 12 month of his departure OR he becomes eligible for paid medical from another source (wife’s medical or another job) & then it goes to COBRA (whatever comes first & supposedly costs the city the least.

I suggest you read the agreement because you may have a different take on some of it. I’ve signed employment contracts but none were as generous as this one appears to be.

If per chance Mr. Lopez happens to see a copy of this post, I want him to understand this is not a personal attack on him. It's a look at the way the city does business. I'm open to any corrections.