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Is $85,000 Per Year Too Much For A City Councilman To Pay An Office Manager?

Eileen Pace

A San Antonio resident is demanding an explanation from District 5 City Councilman David Medina for the salaries that he pays his staffers.

Democratic Party activist David Plylar filed a freedom of information request to the city of San Antonio asking for details of how much Medina is paying his top staff.

"Based on the payroll records that was provided by the city of San Antonio, I found that there are a couple of people who have worked for David Medina since 2009 that received salaries that are much above salaries that are paid to any other staff member of a city council member in San Antonio," Plylar said.

Medina is currently running for re-election and is facing five opponents. Plylar said he is not working for any of the challengers.

According to the documents obtained by Plylar, Medina’s office manager Rick Cuellar was paid just over $7,000 per month last year. That totals about $85,000 a year, which according to city officials is the maximum that city council members can pay their staffers.

For comparison, the highest salary paid to a member of Mayor Julián Castro’s staff is about $79,000 per year.

City Officials said this pay rate for city council staffers appears to be out of the ordinary. Plylar said Medina owes the residents of his West Side district an explanation.

"Especially since David Medina represents a district that is one of the poorer districts in the city; lower income, elderly people on fixed income and working class people, and David is paying his staff members that amount of money – it just doesn’t seem right," Plylar said.

Medina said this is the cost of getting top talent to work for you.

"In order to attract a solid, experienced staff that can come in and work a district five office, you need to be able to pay a fair wage and salary that would be able to bring in a staff to be able to serve the constituents of district five at the fullest and be able to hit the ground running. And when I was elected in '09 that’s exactly what I did. But in order to do that it was very important that I was able to pay them a salary that would be convincing in order to bring them in from private sector jobs," said Medina.

Medina said Cuellar is a full time employee working for District 5, but it appears he is also running a side business. Calling Cuellar on the contact phone number posted on official district five communication, the outgoing voice mail message is for his video production company.

"Thank you for calling El Mundo Productions. We are not available at this moment. Leave a message and we’ll get back with you."

Medina would not address this directly, and only said Cuellar works full time for the district five office.

"Whether he has a private company or a business of his own, that is something of his knowledge. I strictly work with him on district five issues and whatever district five is focusing on and our administration. And what I’m focusing on is a vision for our community," Medina said.

In addition to issues surrounding Cuellar’s pay, a former member of Medina’s staff, Michael Tejeda, was paid over $12,000 per month, but that was only for one month -- September 2009.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi