Shocked outrage has descended and begun to fester in certain quarters in Hesperia upon the discovery of the terms provided just departed City Manager Nils Bentsen during the last seven months of his tenure in Hesperia, coupled with the raise he was given in October of last year and the simultaneous redundancy of a second city manager’s salary being paid to his successor throughout that span.
It appears that since December 9, 2022 running through June 18, the city was paying Bentsen $47,451.25 per month before benefits.
That arrangement was made, apparently, to secure what the city referred to as the “mentoring” of the city manager who succeeded him, Rachel Molina.Bentsen, who was the sheriff’s station commander in Hesperia from July 2012 until January 2016, was selected by the Hesperia City Council in December 2015 to succeed outgoing City Manager Mike Podegracz beginning immediately upon his retirement from the sheriff’s department. Despite the consideration that Bentsen had spent his entire adult life as a law enforcement officer and had no formal or college training in municipal administration, the council as it was then composed felt management of the 73.209 square mile city which then had a population of 90,173 could be entrusted to him.
The city initially entered into an employment agreement for Bentsen’s services as city manager effective January 19, 2016. That original agreement was replaced or superseded in February 2018 and amended in June 2020. As of July 2022, Bentsen was earning $258,825 in salary, another $19,209 in pay add-ons and perquisites and benefits of $86,730.36 for a total annual compensation of $364,764.36.
Having reached the conclusion by late summer/early fall of last year that he should retire, Bentsen made a recommendation to the city council that it consider appointing Rachel Molina, who began with the city in 2007 as a senior office assistant in the city manager’s office, served as the city’s public information officer, deputy city manager and assistant city manager.
He asked Pam Lee, who had just assumed the position of city attorney from Eric Dunn, who had moved out of state, to frame his request to make his transition into retirement.
In a memo dated October 4, 2022 Lee asked the city council to consider a second amendment to Bentsen’s current employment agreement as city manager, one which would have four effects, essentially. One of those would be to spike his eventual pension. The next would be to create a bonus arrangement that would in effect double his salary while he was overseeing Molina in her transition into the city manager’s role. The third would keep him in place at City Hall while Molina was getting that final round of training. The fourth would effectively lock Molina in as the new city manager.
The memo reads, “It is recommended the city council consider the second amendment to the current city manager employment agreement, and a successor city manager employment agreement. Mr. Bentsen is eligible for retirement and has informed the city council he intends to retire at some date after December 9, 2022. The city has had only two city managers over the last 17 years. The city manager is recommending that Assistant City Manager Rachel Molina be appointed as his successor upon his impending retirement. The city council desires to maintain stability in the city manager’s office and ensure a smooth transition, and to that end has proposed an amendment to the agreement as an incentive for Mr. Bentsen to remain as city manager and use his six-plus years of experience to provide mentorship, transition projects, advise on the broad range of city manager responsibilities, and use his institutional knowledge to ensure a successful transition. The proposed amendment includes a bonus for each month Mr. Bentsen remains as city manager after December 9, as well as a 10% increase in salary. The proposed agreement with Ms. Molina provides that she will automatically assume the position of city manager upon Mr. Bentsen’s retirement. The proposed amendment includes a monthly bonus and a salary increase.”
The second amendment to Bentsen’s 2018 contract states, “This second amendment to City of Hesperia Cit Manager Employment Agreement is made and entered into October 4, 2022, by and between the City of Hesperia, a general law city and municipal corporation and Nils Bentsen, an individual. Whereas, effective January 19, 2016, the city council of the city entered into the City of Hesperia City Manager Employment Agreement with employee; and whereas on February 20, 2018, the city council entered into a second City of Hesperia City Manager Employment Agreement with employee, which is currently in effect; and whereas Section 9.2 of the agreement provides that it ‘may be amended at any time by the mutual consent of the parties by an instrument in writing, which amendment shall require city council approval’; and whereas on June 2, 2020, the city council and employee entered into the first amendment to the agreement to temporarily reduce employee’s salary as part of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and require that at least four (4) votes of the city council would be required to terminate employee without cause; and whereas the city council and employee now desire to enter into this second amendment to provide that: i) effective the first full pay period following the approval of this second amendment, employee will receive a ten percent (10%) base salary increase and ii) in order to encourage employee’s continued retention and ensure a smooth transition between city managers, beginning December 9, 2022 employee will receive a non-Public Employees Retirement System [applicable] retention bonus for each full month worked thereafter in an amount equivalent to his then-current monthly base salary; and whereas employee desires to accept these employment terms from the city and agrees to the following terms and conditions in this second amendment, now, therefore, in consideration of the mutual covenants contained herein, city and employee hereby agree as follows: 1. The above recitals are incorporated by reference as if set forth in full herein. Section 2.1 of the Agreement, entitled ‘Base Salary,’ shall be amended to read, in its entirety, as follows: 2.1 Base Salary. As of July 2, 2022, EMPLOYEE’s annual base salary is Two Hundred Fifty Eight Thousand Eight Hundred Twenty Five Dollars ($258,825). Effective the first full pay period following the approval of this second amendment, employee shall be provided a ten percent (10%) increase to his salary.’ A new Section 2.5 shall be added to the agreement, entitled ‘Retention Bonus,’ to read, in its entirety, as follows: In order to encourage employee’s continued retention under the terms of the agreement and ensure a smooth transition between city managers, beginning December 9, 2022, in addition to the salary employee shall be paid a monthly bonus for each full month worked after December 9, 2022, in an amount equivalent to his then-current monthly base salary. Such monthly retention bonus payments shall not be considered ‘compensation earnable’ under California Public Employees Retirement System laws and regulations for purposes of calculating his California Public Employees Retirement System service retirement benefits.”
The agreement was signed by Mayor Brigit Bennington and ratified at the city council’s October 4 meeting by a unanimous vote.
Simultaneously, on October 4, the city council agreed to a “City Manager Employment Agreement entered into by and between the City of Hesperia and Rachel Molina” likewise drafted by City Attorney Pam Lee and dated October 4, which conferred upon her an “annual base salary of Two Hundred Forty Thousand Dollars ($240,000.00), effective the effective date of this agreement.”
Thus, between October 4 and December 9, 2022, Hesperia had, officially by contract, two city managers. One of those, Bentsen, was being paid at a rate of $284,707.50 in annual salary along with roughly $19,209 in pay add-ons and perquisites plus another $86,730.36 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $390,646.86, or $32,553.90. per month. The other, Molina, was paid at a rate of $240,000,000 in annual salary plus $23,789 in pay add-ons or perquisites along with $67,306.86 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $331,095.86, or $27,591.32 per month. From December 10 until this week, the duration during which Bentsen remained in place to “mentor” Molina and assist with the transition between city managers, Bentsen was receiving a combined monthly salary and bonus of $47,451.25 along with monthly perquisites and pay add-ons of $1,600.75 and monthly benefits of $7,227.53 for a total monthly compensation of $56,279.53, meaning his rate of total annual compensation stood at $675,354.36, which made him during the first six months of 2023, one of the most highly, if not the most highly, remunerated city managers in California.
While the $258,825 bonus paid to Bentsen between December 12, 2022 and June 18, 2023 did not impact his pension calculation, the $258,825 base salary he was provided from October 4, 2022 going forward did, as his pension formula consists of the number of years he was employed as a public employee [33.3] times three percent times his highest rate of pay. Thus, Bentsen will receive a $258,825 yearly pension for the rest of his life.