Due to talk of draconian layoffs appearing inevitable at San Diego city hall, insider attention is shifting to the expense of maintaining the political and public relations operatives employed by termed-out GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer.
At the top of the pile is chief of civic and external affairs Matt Awbrey, an ex-Faulconer campaign aide who last year made $205,967 in pay and benefits, according to figures posted online by Transparent California.
Ex-Union-Tribune reporter Craig Gustafson, now Faulconer's senior director of communications with a 2018 pay and benefits package of $130,193, and senior press secretary & media relations manager Christina Chadwick, with pay and benefits of $103,055, may quickly find their compensation under the gun.
One mayoral media handler has the potential to attract particular scrutiny during budget-cutting battles.
Before joining the San Diego mayor's office last July, national Republican strategist Gus Portela was executive director of Accuracy in Media, a conservative website that styles itself as a take-no-prisoners watchdog.
A Trump delegate from Michigan to the GOP National Convention in 2016, Portela told NBC News, "I just think that he [Trump] brings a fresh perspective to the process I don't think we've ever had."
On January 19 of last year, Portela, identified to viewers as "a Republican strategist", appeared on Fox and Friends to tout Trump's then-climbing Hispanic voter polls.
This February, Faulconer, accompanied by PR chief Awbrey, attended Portela's La Jolla Women's Club wedding to Julia Hoy, senior director and deputy director of special projects for America Rising Corporation, Politico reported.
American Rising describes itself as "an opposition research and communications firm whose mission is to help its clients defeat Democrats.
The company boasts that it engages in "top-notch opposition research, video tracking, rapid response consulting, and earned media communications through on-demand and subscription-based plans and platforms."
As Faulconer gears up to run for higher office following his departure from city hall in December, the presence of a national Republican political operative on the mayoral payroll is not seen as a coincidence.
On October 14 Portela was joined in the press office by Rebecca Rybzeyik, another longtime GOP operative who formerly worked for Republican House member of Shreveport, Louisiana, another Trump backer.
The salaries of Portela and Rybzeyik, who both carry the title of press secretary on the mayor’s website, have not yet been made available, but are virtually sure to be in the six-figures, making a juicy target for cuts as the mayor and city council are forced into budget reductions by the COVID-19 crisis.