Harlingen outlines city manager’s goals after ‘great’ job performance review

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Gabriel Gonzalez (Courtesy: City of Harlingen)

HARLINGEN — After giving him high marks on his job performance, city commissioners are outlining goals to help guide City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez into the next year.

During a closed session meeting Tuesday, commissioners were set to meet with Gonzalez to set goals including landing grants to help fund a $130 million sewer system overall expected to drive up water rates about 50%.

As part of Gonzalez’s three-year contract, commissioners are required to outline annual goals directing the city’s administration.

“Next year, we will judge him on how well he accomplished these goals,” Commissioner Daniel Lopez said before Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioners are taking steps to help ramp up operations three weeks after conducting Gonzalez’s annual job evaluation, which could lead to an upcoming pay raise.

“It was a great evaluation,” Gonzalez said before Tuesday’s meeting.

Last year, Gonzalez’s strong evaluation led to a $25,000 pay increase, bumping his annual salary to $250,000.

“I’m really happy with Gabe,” Lopez said in an interview. “He’s doing a phenomenally great job. He’s very responsive. He has a flexible and mobile organization that I love.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Frank Morales said he wanted Gonzalez to work more “assertively.”

“I want to see assertiveness in different aspects as to what’s being done with the city,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to see assertiveness in Gabe’s dealing with certain issues.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Lopez and Commissioner Ford Kinsley said their goals included landing more grant funding as the board considers water rate hikes to help fund WaterWorks’ $130 million sewer system upgrade.

Last year, city officials won about $10 million in grants, Lopez said.

“That’s way better than we’ve done in past years,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials applied for about $100 million worth of grant funding last year, he said.

“We’ve been doing a good job getting grants,” Lopez said. “I want to see the city improve. I’d like to see a better return on how much money the city generates via grants.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners were also set to propose water and sewer rate hikes expected to jump about 50% to help fund WaterWorks’ $130 million sewer system project.

“How can we help Waterworks get more grants to lessen the burden for ratepayers?” Lopez questioned.

At WaterWorks, General Manager Tim Skoglund has said he’s applying to the Texas Water Development Board for about $150 million to help fund the $130 million sewer overhaul along with a bigger master plan project.

As part of his list of goals, Lopez wants Gonzalez to help the city’s Economic Development Corporation develop its industrial parks, calling on him to offer “more collaboration with the EDC to put them in a better position to succeed.”

Other goals include developing the city’s upcoming 10-year comprehensive plan, Lopez said.

“It will give us a road map for the next five to 10 years,” he said.

While Kinsley’s calling on Gonzalez to land more grants aimed at funding water, sewer and drainage projects, he’s also standing behind a drive to revive the city’s Keep Harlingen Beautiful program while pushing to offer residents “recycling opportunities.”

As part of his push for “safe, healthy neighborhoods,” Kinsley’s calling for better lighting and expanded parks while increasing police presence.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Rene Perez wants Gonzalez to set up a “dedicated in-house street paving crew” while taking on more drainage projects.

Perez is also calling on Gonzalez to help develop a business incubator program while expanding parks along the city’s west side, “specifically” within District 5, which he represents.

During a February 2023 evaluation, commissioners gave of Gonzalez high marks on his job performance, helping lead to a $25,000 raise.

Then last September, they signed him to a three-year contract paying a $250,000 salary.

In 2021, the past commission hired Gonzalez, who had served as an assistant city manager since 2001, signing him to a two-year contract paying a salary of $225,000 after firing past City Manager Dan Serna, who was drawing a $265,822 salary.