SAN BENITO — After five years on the job, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa has landed the city’s biggest raise, making him the highest paid administer in the town’s history.
Earlier this week, a bitterly divided city commission voted 3-2 to give De La Rosa a new three-year contract packing a $45,000 raise, boosting his annual salary to $175,000.
As part of the agreement, De La Rosa’s salary could climb to $185,000 upon a “positive” evaluation during the contract’s third year, City Attorney Mark Sossi said after a 90-minute closed-session meeting Tuesday night.
However, the new contract doesn’t include a clause requiring the city pay De La Rosa annual $5,000 increases upon “above-average” job evaluations — such the bonus he got following the three-member majority’s glowing performance report last month.
During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also voted 3-2 to revise the city’s Economic Development Corporation bylaws, appointing De La Rosa the agency’s chief executive officer.
CEO job questioned
Amid heated debate, Commissioner Pete Galvan questioned why the EDC needed a CEO.
“What brought to light that now we needed a CEO position?” he asked. “I thought that’s why we have an EDC director. We already have a staff.”
In response, Commissioner Rene Garcia said officials discovered the EDC lacked insurance amid a case in which agency President Julian Rios filed a federal lawsuit after Mayor Rick Guerra tried to remove him from the board.
“I believe we need full oversight — complete oversight — of the EDC entity because it’s our fiduciary responsibility to ensure that we have every safeguard in place when it comes to public funds, whether they are the general fund or EDC funds, including assets and anything else related to running the operation. Whatever we have to do to safeguard our assets and funds, we’re going to do it, especially when it comes to legal issues,” Garcia said.
“We ended up in lawsuits, we ended up in litigation — costly litigation. We ended up with costly legal bills and then we discovered we didn’t even have insurance through (the Texas Municipal League). We didn’t have omission and errors insurance. So those are the things I feel we cannot jeopardize. We cannot lose focus of what we’re here for and we cannot leave it out there open for something to happen again.”
Galvan: $45,000 reimbursement cuts into EDC budget
As part of the move to appoint De La Rosa to the CEO job, commissioners also voted 3-2 to reimburse the city $45,000 for his managerial services.
As part of a service agreement, the EDC reimburses the city $54,000 for accounting work, officials said.
Now, the $45,000 tacked on to De La Rosa’s managerial service boosts the EDC’s overall reimbursements to $99,000, Galvan said, arguing service costs cut into the EDC’s budget earmarked to fund economic development projects.
“How was the $45,000 calculated?” he asked. “Is it just a number we kind of went for? Do other cities have a CEO — the city manager?”
In response, Rebeca Castillo, the EDC’s executive director, said some city managers oversee EDCs.
“It’s going to vary from EDC to EDC,” she said. “Where the EDC is a department of the city, the city manager oversees the department and the activities and efforts and they still have a director under that department. There are also others that operate more stand-alone, where they operate under the umbrella of the city commission. It’s not unique or something different that’s being done here. Other communities have that structure where they’re able to have city management overseeing the activities of the EDC.”
Commissioners debate EDC bylaw revision
Galvan also questioned the proposed revision of EDC bylaws governing the city commission’s appointments and removals of the agency’s board members.
Under Sossi’s proposal, commissioners will get as many as three chances to make a nomination to the seven-member board, which commissioners can confirm or reject.
Previously, the mayor nominated three board members.
“I don’t think it’s fair for a democracy,” Galvan said. “So basically, if the city commission votes to reject a nomination, one, two, three times, we’re going ahead with three strikes, you’re out. Now the vote goes to the commission at large to make a vote. I would basically lose my right of a nomination.”
“I don’t think someone should lose a right to a nomination just because they got turned down three times. They could present three qualified candidates and, for example, in a majority commission, you will lose that seat. I think that’s behind the rules of democracy.”
But Sossi stood behind the proposal aimed at appointing what he described as “quality” board members.
“First of all, you’re not losing your right,” Sossi told Galvan. “You have three nominations. You don’t have a right to one nomination. Under this proposal, you have a right to three nominations … only if all three of your nominees were rejected. So no, I don’t think that’s unfair at all. I think it gives each commissioner three bites of the apple to nominate candidates that they believe would best serve the community.”
Garcia said the proposal aimed to give commissioners equal appointment power.
“I think it’s fair,” he said. “What it does is it aligns us with fairness to the utmost. It doesn’t give anyone here additional power, additional authority over the other. It makes it equal because we are going to work as a commission. We’re not here to work by ourselves. It’s democracy because it’s five of us.”
Bylaw revision process criticized
However, Guerra and Galvan criticized the city’s revision of bylaws, arguing the EDC board was charged with making those changes.
“The EDC board of directors is a team of seven, which should have revised the bylaws, which should have then presented it to the commission, not the other way around,” Galvan said. “I don’t believe this is the right move. I do think we need oversight but I think we went about it the wrong way.”
Guerra stood behind Galvan’s argument.
“I understand that we need oversight on that,” he said. “I just don’t agree that the city took upon itself to revise the bylaws on the EDC without going to them first and let them do it first and then bring it to us — the way it’s supposed to be.”
The move to appoint De La Rosa to the CEO job amid the EDC’s bylaw revision comes after Guerra’s attempt to remove Rios led to a federal lawsuit.
In February, Guerra tried to remove Garcia and Rios from the board, leading Rios to file the lawsuit contesting the mayor’s action.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. reinstated Rios, ruling Guerra tried to remove him without the city commission’s consent.
In a related case, Guerra tried to remove Rosanna Aguilera, the San Benito Housing Authority’s chairwoman, in January, arguing she didn’t live within the city limits, before Rodriguez granted her request for a temporary restraining order, effectively reinstating her.
“The mayor attempted to remove Ms. Aguilera from the housing authority without complying with the removal provision,” Rodriguez’s order states.
On May 19, Guerra, in his capacity as mayor, presided over a hearing in which Aguilera presented her arguments against her removal. After she made her case, Guerra said he would consider her arguments before making his decision.
Then on May 27, Guerra removed Aguilera from the board.