Leader wants Harlingen city manager contract clarified

HARLINGEN — Questions are popping up surrounding proposals that could impact Harlingen City Hall.

After meeting with city commissioners behind closed doors earlier this week, Commissioners Frank Puente and Rene Perez are waiting for clarification into clauses set in City Manager Dan Serna’s contract.

Meanwhile, Perez believes his push for term limits on the mayor’s and commissioners’ positions currently lacks commission support.

During a Wednesday meeting, Puente and Perez requested they discuss in closed session questions regarding Serna’s contract and the possibility of setting term limits that could end up capping longtime Mayor Chris Boswell’s tenure.

Commissioners took no action on the matters.

“The purpose of going into executive session was to get information and feedback from the city attorney,” Puente said Thursday.

In other executive session matters, commissioners were expected to request the attorney “provide legal advice in connection with the city’s rights, duties, privileges and obligations regarding the employment agreement between City Manager Dan Serna and the city of Harlingen, Texas,” according to the meeting’s agenda.

Behind closed doors, commissioners were also expected to “deliberate the appointment, employment, duties and other terms and conditions of the employment agreement between City Manager Dan Serna and the city of Harlingen, Texas,” the agenda states.

The agenda didn’t call for action on the closed-door talks regarding the matters.

On Thursday, Puente said he wanted officials to clarify clauses in Serna’s contract.

“We wanted to get a better understanding of certain clauses in the contract,” he said. “There are some things that are still unclear to the average person.”

Since last year, Puente has questioned Serna’s contract, which includes a clause requiring four commissioners’ votes along with the mayor’s consent to fire Serna for “good cause” — instead of three commissioners’ simple majority.

“In order to terminate the city manager for good cause, four out of five commission members must vote to terminate and the mayor must also concur in the decision to terminate for good cause,” the contract states.

According to the contract, “for good cause is defined as having been found to have committed misconduct after an investigation has been conducted. Misconduct is defined as violation of any criminal laws of a Class B (misdemeanor) or above.”

The contract, drafted under former City Attorney Rick Bilbie in November 2015, allows a three-member majority to fire Serna without cause, Boswell said earlier this week.

However, Puente questioned the reason the contract allows a three-member majority to fire Serna without good cause while requiring a four-member super-majority, along with the mayor’s consent, to fire him for good cause.

Meanwhile, Puente said he’s awaiting information regarding Perez’s request to consider calling for a proposition on the May 2022 election ballot setting term limits on the mayor’s the commissioners’ positions.

“I don’t think we fully understand the pros and cons,” Puente said.

Puente said setting term limits tends to offer a bigger pool of candidates while boosting voter turnout.

“The pros of term limits are they give you more options and it brings out more voters,” he said.

However, term limits can also bar qualified candidates from seeking re-election.

“If he’s done a fantastic job and does what’s right, why would I want to change that and start over with someone who doesn’t have experience and knowledge?” Puente asked, referring to what he described as a hypothetical case.

Earlier this week, Puente and Perez questioned the length of Boswell’s tenure in office.

First elected mayor in 2007, Boswell is serving his fifth three-year term in office after serving as a commissioner from 1998 to 2007.

During his re-election campaigns, he’s overwhelmingly defeated opposing candidates.

Under the city’s current election guidelines, voters basically determine the mayor’s and commissioners’ terms in office, Puente said.

“In a sense, we do have term limits — it’s every three years,” he said. “Every three years, our constituents decide if your term is up by voting you in or out.”

On Thursday, Perez said he couldn’t disclose “specifics” regarding matters he and Puente brought up for discussion in closed session.

“We still need some information,” Perez said, adding, “On other ones, we couldn’t come to an agreement.”

However, Perez, who narrowly defeated three-term Commissioner Victor Leal in the May 1 election, referred to his Facebook post, much of which surrounds his push for term limits.

“Unfortunately, this issue currently does not have enough support on the commission,” he posted after Wednesday’s meeting, referring to his call for term limits. “This was a major disappointment for me. I campaigned on this issue because I feel very strongly about it.”

In the May 1 election, 90 percent of McAllen voters called for term limits while 86 percent of Brownsville voters agreed to set limits on their elected officials’ terms in office.

“I feel the people of Harlingen should have the same right and opportunity as the people of McAllen and Brownsville did last month when they made their own decision regarding term limits,” Perez posted. “Why not here in Harlingen? I want the people of Harlingen to make this decision — not us on the commission. We need this choice here in Harlingen.”

“I am not going to give up on this issue. It’s too important.”

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