HARLINGEN — After serving more than 20 years as City Hall’s second-in-command, Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez is taking Harlingen’s top executive job.
Earlier this week, city commissioners unanimously appointed Gonzalez to the city manager’s post, two weeks after naming him interim city manager following the new majority’s firing of City Manager Dan Serna.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Frank Puente said Gonzalez was hired at an annual salary of $225,000.
To come up with the salary, commissioners reviewed city managers’ salaries across the Rio Grande Valley, coming up with a range beginning at $225,000, Puente said.
After six years on the job, Serna was drawing an annual salary of $260,000, what Puente described as the range’s highest point.
Gonzalez lands sought-after job
Since he was hired as assistant city manager in 2001, Gonzalez had served several stints as interim city manager while previous commissions had overlooked him after he had applied for the city’s top administrative job.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Gonzalez, a former San Benito city manager who takes the job after 35 years of city government experience.
“I’m looking forward to working with the commission,” he said. “I appreciate the commissioners for giving me the opportunity to serve the city as city manager. Almost everyone here is familiar with how I run meetings and the directors know what I request and feel comfortable working in that scenario. I’m familiar with everyone here and where the projects are at and that’s a big plus.”
Qualifications allow commissioners to bypass search
Commissioners didn’t want to launch a search for a city manager when they were considering Gonzalez for the job, Puente said.
“Why re-invent the wheel when we have a more-than-qualified candidate for the position,” Puente, who’s worked with Gonzalez through two stints in office beginning in 2003, said. “He’s an outstanding administrator. He’s got the education to take on the task. He’s very well-liked. He’s the perfect fit for taking it on considering the changes going on in the city. We didn’t want to lose momentum. He’s got all the knowledge we need.”
In 2001, Mayor Chris Boswell was serving as a city commissioner when Gonzalez was hired as assistant city manager after working as city manager in San Benito.
“I’m pleased Gabriel Gonzalez was appointed as city manager,” he said. “He has the experience. He’s been with the city. I think he’ll do an excellent job.”
Commissioner Michael Mezmar’s worked with Gonzalez since he first won election to the commission in 2013.
“I have great confidence in Gabe,” he said. “He’ll continue to serve the city well.”
Commissioner Rene Perez, who’s worked with Gonzalez since winning election in May, stated he has the experience to help commissioners guide the city into the future.
“Gabe is the right choice to help the city commission guide Harlingen toward more accountability, transparency and growth,” he stated. “His background and experience speak for themselves.”
At City Hall, Gonzalez was serving as assistant city manager for internal affairs, overseeing numerous departments.
Before taking the assistant city manager’s job in 2001, he had served as San Benito’s city manager from 1998 to 2001 after working as the city’s community development director from 1992 to 1997.
Gonzalez began his career in Brownsville, serving as the city’s economic development specialist from 1986 to 1988 before working with the community development department from 1988 to 1992.
Gonzalez, a certified public manager, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Texas at Austin.
On Sept. 28, the commission’s new majority fired Serna after Mayor Pro Tem Richard Uribe accused him of failing to act on commissioners’ concerns, which Serna addressed during the meeting.
In accordance with Serna’s contract, the city’s paying him a year’s worth of severance pay based on his annual salary of $260,000.