DONNA — Just weeks after a temporary restraining order thwarted an effort by the Donna City Council to terminate the city manager, Carlos Yerena has stepped down from the position, leading the council to restructure the leadership of its economic development corporations.
The council mulled the restructuring during a special meeting Tuesday afternoon — a meeting at which Yerena was present in his remaining capacity as the director of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge board of directors, Mayor Rick Morales said.
As city manager, Yerena was also executive director of one of the city’s two economic boards: the Donna Economic Development Corporation (EDC 4A) and the Development Corporation of Donna (EDC 4B). Yerena helmed the 4A corporation.
But the council unanimously voted to terminate his position as executive director.
A subsequent suggestion from interim City Manager Frank Perez to name Jose F. Perez the new EDC 4a executive director went nowhere, however, after a member of the council asked for more time to consider Yerena’s replacement.
“What does this entail? I would like to maybe take no action on this item until we discuss this a little further,” Place 2 Councilman Joey Garza Jr. said. “I don’t know how I feel about this item.”
The council chose to leave the position vacant as they turned their attention to restructuring the remaining economic boards, which are comprised of a mix of councilmembers and business people.
The council appointed Tony Garcia to the EDC 4A board of directors after the resignation of Javier Castillo.
That board now consists of: the mayor, Place 1 Councilman Richie Moreno, as well as Tomas Marroquin, Fabian Montelongo, Adrian Rivas and Noel Ramos.
As for the EDC 4B board, the council appointed Councilman Oscar Gonzales, who defeated Eloy Avila for the Place 4 seat in November.
“I don’t think that I sit on any of the boards…” Gonzales said when the mayor asked for nominations.
The remainder of the 4B board consists of Place 3 Councilman David Moreno, as well as Fernando Muñoz and physician Mike Flores.
Gonzales also replaced Avila’s seat on the bridge board.
Yerena remains the director there, Morales said after the meeting, despite no longer serving as Donna city manager.
Late last month, the voting majority on the council indicated its intent to terminate Yerena’s position as city manager when they placed the subject of his employment and the appointment of an interim city manager on a Feb. 25 meeting agenda.
That effort was thwarted, however, when a local resident, Rachel Martinez, filed for a temporary restraining order that was served on the mayor just minutes before the meeting began. The TRO prevented the city council from taking any action against the city manager.
But Martinez’s efforts to prevent Yerena’s firing failed after Albert Garcia, judge for County Court at Law No. 6, denied her request for an injunction.
While Martinez had argued that the council majority’s plan to terminate Yerena was a result of dirty politics — going as far as alleging they met illegally — the city’s official response to her complaint contained allegations of a similar vein.
“The reality is that Plaintiff RACHEL MARTINEZ is not acting as an interested resident for the protection of the City of Donna, but rather, is the pawn of disgruntled parties that lost their majority in the recent election,” the city’s response reads.
“It is no coincidence that the attorney for Plaintiff RACHEL MARTINEZ has offices at… the same office owned by the former City attorney Javier Villalobos,” it further reads.
Just three days before they had planned to fire Yerena — on Feb. 22 — the council majority succeeded in terminating the services of Villalobos, who had served as the city attorney on and off for about a decade.
On March 18, nearly a month after the TRO, Yerena tendered his resignation to the city. The council unanimously accepted it during yet another special meeting after holding a nearly hour-long closed door discussion.
Frank Perez, who previously served as assistant city manager, was appointed interim city manager. Morales said the city will likely begin advertising for a permanent replacement sometime this month.