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SAN BENITO — After about two months into the search for the city’s next city manager, Commissioner Tom Goodman wants commissioners to speed up the process, calling for the hire of a recruiter to select candidates for the job.
In June, commissioners rejected Goodman’s request to hire a recruiting firm, opting to work with the Texas Municipal League to help pick candidates.
At City Hall, where officials are working to draft their general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year, interim City Manager Ruth McGinnis, the city’s longtime city secretary, is working with department heads to run daily operations.
Meanwhile, key positions remain vacant, including those of city manager, assistant city manager and human resources director.
“I’ve expressed my concerns loudly about the need to get a city manager,” Goodman said in an interview. “I’ve been advocating vigorously to hire a city manager. That should be number one. The hiring of a city manager is most the most important decision this elected body will make. We’re so buried over there because we don’t have a city manager and assistant city manager. Things are falling through the cracks.”
McGinnis leading department heads
But Commissioner Deborah Morales said McGinnis and the city’s department heads are doing a good job.
“Finding a city manager is crucial,” Morales said in an interview. “We do need a city manager. And we’re in the process of doing a (search), and it’s going to take time.”
“We have directors in place, and we do have a finance director,” she said, referring to Assistant Finance Director Stephanie Sarrionadia. “I have confidence in her. She’s well-detailed in the information brought to us. We do have an interim. She’s doing a good job keeping things in working order. We rely a lot on the directors, and they go out and get it done.”
Staff drafting budget
At City Hall, McGinnis is leading department heads as they work to draft a proposed $16.5 million general fund budget.
“The budget has not been as difficult because we based it on last year’s expenditures,” Goodman said.
While drafting the proposed budget, officials are setting aside a hefty $16.2 million fund balance.
“We have a fair amount of money from last year, primarily because we don’t have people to get the job done,” Goodman said, referring to money remaining as a result of vacant positions.
As they work to draft the budget, officials are planning to keep the city’s property tax rate at 70 cents per $100 valuation.
Developing first pay scale
Meanwhile, commissioners are also working to develop the city’s first employee pay scale, planning to fund workers’ pay increases aimed at boosting low wages.
“We’re also without an HR director,” Goodman said, referring to the human resources director, the official who would help oversee the project.
But Morales said City Hall’s staff is qualified to develop the proposed pay scale.
“I don’t think not having a city manager is going to hinder us in the process,” she said, noting the proposed pay increases would become recurring expenses. “Like everything else, we’ve got to be cautious. We have to maintain that pay structure from this time forward.”
As part of the proposed pay increases, commissioners are also planning to fund employees’ health insurance coverage averaging about $84 a month, part of a $240,000 package.
Recruiter’s pros, cons
During an Aug. 5 meeting, Goodman’s planning to request commissioners reconsider hiring a recruiter to help lead the search for a city manager.
Goodman said a recruiter would help conduct “a more independent, transparent process” and “a much more professional process than just us taking applications.”
But Mayor Rick Guerra has opposed the proposal, standing behind the Texas Municipal League, which lists candidates for the job.
Like Guerra, Morales said she believes commissioners can do a better job of selecting a candidate who “knows” the city.
Like some commissioners, Morales said she’s holding back on hiring a recruiter whose work would cost the city as much as $50,000.
“I want to go through a process that is free to us before we go to a (process) that’s going to cost us anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000,” she said.
Like Guerra, Morales said she would consider hiring a recruiter if the city’s search failed to tap the right candidate.
“I would like to go through those resources first,” she said. “It’s always good to have a Plan B.”
On July 14, commissioners appointed McGinnis interim city manager, replacing veteran administrator Gavino Sotelo, a former Harlingen city manager who previously served as general manager of the Laguna Madre Water District, who suddenly resigned amid a contract dispute three weeks into the job.
Three weeks before McGinnis’ appointment, commissioners bought out former City Manager Manuel De La Rosa’s contract for about $200,000, rejecting his offer to stay on the job for up to 60 days.