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HARLINGEN — After working with him for two years, commissioners are signing City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez to his first three-year contract, months after his job review led them to give him a $25,000 pay raise.
The new contract, which runs to October 2026, is paying Gonzalez a $250,000 following commissioners’ high marks on a February job performance evaluation.
“I’m excited the commission gave me this opportunity,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “I’m looking forward to moving ahead to the challenges to come as the city continues its growth and momentum.”
In 2021, the past commission hired Gonzalez, who had served as an assistant city manager since 2001, signing him to a two-year contract paying a salary of $225,000 after firing past City Manager Dan Serna, who was drawing a $265,822 salary.
Driver behind city’s success
At City Hall, Gonzalez is the driver behind the city’s success, Mayor Norma Sepulveda stated.
“As mayor, I’m in constant communication with Gabe, I’d say on a daily basis,” she stated. “Whether it’s about an immediate pressing issue or strategic planning for the future, he always gives 110%. I’ve been in office for just 16 months, and we have delivered record wins for our community in large part due to Gabe’s ability to implement the commission’s vision for the city.”
The city is growing, with officials recording a record number of building permits valued at $141.3 million so far this year, Sepulveda stated.
This summer, Gonzalez helped lead the city in a police officers union’s collective bargaining negotiations that “fixed the pay scale to retain and recruit officers,” she stated.
This month, Gonzalez helped draft the city’s new $57.8 million general fund budget, Sepulveda stated.
“This year, he was tasked with presenting the commission with a balanced budget that would fund a new drainage crew within our public works department, provide pay raises to city employees and increase funding for street maintenance while also reducing the tax rate,” she stated. “He not only delivered, he exceeded expectations by presenting us with a balanced budget that cuts the tax rate by 10%, representing the lowest tax rate in over 20 years. Gabe has proven to be a tremendous asset to Harlingen and I’m happy to work alongside him to continue to move our community forward.”
Behind the scenes, Gonzalez is working to develop projects while aiming to draw new business and industry to the city, Commissioner Daniel Lopez stated.
“Mr. Gonzalez has done an outstanding job as our city manager,” he stated. “He has played a crucial role in assisting the city commission in its initiatives: cultivating and promoting economic development planning and marketing for long-term growth and success; improving public services with great hires and promotion; updating internal policies and protocols to facilitate easier and more efficient transactions with the public and promoting better customer service by city staff.”
Meanwhile, Gonzalez is “spearheading strategic infrastructure programming and projects to strengthen and enhance Harlingen’s position as the Capital City,” Lopez stated. “We think the world of Gabe and want him secured in his future so his attention can be focused on city successes and growth.”
Commissioner Michael Mezmar, who’s worked with Gonzalez since first winning office in 2013, said he’s “quite confident” in his work as city manager.
“Gabe’s doing a pretty good job,” he said in an interview. “He keeps us informed. Earlier this year, we gave him a pay raise because he deserved it.”
Annual written job evaluations
Under the new contract drafted by new Attorney Mark Sossi, commissioners are expected to conduct annual job evaluations while working with the city manager to set goals and objectives.
The contract calls on commissioners “to perform an objective appraisal of the city manager’s performance, to provide the city manager with the expectations of the city commission (and) to objectively document … the city managers performance.”
“The city manager shall (provide) the city commission with a summary of the goals and objectives for the city of Harlingen as set forth in the prior fiscal year budget document, prior yearly review and such other goals and objectives as adopted by the city commission beyond the budget process,” the contract states.
“The review shall be based on a combination of the responsibilities outlined in the (City) Charter, ordinances, Harlingen policies and or goals and objectives established by the city commission.”
Termination for good cause
As part of the new contract, commissioners could fire the city manager for good cause for “any willful, knowing, grossly negligent breach, disregard, or habitual neglect” of the agreement or city “duty or obligation.”
The contract allows commissioners to fire the city manager upon conviction of “a felony, crime of moral turpitude or Class A misdemeanor, driving while intoxicated, use of illegal drugs or controlled substances, conviction of any crime involving an abuse of office” or “grossly negligent misapplication or misuse direct or indirect … of public or other funds or real property.”
Severance pay, car allowance
Under the new contract, commissioners’ firing of the city manager for good cause requires the city to pay nine months’ worth of severance pay based on the annual salary, accrued vacation and sick leave along with up to nine months’ worth of health insurance benefits.
Meanwhile, the new contract sets a $750 monthly car allowance.
Responding to commissioners’ concerns
The new contract also allows commissioners to fire the city manager for failing to respond to their concerns.
“The commission, individually and collectively, shall refer in a timely manner to the city manager for study and/or appropriate action all substantive criticisms, complaints and suggestions called to the commission’s attention and the city manager shall promptly refer the matter(s) to the appropriate city staff for investigation and response or shall investigate such matter(s) and inform the commission of the results of such efforts as those results become available,” the contract states.
For more than 20 years, Gonzalez had served as an assistant city manager, working as assistant city manager for internal affairs, overseeing numerous departments, before taking the city’s top administrative job.
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.