San Benito’s new city manager reviewing job duties

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Fred Sandoval

SAN BENITO — After more than a month on the job, City Manager Fred Sandoval is holding off on searching for the city’s second in command.

Now, he’s getting a handle on running the city’s daily operations while reviewing ongoing projects before filling the job that’s remained vacant for more than eight months, Mayor Rick Guerra said.

Last month, city commissioners unanimously hired Sandoval based on his experience as Pharr’s former city manager, capping a four-month search after buying out past City Manager Manuel De La Rosa’s contract for about $200,000.

“He’s getting his feet wet in San Benito,” Guerra said, referring to Sandoval.

But around town, some residents believe commissioners are holding back Sandoval from hiring the city’s second in charge, he said.

“People think we’re not letting him hire an assistant city manager,” Guerra said in an interview. “They’ve always seen a city manager with an assistant city manager so it’s strange we have a city manager but don’t have an assistant city manager. They’re thinking we’re the ones who are blocking the position.”

At City Hall, the city manager hires the second in command, Guerra said.

“We left it up to him,” he said. “Right now, he says he wants to move forward. We didn’t want to push him, as long as the city’s moving forward and he’s tackling the daily issues, as long as he’s doing a good job. He’s an experienced city manager and I’m sure he knows how much he can move. Once the new year comes in, there’s going to be lots more projects. I told him, ‘You’re going to need someone to help you.’ He said, ‘When the time comes, I’ll let you know.’ I told him, ‘We’ll wait until the beginning of the year to see how you’re doing.’”

Commissioner Tom Goodman described Sandoval’s decision to hold off on the hiring as “a prudent move.”

“Until you know the full scope of a project, it’s hard to determine exactly what you need,” he said.

The decision to delay the hiring also saves taxpayer money, Commissioner Pete Galvan said.

“Fred’s doing a good job,” he said. “We want to give Fred an opportunity to see what he needs. The last thing we need right now is high overhead. High overhead will hurt any organization. That’s taxpayer money that can go to fix another street. If we see that he starts to fall behind or he’s getting overwhelmed, we can direct him.”

As he gets closer to hiring his second in command, Sandoval will determine whether the city launches a search for the right candidate, Guerra said.

“He was city manager in Pharr so he’s familiar with people,” he said. “I’m hoping he looks around here locally — a home-grown person.”

Meanwhile, Goodman said he wanted to focus on candidates’ qualifications.

“I’m less concerned about the location and more about the qualifications,” he said.

The office of the city manager is pictured Friday, June 2, 2023, at the San Benito Municipal Building in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

At City Hall, the job has remained vacant since March, when past Assistant City Manager Fred Bell resigned after about six years on the job.

Late last month, commissioners unanimously hired Sandoval after interviewing him and four other candidates following a four-month search, signing him to a one-year contract opening with a six-month probationary period while paying a $135,000 salary.

Sandoval, who served as Pharr’s city manager from 2004 to 2015 before taking over as owner of Sylvan Learning from 2016 to 2021, had been serving as chief executive officer with Renryder Solutions since 2021 while working as a field consultant with Strategic Partnerships in Austin since 2022, his LinkedIn profile states.

The profile states he studied biology at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley from 1990 to 1991.

Sandoval’s selection comes after a four-month search during which commissioners switched interim city managers to run daily operations.

On June 20, commissioners voted 4-1 to buy out De La Rosa’s contract for about $200,000, turning down his offer to stay on the job for up to 60 days, with Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez casting the dissenting vote. After about seven years on the job, he was drawing an annual salary of $175,000.

Meanwhile, commissioners hired Gavino Sotelo, a former Harlingen city manager who previously served as general manager of the Laguna Madre Water District, to serve as interim city manager.

After Sotelo suddenly resigned three weeks into the job, commissioners appointed City Secretary Ruth McGinnis to take over as interim city manager.