San Benito hails Sandoval’s job performance at close of probationary period

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Fred Sandoval

SAN BENITO — At the close of a six-month probationary period, city commissioners are giving City Manager Fred Sandoval strong marks as he enters the last six months of his one-year contract.

Earlier this week, commissioners met in closed session to discuss Sandoval’s job performance as his six-month probationary period draws to a close later this week.

Last October, commissioners hired Sandoval, signing him to a one-year contract opening with the six-month probationary period while paying a salary of $130,000.

A former longtime Pharr city manager, Sandoval took over for past City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, who was making $175,000 when commissioners bought out the last year of his contract for about $200,000 after about six years on the job.

Then last month, commissioners appointed Sandoval economic development director, with the city’s EDC paying him a $75,000 salary, bumping up his overall pay package to $210,000.

At the EDC, Sandoval took over for Ramiro Aleman, the agency’s former executive director who was drawing a $103,000 salary when he resigned in November to take on a job as head of Cameron County’s first economic development department.

As Sandoval enters the last six months on his contract, Mayor Rick Guerra said he’s planning to review the agreement after the May 4 election, when former Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez’s Place 4 seat is up for grabs in the city’s lone contested race.

“The city manager’s been doing a hell of job in the six months he’s been here,” Guerra said Wednesday in an interview. “He’s doing a hell of a job compared to what we had. He’s talking to the people, working with the people, meeting with the people.”

As head of the city’s economic arm, Sandoval’s also working to draw business into town, Guerra said.

“He’s trying to bring business to San Benito,” he said, declining to disclose prospects. “He’s working with businesses to come in. There are projects in the works. He’s still working and negotiating.”

After the election in which former longtime Commissioner Rene Villafranco’s facing Joe Navarro, a consultant, while Commissioner Pete Galvan is running unopposed, Guerra said he’s planning to review Sandoval’s contract.

“I’m going wait for the full board — the new commission — to come in to look at his contract,” Guerra said, declining further comment.

Then in October, at the close of Sandoval’s one-year contract, Guerra said he would consider giving him a pay increase.

“When we’re looking at his contract, that’s what we’re going to be looking into,” he said.

During Tuesday’s closed-door meeting, commissioners didn’t discuss giving Sandoval a pay increase, Commissioner Tom Goodman said.

“Everybody’s happy with his performance,” he said, referring to Sandoval. “It’s important for us to continue to evaluate Mr. Sandoval’s performance, but we’re happy about where he’s at so far.”

During his first six months in office, Sandoval’s met the goals set out for him, Goodman said.

“We were given a list of the things he would accomplish in the first six months and he has accomplished those things,” he said.

The list included staffing departments that had been running short-handed while helping land a $250,000 Texas General Land Office grant aimed at helping develop the city’s comprehensive plan, Goodman said.

“It is our responsibility as a city commission to lead the city, which means we’re looking for Mr. Sandoval to accomplish the things we want done,” 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)

During his first months in office, Sandoval’s worked to help open up City Hall, Goodman said, noting he helped launch “City Hall for All,” a monthly program in which officials hold meetings within the community to discuss residents’ concerns.

Under De La Rosa, some commissioners criticized what they described as his iron-fisted management style which they blamed for distancing some residents.

“We have taken City Hall to the people,” Goodman said. “The whole attribute of our city has changed. He’s very approachable. We are reaching out, not just to our people, but to development as well.”

After the May election, Goodman’s planning to call commissioners to a workshop “to get more specific with the things we want him to accomplish.”

“Everyone’s going to put their agenda on the table and we’ll all collectively decide what’s our direction,” he said.

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 stated.

During his 11-year stint as Pharr’s city manager, he also served as executive director of the city’s economic development department, helping to draw businesses such as Costco Wholesale and Papadeaux Seafood Kitchen.

Sandoval’s LinkedIn profile stated he studied biology at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley from 1990 to 1991.