San Benito extends city manager’s contract

SAN BENITO — City Manager Manuel De La Rosa appears to be staying on the job for about four more years.

Earlier this week, city commissioners gave him a three-year contract extension, apparently along with a $5,000 pay increase that sets his salary at $125,000.

Yesterday, the city refused to release the contract until De La Rosa and city officials sign it, spokeswoman Martha McClain stated at about 5:15 p.m. The contract is a public record.

“I was instructed not to issue any information on the city manager’s contract until the document has been fully executed,” McClain stated.

After a closed-door meeting, Mayor Ben Gomez and Commissioners Carol Lynn Sanchez and Rene Villafranco voted to extend De La Rosa’s contract, which would have expired in January 2020.

“They passed what they wanted,” Commissioner Rick Guerra said yesterday. “They had the votes.”

Guerra said he tried to postpone the vote, noting Commissioner Tony Gonzales was in the hospital.

Last month, Guerra noted, commissioners delayed approval of the San Benito Chamber of Commerce’s request for the city’s annual $10,000 membership dues because Sanchez was absent.

“I tried to table it,” Guerra said of the vote on De La Rosa’s contract. “Commissioner Gonzales is in the hospital — come on. He’s on medical leave.”

From the hospital, Gonzales said commissioners didn’t want him to cast his vote.

“I guess they didn’t want me there,” Gonzales said. “I was going to be against it. I’m a commissioner — that’s a critical decision. I should have input on that.”

Sanchez stated De La Rosa has helped spark business growth.

“He has been working hard with the commission and going above what we ask of him,” Sanchez stated. “This is something I want to keep going. This progress is the reason I ran and I’m happy to see it finally happening with a push under his leadership and a majority of the commission working with him for the same goals.”

Sanchez cited a multimillion-dollar project to build the area’s first resaca-side commercial development across from the Heavin Resaca Trail.

“For the first time in a long time we are finally seeing our city progress,” Sanchez stated. “We have new businesses and huge projects that couldn’t get done for years finally breaking ground. We have exciting new announcements on the horizon along with things that have never been done in our city or area that I can’t wait to share.”

In the past six months, De La Rosa’s future with the city appeared to dip and surge.

Last September, Gonzales and Guerra called a meeting to discuss firing him.

After meeting behind closed doors, Gomez announced commissioners had taken no action.

Then in December, Gomez, Sanchez and Villafranco gave De La Rosa an “above-average” job evaluation, triggering a $5,000 pay increase.

Meanwhile, De La Rosa was looking for a new job.

In January, he lost his bid for Del Rio’s city manager position, for which he was a finalist.

At same the time, he reminded commissioners he was “in the last year of my employment contract, unless the city commission wishes to extend it.”

In response to that comment, Gomez said he would make changes to De La Rosa’s contract if commissioners considered an extension.

Under De La Rosa’s previous contract, “above-average” job evaluations triggered annual $5,000 pay increases.

In an earlier interview, Gomez said he would remove that clause from the contract.

Because the city refused to disclose the new contract, it’s unclear whether that clause was removed.

After more than three years on the job, De La Rosa’s salary still lags behind the average salary of city managers of cities with populations similar to that of San Benito.

In December 2015, a previous commission hired him at a salary of $95,000, giving him a three-year contract.

After December’s pay increase, his salary stood at $120,000.

Now, his salary is up to $125,000.

However, city managers in like-sized cities draw average salaries of $154,000, according to the Texas Municipal League.