Puente mulls Serna performance plan; Officials debate contract clause

HARLINGEN — Two months after Mayor Chris Boswell hailed City Manager Dan Serna’s work as “excellent,” some city commissioners are considering placing him on a performance evaluation plan, Commissioner Frank Puente said Monday.

Puente said he and Commissioners Richard Uribe and Ruben de la Rosa are considering reviewing Serna’s job performance over a six-month period.

“I’m not aware of that, and that would be news to me,” Boswell said.

Uribe could not be reached for comment, and de la Rosa did not respond to a message requesting comment.

The commissioners’ concerns include the city’s staffing, Puente said.

“We really need to research the organizational chart,” he said. “I’d like to get an update on who’s doing what, what the position is, whether they’re qualified and what the salary is.”

In the finance department, Elvia Treviño, who is resigning as finance director, continues to train Robert Rodriguez, the city’s new finance director, Puente said.

After Treviño announced her retirement late last year, Assistant Finance Director Sergio Villasana resigned to take the finance director’s job in McAllen, leading her to train Rodriguez for her position.

Puente described the city’s administration as top-heavy.

Two assistant city managers work under Serna, he said.

While Gabriel Gonzalez, the city’s assistant city manager for internal affairs, draws an annual salary of $154,766, Carlos Sanchez, the assistant city manager for external affairs, makes $155,832.

At the police department, officials have not filled a vacancy for a second assistant police chief, Puente said.

The contract

Meanwhile, Uribe is expected to meet with Boswell on Thursday to discuss the terms of Serna’s contract, which requires the votes of four commissioners, along with the mayor’s consent, to fire Serna, Puente said.

“I did talk to Commissioner Uribe on Thursday,” Boswell said, referring to last Thursday.

Before Serna took office, three commissioners’ votes had led to the firing of city managers, Puente said.

“In order to terminate the city manager for good cause, four out of five commission members must vote to terminate, and the mayor must also concur in the decision to terminate for good cause,” states Serna’s contract, drafted under former City Attorney Rick Bilbie in November 2015.

City Attorney Ricardo Navarro said the contract requires the votes of four commissioners, along with the major’s consent, to fire Serna for “good cause.”

According to the contract, “for good cause is defined as having been found to have committed misconduct after an investigation has been conducted. Misconduct is defined as violation of any criminal laws of a Class B (misdemeanor) or above.”

However, Navarro said three commissioners could vote to fire Serna without good clause.

In that case, the city would pay Serna a year’s worth of severance pay, he said.

“The general rule is the commission acts by a majority vote, which is three,” Navarro said.

However, Puente said that language does not appear on the contract.

“The main concern is revising the contract,” Puente said. “If we can’t come to a mutual agreement, Richard and I are going to put Dan’s contract on the agenda.”

Open-ended contract

As an open-ended agreement, the contract doesn’t set an expiration date.

Puente said he wants to revise the agreement to give Serna a one-year renewable contract.

Job evaluation

The concerns come about two months after commissioners gave Serna what Boswell described as an “excellent” job evaluation. That’s when he found out the contract doesn’t call for a written evaluation, Puente said.

“The city manager’s salary shall be annually reviewed by the Harlingen City Commission on the anniversary date of his appointment to the position of city manager in accordance with the city’s performance standards and evaluation criteria,” the contract states. “The review shall take into consideration the city manager’s performance, the duties and responsibilities carried out by the city manager and other relevant pay and benefit data.”

Puente, who said Serna’s latest evaluation consisted of “a pat on the back,” said he wants to revise the contract to require a written evaluation of Serna’s job performance.

During his November evaluation, Serna settled for the 2-percent pay increase the city gave all its employees, boosting his salary to $260,609.

Big raise

The year before, commissioners gave him a $45,000 pay increase, pushing his annual salary to $255,500 with a monthly $1,000 car allowance.

The big raise shocked many residents.

During city meetings, some residents have condemned commissioners’ decision to approve the big pay hike. Critics sometimes point out Serna draws one of highest salaries among the area’s top administrators despite lacking a college degree.

In the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez, a former Harlingen city manager, stands as the highest-paid city manager, with an annual salary of $277,000, according a survey by the Texas City Management Association.

Last year, the survey listed Brownsville City Manager Noel Bernal’s salary at $225,000.

Serna has pointed out the survey does not include information on many cities’ top administrative salaries.