Commission approves EDC head’s $178,500 contract; Puente questions continuing education funding

HARLINGEN — After nearly eight years on the job, the city’s economic development manager has landed a new two-year contract.

City commissioners have approved Manager Raudel Garza’s $178,500 contract to oversee the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation through February 2020.

The contract extension approved last week comes with a 2-percent raise and a monthly $750 car allowance.

“I’m glad I’m still here in Harlingen and looking forward to doing some great things in the future,” Garza said Monday.

Among his accomplishments during his tenure, Garza noted his work toward expanding The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley’s medical school here, negotiations leading to the opening of Sam’s Club, the finalization of agreements with Bass Pro Shops and drawing call centers to town.

“We’ve been marketing quite a bit, helping businesses that have opened up in the last couple of years, doing a lot of training programs to educate the workforce and acquiring a lot of property for future growth,” he said.

Garza also helped draw South Texas Behavioral Health Center to town, Mayor Chris Boswell said.

“Raudel’s very well respected and knows a lot of people in the economic development world, and he’s done a very good job of retaining business, building on industries as well as attracting new industry,” Boswell said.

Late last month, the EDC’s board approved the contract.

“We’re happy with the job he’s doing,” Mickey Boland, the EDC’s president said. “He manages the corporation well. He manages our budget well. He’s well respected in the industry. He’s knowledgeable.”

Boland noted Garza helped lead Cardone Industries to plan an expansion here aimed at creating as many as 750 jobs in a proposed $50 million plant before the auto parts giant pulled its plans about two years ago.

“He’s going out and doing the things we want to draw business,” Boland said. “A lot of the things he does are what I call planting seeds. You make a lot of contacts.”

Job evaluations

The contract calls for at least one written annual job performance evaluation in August.

“Compensation adjustments may be set by (the) Development Corporation action without the necessity of amending this agreement in writing,” the contract states.

Termination clauses

The contract requires the agency to pay Garza three months of his base salary and benefits as severance pay if the agency terminates him with cause.

If the agency terminates him without cause, the contract requires it to pay six months of Garza’s base salary and benefits.

Continuing education

During last Wednesday’s meeting, City Commissioner Frank Puente questioned the contract’s annual $10,000 to $15,000 payment budgeted to fund Garza’s “professional educational course work to obtain a master’s in business or public administration, urban planning, and/or to obtain professional designations that will enhance and benefit the Economic Development Corporation.”

In response, Garza said his job hasn’t given him time to pursue continuing education.

“I haven’t actually used it yet because honestly I’ve been too busy,” Garza told Puente. “I’d love to go back to school and continue with my education but family time and work doesn’t allow it.”

Puente suggested the agency earmark the money to fund Harlingen high school student scholarships.

“We can always look into it and consider that as a budget for the next fiscal year,” Garza said.

Social club membership

The contract includes a long-standing honorary social club membership to the Harlingen Country Club, which is free of charge, Garza said.

“The development corporation shall provide (the) economic development manager/chief executive officer membership in the Harlingen Country Club to assist in the performance of his duties,” the contract states.

Garza’s background

In 2012, the agency hired Garza at a salary of $130,000 after he had served as executive director of the Rio South Texas Economic Council since 2010.

Garza, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from The University of Texas at Austin, has also owned a real estate company, served as vice president of a shopping center development and vice president and general manager of a realty company.

Garza has also served as president and chief executive officer of the Mission Economic Development Authority, executive director of the Pharr Economic Development Corporation and district marketing manager for Conoco.