HARLINGEN — After five years on the job, City Manager Dan Serna is still racking up high grades as the city’s top administrator.
Earlier this week, city commissioners conducted Serna’s annual evaluation of his performance but took no action after Wednesday’s closed session meeting.
“I think the city manager is doing an excellent job as he’s always done and did a particularly excellent job this year considering the obstacles with the coronavirus pandemic,” Mayor Chris Boswell said Friday.
Serna didn’t comment on his evaluation because it was conducted in executive session, city spokeswoman Irma Garza said.
“I look forward to continuing to work with the city commission to meet the needs of the community especially at this time as we respond and deal with COVID19,” Serna stated.
But for the second year in a row, commissioners held back on boosting his annual $260,609 salary, which makes him one of the state’s highest paid city managers.
Two years ago, commissioners gave Serna a $45,000 pay increase, which boosted his salary to $255,500 with a monthly $1,000 car allowance.
The big raise stunned many residents, who turned it into a lightning rod for criticism.
NO WRITTEN EVALUATION
For two years, Commissioner Frank Puente has questioned Serna’s verbal evaluations.
Like last year, he said, commissioners didn’t give Serna a written evaluation.
Instead, each commissioner spoke about Serna’s job performance during the five-minute session, he said.
“What they call an evaluation is not what I expected,” Puente said.
“My biggest concern is not Dan, it’s the evaluation process,” he said. “I was expecting to see something in writing as to what he accomplished during the last year, what goals he has for the upcoming year, what his expectations are and what plans he has. We have written evaluations to kind of grade the performance.”
In response, Boswell said Puente could request the commission consider giving Serna written evaluations.
“If the commission wants to do it, they can but nobody has proposed it,” Boswell said.
But Boswell, first elected as a commissioner in 1998, said the commission hasn’t given city managers written evaluations since he took office.
“I don’t recall we’ve ever done a written evaluation on any city manager and I’ve been around for a while,” Boswell said. “I think at a certain level with CEOs you don’t do evaluations. They work at the discretion of the board, in this case the commission. (Evaluations are) something you do with mid-level employees.”
COMMISSIONERS DON’T QUESTION CONTRACT
For about a year, Puente has also expressed concern over Serna’s contract, which includes a clause requiring four commissioners’ votes along with the mayor’s consent to fire Serna — instead of three commissioners’ simple majority.
Before Serna took office, three commissioners’ votes had led to the firing of city managers, Puente said.
An open-ended contract, Puente also said the agreement doesn’t set Serna’s term of employment. During Wednesday’s closed-door meeting, the contract failed to draw commissioners’ concerns, said Puente, who said he didn’t request commissioners discuss the contract.
“I was expecting to discuss his contract but it was never brought up,” he said.
SERNA’S CLIMB TO THE TOP Without a college degree, Serna climbed the ranks for 28 years, serving as assistant city manager for external affairs before taking over as city manager.
A master electrician, Serna first took a job as a city building inspector in 1990. A year later, he was working as a housing rehabilitation specialist with the community development department.
In 1996, Serna took the job of construction project coordinator. From 1997 to 2005, he was working as a director overseeing environmental health and public buildings while managing and directing the daily operations of several city departments. In 2012, he was named assistant city manager for external services.