EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso has narrowed down the search for a new City Manager to four candidates. Half of the candidates are locals, the other two are from other parts of Texas and one comes with a touch of controversy.
The candidates are Tommy Gonzalez, the former City Manager in Irving, Texas; Fernando Costa, the Assistant City Manager in Fort Worth; El Pasoans Carmen-Arrieta Candelaria, the City's Chief Financial Officer and David Almonte, a current Deputy City Manager.
Gonzalez may come with the most baggage. He is currently Vice President for the Sterling Construction Company Inc. in Fort Worth. Before working in the private sector, he was the Irving, Texas City Manager from 2006 to 2013 and an Assistant City Manager for the City of Dallas from 2005 to 2006. The Irving City Council in April of 2013 voted not to renew his contract and let him go at the end of the year. Dallas-area news reports show he has significant support as well as critics.
He was criticized for his big salary: about $450,000 a year, making Gonzalez one of the highest paid city administrators in the Country. Gonzalez came under fire for his gruff management style, according to media reports and WFAA in Dallas reported he was accused of using his influence as City Manager for benefits, such as Rangers tickets, from companies that had business with the City. (read the details here: http://http://bit.ly/1fxH3ju). A Dallas based developer also sued the City of Irving and claimed Gonzalez abused his position as City Manager by inappropriately exchanging favors and requested benefits. The City of Irving called the lawsuit frivolous and Gonzalez at the time did not comment on the accusations.
The other out of town candidate, Fernando Costa, assistant City Manager for the City of Fort Worth is known for supporting walkable neighborhoods and urban development. As Planning Director, he once warned the City Council that if costly sprawl was not curbed, it could one day cost the City billions of dollars in infrastructure costs.
He's pushed for major zoning changes that encourage denser development, but has also worked with neighborhoods who don't want mixed-use or condos in their area. While pushing for infill development and "urban villages," he's also said high-density zoning is not meant for every area within a City.
El Pasoan Carmen Arrieta Candelaria is also on the short list for the City's top job. A few weeks ago, city Rep. Eddie Holguin criticized her department for overprojecting city revenues and having to adjust the budget throughout the year.
The majority of council, though, has consistently praised her. A few months ago, Arrieta Candelaria found a way to save the city over a million dollars by refinancing some debt. The Texas Education Commissioner also appointed her to the El Paso Independent School District's Board of Managers in December 2012 after unseating the prior board following the corruption scandal. It's unclear if she'd be able to continue to serve on EPISD if she becomes the City's top administrator.
Deputy City Manager David Almonte, who currently oversees public safety, has been with the City since 1991. He worked his way up at the City and led the Management and Budget Office before being promoted to a Deputy City Manager. He's been praised for his management, though last year had to admit a costly mistake. Almonte last fall took responsibility for a communication error that cost the city $2.2 million in a grievance with the police association. At the time, Almonte said an email to him went unanswered and unaddressed and department heads underpaid some police officers while overpaying others. The City paid and settled the grievance after Almonte took responsibility.
The deal gave officers a 1.8 percent pay increase for fiscal year 20-12 and a 1.5 percent pay increase for fiscal year 2013, a lesser blow than what could have been -- as much as a four percent increase each year had the grievance gone to arbitration.
"We didn't really look at where they were from. We wanted to bring the best to the community," said Mayor Oscar Leeser, in a news conference on Wednesday. He said the City Council did not personally look through all 119 applications received. Affion Public, the Company hired by the City to narrow the search did that and identified the top four, said Leeser.
The community is invited to a meet and greet reception from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 7 at the Plaza Theatre in order to have the opportunity to meet the candidates.
The citizen advisory group, employee panel, mayor and City Council will conduct interviews on May 8.
Once the interviews are complete Mayor Oscar Leeser and City Council will interview candidates once again and then receive feedback from the citizen advisory group chair and the employee panel chair.
Upon receiving feedback Mayor and Council will then discuss next steps with Affion Public.