Mercedes city manager search at a standstill

Seven months after firing former City Manager Daniel Tijerina, the Mercedes City Commission has yet to interview applicants for the city’s top administrative role.

The cause for the standstill seems to point to satisfaction with the job performance of interim City Manager Sergio Zavala, who has been temporarily tasked with overseeing the city since September 2017.

That month, commissioners voted in favor of firing Tijerina after only two months of serving in the position. Mayor Henry Hinojosa and Commissioner Howard Wade were against the move to oust Tijerina.

Tijerina, who was not under contract, told commissioners the move to fire him appeared to be an “improper and potentially retaliatory effort.”

Commissioners at the time did not publicly disclose the reason for the termination.

Since then, at least 16 have applied for the vacant position.

Applicants with local ties and city government experience include: former Donna City Manager Oscar Ramirez, former South Padre Island City Manager William DiLibero, former Rio Grande City Manager Juan F. Zuniga, former San Benito Assistant City Manager Arturo “Art” Rodriguez, former city manager of Sullivan City Juan Cedillo and former Donna Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Lyle Garza.

Zavala, who did not apply for the position, regularly provides updates on the applicant pool to commissioners and the mayor.

Hinojosa and Commissioner Leo Villarreal said the commission does not appear to be in a rush to fill the position.

Commissioner Howard Wade could not be reached for comment on the search. Commissioner Cristella De Leon Hernandez said she had “no comment” about the matter.

The commission also fired another city manager in 2017 — Richard Garcia, who had been in the position for nearly 14 years.

The firing surrounded the city apparently inadvertently paying $35,000 worth of utility bills for Texas Valley Communities Foundation for about five years, The Monitor previously reported.

Garcia filed a lawsuit against Hinojosa, Villarreal, commissioner Ruben “Chano” Guajardo and the city alleging defamation, a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act. The lawsuit remains in litigation.

Mercedes requires that applicants have experience in planning, development and grant application as well as management skills and knowledge of city administration.