NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE AND DANIEL A. FLORES
EDINBURG — An explanation lacking, council members here approved a $25,000 pay raise for City Manager Juan Guerra during a contentious special meeting Friday that lasted five minutes.
Councilman Jorge Salinas proposed the pay bump and the motion was pushed through by the majority. Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina rushed through the meeting, which was held at noon, and did not allow any discussion.
Councilman Gilbert Enriquez, who voted against the raise, tried to speak but was not allowed to do so.
Following the vote, city attorney Omar Ochoa tried to guide Enriquez through potential points of order that could be raised, but Molina interrupted.
“Counselor, we already voted,” he said. “The item has already been taken up. It’s time to move on.”
Molina then asked for a motion to adjourn and the mid-day meeting ended. Councilman Homer Jasso Jr. stormed off afterward, saying, “This is a joke.”
The noon meeting comes a week after Enriquez accused the mayor and his majority faction of scheduling meetings at inconvenient times in order to avoid public scrutiny, a claim Molina denied.
The council did not provide justification for the raise during the meeting, and Molina, along with the rest of the majority faction, refused to answer questions afterward.
The only remark Councilman David Torres made as he walked to his vehicle was that he voted for “stability,” but he refused to answer whether such decisions warrant public discussion.
In a news release sent after the meeting, the mayor also pointed to stability as a determining factor in the decision. In a year’s time, Edinburg has had three city managers.
“I thought it was important to keep one of the best managers in the entire United States,” Molina said in the statement. “Edinburg is booming and in order to keep it moving in that direction you need a city manager who is booming and that is Juan Guerra.”
Guerra now has a new three-year contract with the city and will earn an annual salary of $250,000, which city officials said “is in line with the salaries of other city managers in our region.”
The move, however, came as a surprise to many at city hall, where a going-away party had already been planned and money for a cake collected, according to information from city spokesperson Cary Zayas.
Guerra initially told employees in early April he was considering leaving his post to take a position with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. Though he initially denied this to The Monitor, Zayas later confirmed Guerra had mentioned a possible move, but indicated nothing was set in stone.
“I’m always preparing to be potentially employed. That’s how executives are,” Guerra said Friday. “That’s the difference between someone that succeeds in life and someone that doesn’t. They’re actually trying to progress and prove themselves.”
Guerra also confirmed on Friday he had been spending time at the hospital over the last few weeks during city business hours, saying he was there as an observer and viewed this as an opportunity to improve relationships.
“I couldn’t go to another organization to see how they operate when it’s a major economic engine in the city?” Guerra responded about whether his time there was appropriate in both his capacity as city manager and as a candidate for a position at the hospital. “I should maybe just send emails?”
Doctors Hospital at Renaissance has declined to comment on its relationship with Guerra.
“DHR Health does not reveal personnel information on employment or non employment of individuals,” a statement from the hospital read.
Molina also declined to comment about the city manager’s visits with another potential employer on city time.
Meanwhile, Guerra credited the All-America City Award experience in Denver last week as his reason to stay. He gushed about seeing the city, university and community members working together for the competition, which the city of Edinburg did not win after all.
“We created a beautiful presentation that really highlighted the greatness of this city,” Guerra said. “It’s something that made me proud (and) should make the community proud.
“It allowed me to see that there’s a reason to be in Edinburg. I’m proud to be here, and hopefully continue its progress and growth.”