Rio Grande City to move forward with employment contracts

The Rio Grande City commissioners voted to move forward with a plan to grant employment contracts to their police and fire chiefs with a strong indication they planned to eventually do the same for all department heads.

During a city meeting on Wednesday, the commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to grant contracts to both chiefs but the details of those contracts are still be finalized and will be approved at a later date.

The commissioners mulled the issue during a meeting two weeks ago but, at the time, the proposal also included contracts for all department directors.

Such a move would have been unprecedented in the state, interim City Secretary Melissa Garza told the commissioners at the time.

“When I spoke to a representative from TML (Texas Municipal League), they did say that in the whole state of Texas, there isn’t a single municipality that has contracts for directors, they are all at-will,” Garza said during the Aug. 12 meeting. “The only ones that usually have contracts are just your city managers and your city attorneys, so they said that they really don’t recommend it because nobody in the state of Texas has ever done it.”

When asked to comment on the issue, a spokesperson for TML said they don’t have a position and referred questions to the city’s attorney.

But during Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Joel Villarreal said they were only addressing contracts for the chiefs at this time but assured directors weren’t forgotten.

“At this point, we’re considering the police and fire chief and then, at that point, looking at all the other directors as well,” Villarreal said.

Despite TML’s advisement against implementing employment agreements with all department heads, Villarreal said he was in favor of doing so to prevent losing key staff to other cities.

“Rio Grande City is in an excellent position because of our staff, because of the leadership of our city commission,” the mayor said, “but I go back mainly to our staff because they’re the ones that are out there day in and day out.”

For those reasons, City Commissioner Hernan Garza argued that they shouldn’t just approve contracts for the chiefs.

“We need to consider the rest of the department heads, mayor,” Garza said. “If we’re going to do this, I don’t think it’s fair because they all do a good job and they’re all part of the same group that has the city where it’s at.”

Commissioner Rey Ramirez said he agreed but reminded Garza that that was on hold pending the resolution of some concerns — likely having to do with TMLs recommendations and trying to minimize the likelihood of legal challenges to those contracts.

After voting to move forward with contracts for the chiefs, Villarreal asked City Attorney Calixtro Villarreal to look into how to proceed with doing the same for the directors.

“There are individuals who have placed us in the position where we’re at and they work day in and day out,” Villarreal said, adding that he wanted the city to commit to them and also provide job security.

“We have such valued directors that I really want them to stay with Rio Grande City and for them not to be poached by other entities or businesses wanting to have the staff that we have,” he said. “And by us committing to them as well, it’s saying something.”