PHARR’S GOT ITS NEW CITY MANAGER
By G. Romero Wendorf
By a unanimous vote last week, the Pharr City Commission made its interim City Manager Juan Guerra the city’s permanent go-to guy. If you got a problem, go see Juan. His cell number is…just kidding. But talking to him, one can tell, he’s eager to take the helm.
Doesn’t mean he’s liked by everyone. In fact, some still blame Guerra, and not his former boss, Fred Sandoval, for Fred’s departure from the city. Some say Guerra undermined Sandoval, even though one could argue that the former city manager undermined himself by actively campaigning for Pharr First instead of the winning slate Pharr Forward in this past May election.
While the race was running hot and heavy, Sandoval denied rumors that he actually had Pharr First campaign signs in his office.But he didn’t keep it a secret for which team he was rooting: Pharr First, the incumbents. And in a previous interview with The Advance just prior to the May election, Sandoval said, in effect, last time he checked, it was still his constitutional right to campaign for whomever he so chooses, as long as it was done off the clock, so to speak.
And during most of the campaign, Guerra wasn’t even at city hall, having taken personal time off to help his wife while she was nearing delivery of the family’s newest baby to the household (congrats, by the way).
Still the whispers persisted: Guerra’s out to get Fred and undermine him so he can get his job.
Surprising to most – Amos Hernandez coming out of nowhere to win the race with an underdog team backing him up – a new mayor and two new commissioners were sworn into office in May, still giving the Pharr First team the 4-3 majority. But then Commissioner Bobby Carrillo said he wasn’t going to live by this team concept, this slate mentality, and instead, he was going to decide each issue presented to the commission based on its own merits.
In Pharr, based on years and years of city politics linked to a slate mentality, this was perceived by some to be a relatively new and novel concept.
Apparently, the other three commissioners, Oscar Elizondo, Mario Bracamontes and Edmund Maldonado, have followed suit, based on last week’s unanimous vote to hire Guerra as the city’s new CM.
Because clearly, a month ago, if you had asked me if Elizondo was going to vote for Guerra as city manager, not only would I have said no, but I would have said (expletive) no. He and more than a few others felt that he had undermined Sandoval and there was no love lost for him. Hire anybody, just don’t let it be Juan Guerra.
Guerra, by the way, denied that he had ever undermined his former boss, but had simply, as the city’s chief financialoffice, spoken out when he disagreed with things he saw Sandoval doing, such as the money spent on the HubPhest without approval by the city commission. Among department heads loyal to Sandoval, Guerra was the odd man out.
This past Tuesday, however, when it came time to vote on the new city manager, Bobby Carrillo made the motion to approve Guerra, and Elizondo seconded it. A surprise to many. The vote was unanimous. So clearly, to say that this city commission is not working toward some sort of sense of unity would seem incorrect at this particular moment in time.
A NEW BEGINNING
Meanwhile, a new part-time city attorney has been hired (see story page 3). And there’s a new culture brewing inside city hall – more women in top positions.
Prior to this month, the only woman who could conceivably be considered to be in a top position inside Pharr city hall was the city clerk, Hilda Pedraza. Now, count them, there are four: Karla Moya, interim financedirector; Melanie Cano, development services director; Patricia Rigney, city attorney; and Cathy Jones, internal auditor consultant.
To round out this story, The Advance News interviewed Guerra to findout where he goes from here.
Okay, so give us some background.
Guerra: “I am 37 years old, born in Chicago. My parents sacrificed what they had and moved us to McAllen in 1992 in order to avoid the bad influences that were beginning to come around us. “I spent my first year of high school in McHi where I played football. I ended up graduating from Nikki Rowe. I worked as a bag boy and cashier at HEB, and finally a cook for What A Burger before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private.
“I spent four years in the logistical field, reporting to the Commanding General about his combat readiness. should he need to deploy for war. I was meritoriously promoted twice and had a successful military term. I was honorably discharged in 2000, but the day after Sept. 11, 2001, I volunteered to go to war. I did request to be called up only if they were going to send me to war, I was that angry at what happened to America on Sept.11. I was not sent overseas, and I did not go to war. Instead, the military used the members they called up from reserves to replace the active-duty Marines so that they could go to war,
“I ended up being a Military Policeman for Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington DC for six months before being honorably discharged once again.
“My non-military professional career includes being an accountant and then finance director for the City of Pharr, then the City of Sherman, and then as the accounting manager for the City of Fort Worth.
“I came to Pharr in July 2007 as the finance director where I worked hard to straighten up the city’s cash management, finances, budget, and audit. I was promoted to chief financia officer in October 2012 where the duties of Pharr Bridge Director were given to me shortly thereafter.”
Okay, here’s an easy question. How do you see your role as city manager now that you have the full-time gig?
Guerra: “My role as the city manager is to work with the elected officials to roll out their vision for the city, to understand their priorities and use the resources at my disposal to get them done in a legal, organized, fair, and fiscally responsible way. I understand that no one elected the city manager; they elected the mayor and commissioners to represent them, and I try to manage with that in mind. I have the honor to work for the citizens of Pharr at the will of the elected officials.
"What I want the Pharr community to know about me is that I am a respectful and humble man qualified for the position of city manager. I am a man who is not perfect. I am sure there might be silly rumors out there. But I am not a man who beats his wife, abuses his children, robs, nor steals. Through the proper upbringing, my parents gave me, I have learned what it means to work hard and that everyone deserves respect regardless of their title or position in an organization. My father sacrificedand worked two to three laborious jobs at a time; one as a mower for the City of McAllen when we moved here from Chicago, so that we could have a good life. I am eternally grateful to him for being a good example to me.
“Through my years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, I learned professionalism, ethics, responsible conduct, dedication, and being principled doing right from wrong. Several times in my career, to include in Pharr, I stood alone, and at times against my supervisors in my attempt to make the right decisions regardless of their consequences in my career.”
Finally, what improvements to the city do you foresee during your time as city manager?
Guerra: Please allow me to list them in bullet-point fashion:
I have emphasized leadership in everything we do. For example, during the recent floods in Edinburg, I went out to see the effect of Pharr’s efforts to provide assistance. It was relayed to me that this new leadership method was new to Pharr and appreciated by those providing the assistance. To understand my point of view on leadership, research the U.S. Marine’s 11 Leadership Principles.
I increased the professional appearance of our senior management by requiring them to dress the part. Gone are the days of untucked shirts, jeans, and gone are the days of polo shirts as normal business attire. If we expect a professional salary and treatment, we must at the minimum look the part.
I have required directors to come in to work on time in an effort to lead by example to their employees and the citizens.
I developed the City of Pharr’s Executive Management Leadership Program. This is a one-year apprentice program for qualified city directors. Commissioners and directors will interview the applicants before finally being selected by the mayor and myself. The winning applicant will be the next assistant city manager for a one-year term; his/her assistant director will then assume 100 percent of the duties of the director’s position. The goal is to increase the city’s pool of management and leadership skills at two levels of management. After several years of this program, the city can easily promote from within due to the amount of qualified leaders, and the employees will be more experienced and capable for the next step in their careers. The first apprentice should be selected (soon).
I have made myself available for the employees, elected officials, and citizens to meet with and communicate. This seemingly simple task is one that I take serious and have done in contrast to the past.
I am implementing a monthly team building program, led by a different department director every time. I recognize the fact that I cannot be successful without a good team, and I also recognize that the team is made up of Pharr employees. While I increased the expectations of the departments, I must also provide an opportunity for them to unite in a way that will force them to work together for a common goal.
I am in the process of getting back into compliance with our City Charter. I am preparing a 5- and 10-year Capital Improvement Plan to fix the city’s infrastructure and park assets. I am not aware that this plan was ever established, but is a requirement and is needed. I will also evaluate the directors and present the evaluation to the city commission. This has not happened in several years for whatever reason.
I have communicated and set up a series of meetings to help management oversight of public safety, Capital Improvement Projects, and culture and recreation activities. This new activity provides something that was in need: management oversight. These are needed in an attempt to eliminate duplication of efforts, improve communication, and share resources when it comes to public safety activities, and when it comes to culture and recreation activities. Something seemingly simple had not taken place and has already proven fruitful.
Monthly management reports are now required by every department in an effort to have oversight of activity by the city manager. I cannot find evidence of any real departmental oversight by the city manager, and I needed to fix this. Included in the monthly management reports, the departments must provide a calendar of events and performance/activity indicators. The indicators are needed as a first phase in the overall goal of benchmarking Pharr operations with those viewed as best in operations. This will assist with my management goal of continual process improvement as well as budget growth validation.
Emergency Management is being emphasized. Departments will be prepared for an emergency; we will update our Emergency Management annexes and conduct table top exercises in preparation; our citizens deserve for us to be prepared and ready to take care of them in the case of a hurricane or other emergency.
In an effort to reach out to the community, I revamped the City Hall on Call operations by merging it with the Fire Block Party program. The City Hall on Call operation saw roughly 5 to 20 citizens throughout the whole day, which is a good idea but not effective execution. The Fire Block Party sees roughly 100 to 200 citizens through their two or three hours of operation.
Plans are in place to increase the community involvement with the city in a meaningful way. I am planning on bringing back the Historical Board, the Main Street Board, and a new Tourism Board, all in order to assist with the use of Hotel/Motel funds.
•ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE CHANGE:
The Golf Course is requiring the city to invest anywhere from $600,000 to $700,000 annually. That is not sustainable and is in need of change. The Community Development Block Grant Director recently retired; this left a director’s slot open. Understanding the City of Pharr, I was able to make changes that will allow for operations to continue. I put the Golf Course under the Parks & Recreation department in order to eliminate overhead, and I transferred the golf course director to be the new Community Development Block Grant director, having a net effect of almost zero.
•ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE CHANGE:
The City has roughly 600 to 700 employees depending on seasonality, but with no Human Resource professional. In an effort to professionalize the city and adequately take care of our employees, a new Human Resource Director position was asked for and approved. We are currently in the process of advertising for the position.
• CHECKS & BALANCE ON CITY MANAGER:
To begin the process of setting up proper checks and balances on the city manager position, and to begin a true fraud reporting program, I recommended that we start that process by hiring the City of McAllen’s previous internal auditor as a consultant so that this new operation could begin. The Commission approved the contract during the last Commission meeting.