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Quick interview with the Pharr mayor

Fred Sandoval turns down EDC job

By G. Romero Wendorf

Big surprise for most people: former Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval refused the city’s offer to keep him on the payroll as director of the Pharr Economic Development Corporation. He resigned as city manager May 26, but in his resignation letter, he asked that he be reassigned as executive director of the EDC “subject to the finalnegotiation of an agreed upon employment contract for the position.”

His letter read: The severance package should consist of the following components:

  1. 18 months full pay – one month for every year of city service.
  2. Retirement from the City of Pharr with full benefitsto include retiree health insurance.
  3. All accrued annual and sick leave to be paid in full at my current rate of pay.
  4. Any and all other city approved retiree benefitsas per personnel policies and city ordinances.

If you add up Sandoval’s 18 months of full pay, according to city records, with benefits,that equals more than $400,000.

This week, there was a rumor floating around city hall, if you want to call it that, that Sandoval may have made a mistake in his letter of resignation by making use  of the word “should” as opposed to “will” or “shall.” In other words, at this point in time, he’s got no hold on the city, no contract, other than the vacation time and sick leave he’s due.

One of his supporters, City Commissioner Oscar Elizondo discounted that rumor this Tuesday, saying he doubts that there’s going to be any problem with Sandoval getting a severance package, but he doubts if it will be 18 months. More like 12 months perhaps, he said.

“At this point, I’m not absolutely sure what’s going to happen” he said by phone Tuesday. On this week’s agenda, however, (Tuesday night), Sandoval’s name is not mentioned. And at this point in time, since he walked away from his job with the PEDC last week, he’s got no contract with the city or pending contract. Nor does he have a valid contract with the PEDC. In other words, he’s completely without a job at this point in time.

To get a handle on exactly where the city is with regard to the former city manager who spent 18 years with the city, The Advance News Journal spoke by phone this Monday with Mayor “Amos” Hernandez:

Okay, so the deal with Fred obviously didn't work out. He had the deadline until last week to make a decision as to whether or not he was going to accept the EDC offer…I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday at 5 p.m… to let the city know if he was going to accept the contract proposal at the EDC.

Hernandez: “Correct.”

What day was that? Wednesday

Hernandez: “Tuesday at 5:00.” 

Okay, and he didn't send any word at all? 

Hernandez: “At 4:51, he sent an e-mail to me saying that he declined the offer.” 

Okay, declined the offer. The offer, as proposed, it was for $150,000, if I recall. Correct?

Hernandez: The proposal was for 150 (thousand dollars per year), plus incentives, so he could go up to ($175,000 per year).”

Okay. Was there a time attached to the contract? Was it one year or two years, or what? 

Hernandez: “It was a four-year contract with a yearly evaluation.”

All right. Since that happened last week, now where does the process go?

Hernandez: “If you got a copy of the (severance) letter, take a look at it, because when he writes we ‘should’ give him a severance package, that doesn't mean we're going to.”

Okay, so what you’re saying is, the word “should” give him a severance package doesn't mean the city is going to. It’s not on this week’s agenda, so where do you go from here?

Hernandez: “Nothing. I'm just going to let it die. I'm not bringing it up. If nobody's bringing it up, I'm not bringing it up.”

Okay, so Fred is sitting there thinking that he's got a severance package coming, but you're saying that you're just going to let it die. How is that going to work? He's under the opinion that he deserves a severance package. 

Hernandez: “Right. That's his opinion, his request.”

Right, and the resignation letter is sitting there with the word "should" in it.

Hernandez: “Right, and I'm saying that’s fine,the (city commission) has a right to look at it and consider his severance package, but ‘should’ means (a whole lot of things). It could be a one-day severance pack or it could be a 20-year severance package, or 18 months' work in all those items, but we haven't finalied what those items are and what it's going to be, and so ... we still need to go back and look at the proposed severance package and finalizeone. We need to put it in the (city commission) agenda once we finalizedthis so we can move on. But we're not anywhere near finalizingit.” 

So there are still many things to be discussed before the city hands him a finalcheck and says goodbye?

Hernandez: “That is to be worked out because we expect him to act professional. Upon departure, we expected him, without being asked, to turn in all records relating to his job, and all the different departments he was overseeing, none of which he did. 

“Furthermore, when he was (in that two weeks' notice period), I kept asking him, ‘I need to know where we are with certain projects.’ An example was the Produce District. I wanted to know any and all details: how we got the total district, where we're at, where the financialstudies were, who the buyers were, put it together so we can see it, and in that two-week period he still didn't turn it in. It wasn't until I pressed Tony (assistant EDC director Sandoval, no relation) that we're having a meeting, that he (Tony Sandoval) puts everything together in a file.He readily admits that he doesn't know all the details about these files,which tells me there was no communication (between the two of them).”

I think there is a proposal on the table for at least three of those produce lots, is there not?

Hernandez: “Theoretically, there are three. We got the binder this Saturday, and theoretically there are proposals for three to be sold at the low-market value.” 

If I recall correctly, each of those produce slots is comprised of three acres, and if I remember correctly, the city paid $60,000 per acre, correct?

Hernandez: “And they were worth 30 (thousand per acre). Without any upgrade. Without any infrastructure in place.”

Have you seen the proposal and is the proposal for the three lots $30,000 per acre?

Hernandez: “I don’t know. We just got the proposal last Saturday.”

All right. In your position, is if you sell the lots, you want the city to at least break even, correct?

Hernandez: “We would like to at least break even. You just can’t be in a hurry to sell. There is always a good deal, you just have to wait and do your due diligence and people will show up.”

Switching topics entirely, what's the plan going forward with the police department? I think you mentioned that you would look to bring in an outside agency to review the department, go through the department’s filesin light of some of the recent complaints and lawsuits filedagainst it. Do a complete audit of the department, in other words. Has the city already started that process? Maybe asked the Texas Rangers to come in and do the review?

Hernandez: “Not yet. They want more details.”

Okay. Last question, a lot of people are happy that the commissioners re-introduced public comments to the city commission meetings, but are you now going to lay down some rules as to what people may and may not say?

Hernandez: “You can't be calling people names.You can't be using vulgar language, it is just common courtesy. You got three minutes (to speak).”

Final note: Fred Sandoval politely declined comment for this story.

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