Cary Westin will assume the role of interim city manager when Tommy Gonzalez’s employment ends in late June, although he could take over sooner if necessary.

“It’s a big honor to be selected by the council for this position. I understand the importance of what I’m being asked to do,” Westin said after the El Paso City Council on Tuesday voted 7 to 1 to appoint him interim while it searches for a permanent replacement.

City Rep. Henry Rivera voted against the appointment, and along with other city representatives expressed concern that Mayor Oscar Leeser didn’t include him in the selection process before placing the item on the agenda. Westin’s appointment comes after Gonzalez was suddenly fired in late February and given a 120-day termination notice.

Westin, 59, a retired Army colonel, joined the city in 2014 and retired in May because of some ongoing family health issues, he said. Westin served as the managing director of economic development from 2014 to 2019 and was appointed as deputy city manager in 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was promoted to senior deputy city manager in 2019. He previously worked with the Borderplex Alliance and the Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Westin has worked for the city part time as a senior operations officer under Gonzalez since August. He’s currently paid about $106 an hour – up to $2,020 a week – for part-time work, according to his employment agreement obtained by El Paso Matters through the Texas Public Information Act. The contract stipulates that his salary is capped at $110,000 annually and that he does not receive any other city employee benefits.

In October, the city added a $400 monthly car allowance and $250 monthly expense allowance to his agreement, documents show.

Westin said the city has not determined his compensation as interim city manager, but he said he will likely begin working full time for the city before he officially takes on the role. That may require a change to his current employment contract.

Gonzalez now makes about $431,000 a year, although his salary when he was first hired in 2014 was at about $239,000. His controversial contract includes a slew of benefits, including a $5 million life insurance policy, paid travel and expenses for an annual health exam in Dallas and at least $20,000 in deferred compensation paid in a lump sum every January.

Westin did not say whether he would apply for the permanent job.

“My focus right now is on what I’ve been asked to do and that’s to be the best interim city manager that I can be and really focus on maximizing the time that I’ve got available with Tommy Gonzalez,” Westin said.

El Paso city Rep. Henry Rivera, center, listens to a presentation during a Monday City Council meeting. At left is city Rep. Art Fierro and city Rep. Chris Canales at right. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

While the city representatives expressed confidence in Westin, some raised questions about the transparency of the process.

Leeser, who placed the item on the agenda, said he first met with Westin and City Attorney Karla Nieman multiple times. Westin said he told the mayor he’d consider the offer during their first meeting and agreed to take the position during their second meeting.

“It’s the process that was carried out that makes it look shady,” Rivera said. “To place this item on the agenda you go back to when Mr. Gonzalez was terminated without cause. You go back to that same cloud – the black cloud hanging over this council.”

City Reps. Chris Canales, Cassandra Hernandez and Rivera, who voted against firing Gonzalez, wanted to have formal input in the selection of the interim city manager.

“I can’t ignore the fact that there has been no process here and so I’m certainly disappointed in the way this was approached,” Hernandez said, adding she felt the move was not inclusive or transparent. “All members of council should be involved in this process and in discussion of it – so I just wanted to share those concerns, but I did want to lend my support to Mr. Westin.”

City Reps. Brian Kennedy and Joe Molinar, who led the effort to fire Gonzalez, did not express concerns about Leeser’s effort to appoint Westin.

“I think that we would do well to have Col. Westin calm the waters and act as the bridge and provide the comfort and expertise that he brings to the table,” Kennedy said.

Molinar said to Westin, who was in council chambers, “welcome aboard.”

What’s next

The City Council also wanted input on the process to hire the next permanent city manager and discussed that item in executive session for about an hour and a half. The council then voted in public to have city staff meet individually with city representatives to brief them on what has been done in the past and what other cities have done ahead of hiring a national search firm.

The motion passed unanimously with city Rep. Art Fierro not present for the vote.

Canales said he wants to have another discussion about the process in public in two weeks.

In 2014, the City Council developed a city manager search committee and hired a national firm to find a replacement for Joyce Wilson, who was retiring after 10 years on the job. Part of the process included community input and the four finalists, including Gonzalez, meeting with the public.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...