Hiring a new city manager may not happen until November, according to the city’s human resources assistant director, who told the City Council on Tuesday that the search must be  thorough.

The City Council on Tuesday approved issuing a request for qualifications to find a search firm to begin the process, but it will take several months to get close to a final candidate.

“It is a very large process – it’s a very big undertaking and so we take it very seriously,” said Mary Wiggins, assistant director of human resources. “We will be dedicating the time appropriate to be able to make sure that we’re hitting all the marks.”

The search firm that will help the city of El Paso select its next city manager must conduct four panels with different community groups, according to the request for proposals approved by City Council on Tuesday as it takes the next step in naming a permanent replacement for City Manager Tommy Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who was abruptly fired last month, is expected to depart at the end of June.

While the City Council voted unanimously to issue the request for proposals to find a firm to lead the search, some city representatives wanted assurance that they would still be able to provide input on the expectations for the search, and that council would get an opportunity to detail what characteristics they would like to see in the city manager candidates.

“I don’t want to limit ourselves (out of public participation),” said City Rep. Alexsandra Annello.

The hiring firm selected must also conduct background checks, screening of applicants and work with staff to schedule meet and greets with finalists.

City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez said she wants a guarantee from the firm that it will find proper candidates.

“If the first round (of candidates) is not meeting the needs of council – make sure that we put there that they’re going to guarantee that with no additional cost to the taxpayer, that they will bring back a second round or third round,” Hernandez said.

The process will involve issuing the request, selecting finalists and interviews with executive search committee panels appointed by the City Council before a finalist is presented to council, Wiggins said.

“Once we have the search firm on board, then we project that that search firm will be coming into El Paso,” Wiggins said, adding the search-firm finalist will then be meeting with the mayor and council and community to further define what to look for in candidates.

Wiggins said the city’s human resources department will be working with the firm throughout the process.

On March 14, Cary Westin was appointed to serve as interim city manager when Gonzalez’s term ends on June 29, although he could begin sooner if necessary.

Westin has been working 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. Westin was first hired by the city in 2014 and ended his tenure as a senior deputy city manager before retiring in May.

The City Council listens to a discussion about hiring a firm to search for a new city manager Tuesday March 28, 2023. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

The City Council voted to fire Gonzalez on Feb. 28 without cause and gave him his 120-day termination notice – a clause that was added to the city manager’s lucrative employment agreement in October.

Gonzalez was hired as El Paso’s second city manager in 2014, replacing Joyce Wilson. Gonzalez now makes about $442,000 a year and has received two pay raises since his annual evaluation and 5% merit increase last year, documents obtained by El Paso Matters through the Texas Public Information Act show.

The additional 1.25% minimum wage pay raises were given to Gonzalez in September and March, documents show. Gonzalez’s contract allows him to receive any pay raises or benefits other city employees receive.

His salary when he was first hired in 2014 was at about $239,000.

His controversial employment agreement also includes multiple benefits that have been added over the years that cost taxpayers about $269,000 annually, according to documents obtained by El Paso Matters. Those benefits include a $5 million life insurance policy, paid travel and expenses for an annual health exam in Dallas and multiple retirement benefits.

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...