San Benito releases five candidates’ names for top job

dfwnewsa | November 11, 2023 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

San Benito releases five candidates’ names for top job

SAN BENITO — San Benito’s new city manager “stood out” from a field of candidates interviewed for the job, commissioners said Friday.

In response to the Valley Morning Star’s open records request, city officials have released the names of five candidates whom the city’s new commission interviewed for the job before unanimously selecting City Manager Fred Sandoval, Pharr’s former city manager who took office about two weeks ago.

The five candidates whom commissioners interviewed for the job included Art Rodriguez, a former San Benito assistant city manager who became a previous commission’s runner-up for the job that went to past City Manager Manuel De La Rosa in late 2015.

Ever since, many residents following the city’s politics considered Rodriguez in line to become San Benito’s next city manager.

Other candidates whom commissioners interviewed included Robert Eads, a former Laredo city manager; George Antuna, a former Eagle Pass city manager; and Juan Cedillo, a former Edcouch city manager.

During an Oct. 21 meeting, commissioners interviewed the candidates, each posing two questions during 30-minute interviews.

“Each one of us had two questions for each candidate,” Mayor Rick Guerra said Friday in an interview. “We tried to make it as equal as we could.”

Guerra was he wanted commissioners to make unanimous selection.

“I told the commission, ‘We need to be unanimous,’” he said. “‘We need to show the people we can work together to move forward — and the person we pick, we’re going to be behind you.’”

After the four-hour meeting, commissioners picked Sandoval for the job, Commissioner Tom Goodman said.

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“It was a great four-hour meeting with us interviewing candidates, and the conclusion left everybody feeling good,” he said.

During the interviews, Sandoval “stood out,” Commissioner Pete Galvan said.

“They were all good candidates,” he said. “All five were qualified. All had different backgrounds. It was just who stood out the most.”

Galvan said Sandoval’s work as Pharr’s city manager set him apart.

“It was his experience in economic development,” he said. “I think that’s the driving force for a city’s revenue stream. With revenue, you can focus on infrastructure.”

Galvan said commissioners rallied around Sandoval.

“The commission came together,” he said. “We all wanted a unanimous decision. We didn’t want a split vote.”

Like Galvan, Guerra said Sandoval’s work in Pharr helped lead to his selection.

“Each one had their own message to bring to San Benito, but Fred was a little bit different,” Guerra said. “We were impressed he had been in Pharr for 11 years. He had experience in EDC. He was able to bring in some major stores — Papadeaux’s and Costco. He had experience in water and sewer and finances. He was an all-around candidate who knew what was going on.”

Goodman pointed to what he described as Sandoval’s many strengths.

“I felt his energy level was good,” he said. “I felt his understanding of economic development and water issues stood out as well. I also felt his ability to bring the commission together was superior.”

Sandoval, who served as Pharr’s city manager from 2004 to 2015 before taking over as owner of Sylvan Learning from 2016 to 2021, had been serving as chief executive officer with Renryder Solutions since 2021 while working as a field consultant with Strategic Partnerships in Austin since 2022, his LinkedIn profile states.

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The profile states he studied biology at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley from 1990 to 1991.

The office of the city manager is pictured Friday, June 2, 2023, at the San Benito Municipal Building in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The candidates

In December 2015, a previous commission narrowly selected De La Rosa over Rodriguez for the city manager’s job.

During a meeting, then-Mayor Celeste Sanchez cast a tie-breaking vote after then-Commissioners Rene Villafranco and Joe D. Gonzalez voted to give the job to De La Rosa while then-Commissioners Tony Gonzalez and Estaban Rodriguez voted against the selection.

Rodriguez, who had served as the city’s assistant city manager, had previously overseen the police and fire departments while also serving as Civil Service director and human resources director following a career in federal government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

After resigning his job as assistant city manager, Rodriguez landed Eagle Pass’ city manager’s job in January 2017, serving a year before resigning following a job evaluation nearly a year later.

In October 2021, the San Benito Housing Authority’s board of directors appointed Rodriguez interim executive director before naming him the agency’s new director.

Earlier this year, Rodriguez resigned after the board placed him on paid administrative leave, board member Orlando Lopez confirmed in an interview.

Rodriguez holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Mountain State University in Beckley, West Virginia, and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Aspen University in Colorado.

Among the candidates, Eads took Laredo’s city manager’s job in March 2020 after serving as interim city manager since February 2019.

In January 2022, Eads, who had previously served as Laredo’s assistant city manager, resigned “effective (immediately)” and “without cause,” according to KGNS-TV.

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In Laredo, he had previously served as the Chamber of Commerce’s chief operations officer for 10 years.

During his career, he had also served as city manager in Del Rio and in San Luis, Arizona.

In San Benito, Eads was a candidate for the San Benito city manager’s job that went to De La Rosa in December 2015.

A Marine veteran, Eads holds a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and a master’s degree in business administration from Sul Ross University.

In Eagle Pass, Antuna, a consultant, replaced Rodriguez as city manager in 2019, going to serve more than three years before resigning after a job evaluation, according to the Eagle Pass Business Journal.

Antuna holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

In his career in city government, Cedillo served as city manager in Edcouch, Taft, Elsa and Floresville, his LinkedIn profile states.

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