RGC mulls employment contracts for all directors, chiefs

The Rio Grande City commissioners are considering granting employment contracts to every city department director and chief, a move that would make them the first city in the state to have such contracts in place.

The city commissioners discussed the possible employment contracts during a city commission meeting on Aug. 12 but held off on voting on the matter until they had time to allow more time to look at the proposed contract and ask more questions.

A draft of the contract template included a one-year agreement for the employee with the option to extend the contract for three additional 12-month terms.

It also incorporates an evaluation process.

But the Texas Municipal League — an organization that advises municipalities throughout the state and promotes their interests — didn’t appear to support the move, interim City Secretary Melissa Garza told the commissioners.

“When I spoke to a representative from TML, they did say that in the whole state of Texas, there isn’t a single municipality that has contracts for directors, they are all at-will,” Garza said. “The only ones that usually have contracts are just your city managers and your city attorneys, so they said that they really don’t recommend it because nobody in the state of Texas has ever done it.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for TML said they don’t have a position and referred questions to the city’s attorney.

During the meeting, Victor Flores, an attorney working with City Attorney Calixtro Villarreal on the proposed contracts, told the commissioners there’s always the possibility of legal challenges when it comes to contracts.

“Anytime you have a contract, there’s some risk somebody’s going to try to pick it apart,” Flores said.

However, they tried to minimize the risk of that by incorporating the evaluation process and establishing set terms.

City Commissioners Rey Ramirez said the intent behind the contracts was to provide job security for employees.

“In every election, there’s people that fear for their jobs and whatnot,” Ramirez said, “and that was really the intent — to try to provide some security and efficiency to move forward and work together and work without fear of any type of retaliation.”

For Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal, the prospect of contracts is about making a commitment to their employees.

“We’re in the best position in the history of Rio Grande City and of course, all of it — and I say all of it — is due to our directors and the staff; they’re the ones that do the job,” Villarreal said. “We want to be able to keep our employees and for them not to be poached (by) other agencies because we want to keep them.”

He emphasized the city’s continued growth, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their need to keep their employees, especially those in key positions that require licensures or special certifications.

“We want to be attractive,” Villarreal said. “We want to make sure the positions are highly attractive, plus the job security, plus the value that we have on our employees.”