May 22, 2024

Mission council to discuss city manager exit after finance controversy – Progress Times

The Mission City Council will discuss at a special meeting Thursday the departure of City Manager Randy Perez and the appointment of an interim to replace him.

The leadership change follows significant cash flow discussions prompted by the discovery of a few million dollars in sales tax money the city withheld from its economic development corporation.

The city posted an agenda for the special meeting Sunday afternoon.

The council will discuss a retirement letter from Perez and possibly a severance agreement, along with the appointment of an interim city manager.

Perez declined to comment Sunday, saying he’d like to spend Christmas Eve with his family.

Mayor Norie Garza said the city had no statement on the meeting.

Perez stepped in as acting city manager in December of 2018 following the abrupt retirement of Martin Garza.

The council promoted Perez to the permanent position in February of 2019.

A veteran city employee, Mission honored Perez for 20 years of service with the municipality just last week.

It’s not clear when Perez’s departure will be effective or what exactly precipitated it — though an awful lot of cash flow talk related to those millions of dollars in withheld EDC funds definitely preceded it.

When the city’s debt to the EDC was discovered isn’t clear; it certainly became a topic of conversation early this month.

The corporation told The Progress Times last week that it was discovered by its newly hired finance officer.

It’s a little difficult to put a precise number on what the city owed the EDC when that debt became apparent. Correspondence obtained by the Progress Times through open records requests shows city leadership trying to come up with that number for itself earlier this month.

A transfer made on December 8 says the city made about a $535,000 payment to the EDC related to those sales tax funds on a $4.478 million balance, although administrative correspondence prior to that transfer puts the corporation’s claim at about $3.4 million.

Last week, the city said it still owed the EDC $2.87 million.

Ezeiza Garcia, an assistant finance director, said in a message obtained through an open records request that she thought the city had been withholding EDC funds from April to September.

The issue appears to have garnered council attention sometime in early December.

On December 7, Assistant City Manager Andy Garcia sent Councilman Ruben Plata an email regarding a liquidity and cash flow analysis related to EDC funds.

By the next day, at least some of the EDC board had become aware of the debt.

Noel Salinas, who sits on the board and was making a doomed bid for city council, told the Progress Times about it that evening.

Mayor Garza characterized his comments as politically motivated and disputed the city “withholding” funds from the EDC, though iInternal city correspondence about the money uses that term.

Correspondence from the next day — a Saturday — shows staff looking for ways to rejigger its finances to pay the EDC debt.

“If these are funds that we do not typically receive and are out of the ordinary, then it would be additional cash flow we can apply to the claim on cash amount owed to the MEDC,” Assistant City Manager Andy Garcia wrote in an email that day to Perez and Finance Director Angie Vela.

At the time, the council was slated to meet that Wednesday and discuss finances in a special meeting.

That meeting never happened. It was canceled, and the city didn’t respond to questions about that cancellation.

Open records indicate council members were instead asked individually to discuss finances that Monday.

All that seems to have built up to Perez making a presentation on corrective action related to the withheld funds last week.

It wasn’t exceptionally lively.

Perez didn’t elaborate on what led to corrective action being necessary. Garza said after the meeting that Salinas’ remarks to the Progress Times caused it.

Plata, however, said he found discrepancies in the presentation and felt the council should consider the issue more, which it ultimately chose to do.

The council also discussed Perez behind closed doors in executive session that evening.

That agenda item caused enough of a stir that attendees openly discussed a possible shakeup in the lobby outside the council chambers.

The council took no action on Perez that night and didn’t discuss him in public.

Garza addressed rumors of Perez’s potential departure with the Progress Times on December 20, saying she wasn’t aware of his impending exit and wouldn’t be at liberty to comment if she was aware.

“I’m hoping that’s not true. He’s been a good city manager,” she said.

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