Forty-seven percent or 18 of the City of Odessa’s 38 department heads have been replaced since the beginning of the year.
According to records obtained by the Odessa American under the Texas Public Information Act, 11 of the positions were filled from within, six of the 18 new department heads were brand new hires and one department head had previously worked for the city and came back.
Within the last five weeks, the city has filled three positions left vacant for months, the directors of finance, risk management and public works.
An assistant city manager position remains open, but City Manager John Beckmeyer, who joined the city in August, said they are close to filling it.
How did the city come to have 18 open positions in the upper echelons of city hall?
City manager Michael Marrero and City Attorney Natasha Brooks were terminated Dec. 13 and in the weeks and months following that, Director of Information Technologies Michael Parrish and Director of Risk Management Enedelia Ortiz were fired, at least four department heads quit and seven more retired.
The promotion of Billings and Collections Director Gapi Bernal to interim city manager and then to Deputy City Manager also opened up a position.
City Secretary Norma Grimaldo Aguilar is the longest serving department head, she assumed her position in September 1998. Jason Wells, lab manager, has been in his position since 2004.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual average job opening rate in state and local government has ranged from as low as 2.6% in 2018 to as high as 4.5% in 2022.
Beckmeyer has a glass-full take on the numbers.
“I actually don’t see it as a bad thing and it’s nothing personal or anything degrading or anything like that from the older department heads,” Beckmeyer said. “Sometimes it’s actually a good thing, I believe, to get new eyes looking at situations. I don’t look at it as a downside and I also see the quality of the department heads we have now.”
New Communications Director Monica McDaniel has been able to eliminate some duplication of services between all of the different city departments and new Equipment Services Director Chris Adams will be saving the city money by creating a city tire shop, Beckmeyer said. It’s also because of Adams that the city will now save money by refueling its vehicles in-house, he added.
The tire changing shop will save the city around $50,000 a month alone, Beckmeyer said.
He also sang the praises of new Finance Director Kaylie Banda, who he described as being “super dynamic” and having a “wealth of experience in finance.” He picked her to make sure the city is in a good position far into the future.
Not only did the City of Odessa lose Larry Fry to retirement this year, but it also lost to retirement Assistant City Manager Cindy Muncy, who handled a lot of the finances for the city. A handful of other finance department staff members also quit this year.
“I don’t want the next city manager to come in to what I came into without a finance director because it’s not like having just one hand tied behind your back, but both of them,” Beckmeyer said. “I was without a finance department. I had two great accountants that I’d give my arm for…they kept things afloat above and beyond what they should have ever been asked to do. They did it and never blinked and I was fortunate to have a couple of consultants that could come in that had experience with Odessa.”
Beckmeyer is also pleased the city now has an internal auditor, Kayla Hardy, for the first time in a long time.
Sometimes it’s easy for employees to become so entrenched they simply continue to do things a certain way because that’s the way they were always done, Beckmeyer said.
“It’s not that uncommon to see a turnover when there’s a change in administrations and so some of that I’m just gonna chalk it up to that also,” he said.
While it’s true the city lost a lot of experience and institutional knowledge over the last year, Beckmeyer said the depth of experience under most of the department heads is impressive and that has helped a great deal with the changes.
“I don’t have the average time in service, but I went around the first couple of weeks I went to every department, tried to meet every employee…In department after department, we had employees with 20 to 40 years experience. Well, that kind of depth is such a tool that a manager that may not have that depth can use while still bringing new ideas that aren’t just within the City of Odessa.”
The day after the city council fired Marrero and Brooks, Mayor Javier Joven hired T2 Professional Consulting to help the council hire Marrero’s replacement, to evaluate city staffing levels and to provide training sessions for department heads and other city staff.
City records show 12 of the new hires came aboard after T2’s training sessions ended in May.
Although T2’s contract was for $338,000, the company was paid roughly $250,000 after finishing the scope of their work early.
Asked about the perception that money was somewhat ill spent, Beckmeyer said, “It’s understandable that you’re asking that question. I’m not deaf to that. But I’m gonna move forward with what’s best for the team in the city and if (T2 Managing Member) Mike Wilson comes and says, ‘Look, we have this training that’s going to benefit everybody in the city’ and he can quantify that or even just qualify that, then we’ll consider. But, I don’t want to be limited to one set of consultants and then not give what my team members here need to get to do a better job or to do their job.”
Beckmeyer acknowledged the city has a significant number of positions that need to be filled below the department head level in multiple departments.
“If I didn’t say that provides a certain level of stress I wouldn’t be being honest. The ones that… to use the cliche keep you up at night is where we have trouble in our safety services, recruiting and retaining employees,” Beckmeyer said.
However, he is hopeful a recent decision to overhaul the Odessa Police Department’s pay steps will help OPD become more competitive.
“The two main things is it helps our officers out from a financial standpoint and a mobility standpoint and it’s budget neutral, it doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything,” Beckmeyer said.
As for other departments, Beckmeyer said the council recently approved 4% raises and the city’s new Director of Risk Management Yvette Griffin is working toward obtaining better insurance for staff members.
“One of the things I’ve heard in the community and heard here, you know, within the city itself is we don’t feel like we have the best insurance that we can get,” Beckmeyer said. “Well, that’s truly a problem. We need to rectify that because you know as well as I do anymore that insurance is a huge part of your job.”
While there has been a lot of turnover, Beckmeyer said he prefers to look toward the future, not the past.
The bottom line?
“I’m just so positive on the management team that we’re building,” Beckmeyer said.
New City Department Heads and Dates in Position
- Billings and Collections Manager Rogelio Salcido, May 14
- City Attorney Dan Jones, April 16
- City Manager John Beckmeyer, August 10
- Director of Communications Monica McDaniel, Feb. 21
- Director of Development Elizabeth Shaughnessy, April 3
- Director of Finance Kaylie Banda, Nov. 13
- Director of Information Technology Tony Flores, July 23
- Director of Parks and Recreation Max Reyes, June 5
- Director of Public Works Joseph Tucker, Oct. 29
- Director of Risk Management Yvette Griffin, Nov. 15
- Director of Utilities Kevin Niles, July 5
- Equipment Services Manager Chris Adams, May 30
- Executive Director Downtown Odessa Martha Prieto, April 30
- Fire Chief Jason Cotton, April 16
- Fire Marshal Omar Galindo, Aug. 6
- Planning Manager Maria Prieto, June 11
- Storm Water Program Manager Monica Fuentez, June 25
- Deputy City Manager Agapito Bernal, Aug. 6