Interim city manager shares final thoughts before departure

Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 12:59 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - The City of Laredo finds itself once again in a situation all too familiar—without a city manager. This after Interim City Manager, Keith Selman, cut short his contracted term of ten months citing personal reasons, which means the city has now had six city managers—either permanent or interim, in the last eight years, since 2014. Each of them leaving within two years, and not fulfilling their contract. So, what will it take for the city to keep its city manager long term? According to Selman, it all comes down to one issue.

“If everybody could get their oars in the water and decide to row in the same direction. I think that’s one of our biggest problems. Everyone gets their oars in the water, but not everybody’s trying to row in the same direction, some are trying to go that way, some are trying to go that way” Selman said.

Selman stated that to get everyone to “paddle” the same direction, it lies with a city manager who is willing to stand their ground.

“You need to be willing to plant your feet” Selman said. At a city council meeting, an employee went before council and addressed what she said is a toxic work environment at city hall, filled with manipulation and micromanaging by external factions.

Selman addressed the employee’s concern.

“Proud of her that she had the courage to come forward and express things that were on her heart, and things that were concerning to her with city government,” Selman said.

Coming forward with concerns though doesn’t fix the issue. According to Selman, that’s the city manager’s job. So, as City Council mulls over the process of hiring a new manager, we asked Selman what characteristics the right person should have.

“That’s a complex question,” Selman responded. “Characteristics are—you just go across the gamut: capable, competent, certain skills, what skills? You know, that’s what you’re asking? What should the skill-sets be? It’s just hard to put a finger on all of them, but I would say you want someone who’s comfortable in their own skin.”

Selman believes says a good manager should fit the four areas: work with the city as a whole, work with councilmembers individually, fit with the organization itself, and fit with the community.

“Is the city manager right for the community at large, because not every city manager is going to be the right fit for the community.” Selman said.

While all these characteristics are important, Selman says it’s going to take more than just that. He says the new city manager should create an environment that rewards initiative, instead of punishing failure, which he says has been the norm.

“What can happen is—this happens in organizations periodically—that punishment, failures are punished to a greater degree than successes are rewarded,” he said. “Particularly happens in government because we don’t have those mechanisms for rewards, we don’t have bonuses, we can’t just start doing things like that, and if failures are punished to a greater degree, then you stop seeing initiative.”

Through initiative, as history has shown us, is what leads a city to greatness.

In looking at the number of years other city managers have served, in the past 8 years, Corpus Christi has had three, while San Antonio has had two—with the first retiring after 14 years. When it comes to McAllen, however—which Laredo seems to be compared to often— since 2014, they’ve only had one city manager, with the previous manager having served the city for 22 years.

Over the last couple of weeks, City Council has held two workshops to discuss the process of hiring the next city manager. For now, Deputy City Manager, Rosario Cabello, is serving as Interim City Manager.

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