Aretha Ferrell- Benavides Remarks Regarding Termination


These remarks were read by her attorney, Craig Capua, at the Thursday evening Duncanville City Council Meeting:

Good evening, Mayor, City Council, staff, and members of the public.

It is with a heavy heart I have written these remarks. Just over two years, 1 Month and eight days ago, I began my first day of employment here in the City of Duncanville. An opportunity I looked forward to as it was a chance to come home and be near my 95-year-old grandmother, family, and friends.

I accepted this position, knowing that only 4 of the Councilmember initially voted to support me publicly, and many questioned whether the City was ready for an African American City Manager.

Most importantly, I applied for the job because a long-term friend of my family Paul Frederickson, then Interim City Manager/Assistant City Manager, reached out and asked me to apply for the position.

Even as the process progressed, slowly and with a few twist, Paul called regularly and encouraged me to stay in the process, stating that “we need you here in Duncanville.” Further, I got a call from a Duncanville Councilmember who encouraged me to remain in the process and offered his full support.

Ultimately, after being selected, I looked forward to accomplishing great things with Paul by my side, as I had done successfully in my previous two appointments as City Manager. Before my start date, I came to town and met with staff, Council and even members of the community to ensure I understood those I would serve and work with. With Paul, we talked about the type of leadership he felt was necessary while sharing his frustration with how things were going.

I first became nervous when I received a call from Paul a few weeks before my start to inform me prior to my selection he had decided to leave and had applied for a new job in which he was a finalist. He wanted me to know he was a finalist for the position and had an interview. Hearing the nervousness in my voice he promised he would try to stay if I was still coming. I committed to him I would come, and we would make a great team.

On February 23, 2021, I began my employment with the City excited about my new job. I would never have imagined just three weeks into my employment, Paul would share his frustrations with me about the job and, at 9:38 am the following day, text me he was going home to rest and clear his head at 11:52 am, and at noon that he would push through our meeting in the afternoon. On that day, by 3 pm, I would get a call from his family that he had died that afternoon. Even worse and more devasting was the discovery that he had not only passed but also taken his own life.

Well, today, when people attack, criticize, and place you in a place that, despite your continuous effort to serve the public, someone who you not only consider a supervisor, but respect would question your professional skill and integrity.

When Paul left me, I was left to navigate a maze within the City. Being the first black city manager and female, I knew my family and friends demanded excellence in leadership. After over 30 years of government service, that was just what I committed to doing. Unfortunately, I soon found an organization with an excellent team of people but many cracks in our system that could genuinely hurt the City. It was the beginning of a matric, and as soon as I thought we had diagnosed the problem, I was only getting a gimp of the real problem.

Although financially and operationally stable, Duncanville has benefited from consistent department leadership; it lacked an outside perspective that change often presents. This complacent behavior created a system with little oversight and external scrutiny.

With a team of highly qualified experts, have been working tireless hours to build on the City’s rich history while ensuring that it is solid and capable of competing in the future. Unfortunately, I have faced consistent internal and external racial tension. In a City lacking diversity in its employee ranks, it’s also a community for years that a group of close-net non-minority friends has run.

After the sudden departure/resignation of the previous 13-year Finance Director, the new interim Director immediately identified some inconsistencies in the information that I reported to Council. The consulting firm briefed Council on the findings and was working to determine the source of the data inconsistencies. Ultimately, the consultant said the city staff maintained two sets of books with conflicting information between both books. As the team began to dig deeper, they began to question other procurement and funding practices used by the City. This review process resulted in rigorous procurement reform to work toward compliance with Texas Procurement Laws.

This comprehensive review and implementation of established policy and practice did not fare well with the employees and many vendors accustomed to open procurement and payment without documentation or contract. Finally, in looking at the funding of the City’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) Fund, the Economic Development Director was questioned by Finance staff regarding the validity of funding the local community theater and chamber of commerce with the funds and several special events. Ultimately, the State Attorney told the City that the funding was not legal and that if change occurred, they would not be required to pay back the funds.

Regarding the issues identified by staff with the financial reporting, many questioned how the annual city audit could produce the GFOA awards if there were problems with the financial systems. As the new staff continued to investigate the issue working with the auditor, they determined that the previous audit was based on information from the excel sheets instead the City’s Munis System. The auditor had not reviewed the system but depended on staff to provide data inconsistent with the financial system’s data. The Munis consultant also determined that the last team had not used or fully implemented the financial management system, thus requiring two sets of books to manage the tracking.

The consultant information provided about the City’s financial tracking and audits is new to all, including me. However, this further indicates that many long-term City Council members with financial experience and staff failed to see or act on the questionable practice in the past. Unfortunately, now that the consultant and new team that I have put in place have brought this to the forefront, I feel an effort by some member of the Council is seeking to silence my team and me. The action by a small few are creating a problem for our ability to ensure our community resources’ financial stability and accountability.

City Council agreed at the last City meeting to conduct the City Manager’s annual review on April 4, 2023. However, City Council member Patrick Harvey, who has only attended 2 of the last 8 City meetings this year, demanded the City Secretary poll the City Council for a Special Meeting to discuss her performance once she left town and knew she was not in town until after the meeting. Moving up the meeting would allow them to silence me and prevent the truth from coming out as an attempt to terminate her employment.

*Editor’s Note: This statement was published as received and not edited in any way by FDN.