Duncanville City Council Votes 4-3 To Terminate City Manager

Duncanville City Council Members
Photo credit City of Duncanville

Duncanville City Council Dismisses City Manager During Thursday Meeting

After 18 minutes of comments unavailable to virtual attendees, Mayor Barry Gordon, had the sound turned back on and explained why there was no sound for anyone who was not in attendance at the meeting.

Gordon said: “During the election period … we do not broadcast sound. We broadcast video. And here in person, we do not record citizen comments either. So those individuals that are watching virtually you did not have sound during those first citizen comments, but I wanted the sound back on to explain to those watching virtually what is going on.”

After approximately 41 minutes into the meeting, following citizen comments, the sound was turned back on allowing those watching online to hear the rest of the open session of the meeting.

Mayor Gordon then informed attendees and the virtual audience that normally all four items on the agenda concerning personnel would normally be in closed session, City Manager Benavides had requested that Item B (City Council shall convene into closed Executive Session pursuant to Section 551.074 of the Texas Local Government Code, Personnel Matters to discuss the appointment, employment, evaluation, performance, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of the City Manager) be held in open session.

Mayor Gordon went on to explain that the comments that the council would normally make in closed session would therefore be made in open session, pursuant to Ms. Ferrell-Benavides’ request.

Council Enters Executive Session

At 6:44 the Council adjourned into their first executive session to seek the advice of the city attorney. The session lasted until 7:58 when the council was reconvened.

As requested by Ms. Ferrell-Benevides, the next comments would be done in open rather than closed sessions.

Craig Capua, an attorney from West and Associates there representing the City Manager, then read a statement by Ms. Ferrell-Benevides (link has her remarks).

After his remarks, Mayor Gordon called on each council member to speak. The first was Patrick Harvey, who requested the special Thursday meeting.

Mr. Harvey said he would like to comment on Mr. Capua’s statement. He said: “Her attorney mentioned how, when she was going through the interview process, that a city council member called and encouraged her to keep going in that process and it just so happens I was that city council member. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I was looking for a level of performance that I did not receive … with that being said and reinforced by what was just read, yes, I have lost confidence in the city manager. I do not trust the city manager. And with that, I would like to make a motion to terminate effective immediately the employment of Aretha Ferrell-Benevides as City Manager and she will receive her final severance in accordance with her contract.”

Councilmember Koontz seconded the motion.

Mayor Gordon said no vote will be taken until each council member expresses their thoughts.

City Council Shares Thoughts On City Manager

Councilmember Veracruz was the first to speak. He said “I want to make it short and clear. I have full faith and confidence in our City Manager, Aretha Ferrell-Benevides.”

Councilmember McBurnett said, “I do agree with Mr. Harvey and I agree with that assessment and therefore I’m leaning in that direction.”

Councilman Koontz said “I have no comment except to say I intend to do what is good and what is right based on all the information that I have received and what I believe best serves the residents, the district that I represent, and what I believe best serves the best interests of this entire community. Even if it’s at my own personal cost and expense.”

Councilmember Cherry read James 4:17. “‘For whoever knows the right thing to do, and fails to do it, for him it is sin.’ So, for me, I came to Duncanville 14 years ago, and I felt invisible and not appreciated. Shortly after the city manager came, I went to congratulate her and asked her if I could talk with her to see what her vision was for the city. I was so excited to see the direction the city was going which made me want to get more involved with the city. Been here, in this spot today. So, I’ve heard it said that the city council reports that we … the city … supposed to do whatever our constituents say – whatever – and I agree with that, but even moreso, I report to God, and I’m responsible at the end of all this, when judgment day comes, to say, Lord, please know that I did your will and not my feelings. So, I ask that each of our members put your personal feelings … look at the things that have been accomplished and what we feel happened to us.”

Councilmember Contreras said, “Based on my experience … observations during the course of this year, which is the review period that’s under question, I’ve lost my confidence for this city manager to lead us in the manner that I think best serves the community so I would not be in favor of retaining our city manager at this point.”

Mayor Gordon then addressed the council and the audience:

“When the selection of Ms. Ferrell-Benevides was made, I opposed. I was that three. I was opposed to her being hired as the City Manager of Duncanville. I had my reasons, and it was quoted outside of the executive session, but I will not deny what I said. I said that based on her interview and her personality and behaviors, I felt she was more of an iron lady and I wasn’t sure that our staff would be able to accommodate the behaviors and personalities of a strong, strong city manager. What I have learned in my 33 years of business and under the tutelage and mentorship of two-star generals in the military. You don’t make snap judgments when there is a new person on board. You watch, you learn, you make some determinations and after six or seven months you begin to make a change and that’s when you start to make your judgment calls.

That’s what I did. I’ll never forget that I did oppose her hiring. I will go on record to say today I have seen no better performance … exceptional performance and dedication to duty that I’ve seen in Aretha Ferrell-Benevides. I am her champion and I have taken heat from certain individuals in this city for being her champion and I don’t care because I don’t take sides.

What about her performance? Let us not forget individuals – we as a city council voted here to cap the costs of fire station number one. When the contractor came forward to attempt to violate what we had agreed upon … and the city council to not allow the costs to a certain million dollar amount she undertook by herself to go to that contractor and say ‘you ain’t messing with the City of Duncanville. Back off!’ What we had decided was held in place. The cost did not go over what we had agreed to by the City Council. That cap was in place.

This city has been awarded $9.6 million under President Biden’s ARPA – the American Relief Project. $9.6 million coming down from the federal government has to be monitored, controlled, dispersed, and allocated in such a way that any scrutiny by the federal government would not show any discrepancies. City Manager Ferrell-Benevides three times has brought to this city council an itemized accounting for every dollar that we received from ARPA … and to say that’s not performance – I disagree. That is accountability. Transparency.

Her attorney in her statement disclosed accounting issues with what was going on in our accounting department. Did Aretha Ferrell-Benevides hide that from this city council? No. She did not. It was made clear. She told us, things were screwed up. Things were messed up. But, we had a finance director with the capability, the experience… to fix it. We’re still working on those problems today. That’s how massive – when her city – her attorney said we have two books – we had two books ladies and gentlemen – that was disclosed, discussed with …”

Point of Order Called

Councilman McBurnett then called a point of order. Mayor Gordon asked why the councilman was calling a point of order. McBurnett replied that he felt the mayor was saying things that were out of line and wrong. The mayor called for a vote on the point of order and the vote was 4-3 in favor of the point of order.

Mayor Gordon then said the point of order is enforced, but I continue with my remarks. The individuals that our city manager has brought on board since her arrival have done an exceptional job. The economic development that has occurred in our city, and the projects that are underway, are coded so the developer’s confidence is not betrayed because they are looking at our city. Why are they looking at our city? Because Duncanville is now on somebody’s map saying that we have the possibility of being big here and that’s because of her and whom she has hired to do that job.

Our IT section was in shambles. It’s being repaired. Why? It’s because of who she chose to do the job. We’re fixing our problems. I think I’ve said enough that you know where I stand about my support … it’s unconditional. And, I also feel for this meeting to be held knowing that she cannot be present is disrespectful.

Mayor Gordon then called for a vote on the motion. The vote was 4-3 to dismiss with Harvey, McBurnett, Koontz, and Contreras to dismiss and Veracruz, Gordon, and Cherry voting no.

There was then another executive session.

The council returned from the final executive session at 8:55 pm. Mayor Gordon said there are two actions still needing to be taken.

“First, is to appoint Robert Brown as Interim City Manager effective immediately.”
Gordon called for the motion, which was made and unanimously approved. The second also approved, was to direct Mr. Brown to initiate the solicitation process to identify and acquire a new city manager. This was also approved unanimously.”