Duncanville City Manager Aretha R. Ferrell-Benavides has been in office almost six months now. She was scheduled to take office Feb. 22, but began participating in meetings with the Interim City Manager the week before to help handle several severe crises. At the start of February, Duncanville was still in shut-down mode from the pandemic. Then Winter Storm Uri crippled North Texas for days, just a week before she was supposed to take over.
“Talk about perfect storms, first Uri, and then tragically losing our interim/assistant city manager, Paul Frederiksen (who died March 12). He was my rock,” Ferrell-Benavides said. “Looking at my calendar I had less than three weeks with Paul, I came in a month ahead of time but three weeks was not nearly long enough to get to where I needed to be. It became a trial by fire, having to re-learn everything from scratch.”
“Paul was the person who guided the staff and helped Duncanville through the blizzard and all those power outages. He even stayed at a local hotel to be closer to the office. He took on so much, taking the role of Interim City Manager and Economic Development Director along with his other responsibilities as Assistant City Manager. Everyone on the staff loved Paul, and were all heartbroken at his death.”
“I realized when Paul left, there was no way to bring in someone from outside,” she said. “Chief Brown (Duncanville Police Chief) was looking for another challenge, and he had already taken on some of the responsibilities for internal communications and community outreach, which is something we want to build on in the future.”
Duncanville Police Department
Interim Police Chief Mark LiVigni had been carefully trained for a leadership role by Chief Brown, Ferrell-Benavides said, “so there was someone immediately available to take over that important task. He has been rotating his lieutenants on a monthly basis so they face new challenges and are able to keep growing in the department.
“Now that the healing has started, I’ve become more aware of the need to be observant, to be careful that no one on my staff is being overly stressed or experiencing emotional distress. That is more important now than ever. City workers are on the front line, just like health care workers. We’re not sitting at home because we’re needed here to handle crisis situations.”
Because City Managers and other directors are always in the public eye, Ferrell-Benavides said they need strong familial support. “We also have to develop a thick skin,” she said. “When things are going well, everyone is happy, but in difficult times, it’s easy to blame management.”
She recalled a previous boss complaining, when their city was having difficulties. He said, “I’m tired of my son going to school and hearing these negative comments.”
City Manager’s Family Support
As Duncanville’s City Manager, Ferrell-Benavides enjoys strong support from her family. Her husband, former Dallas City Manager Ted Benavides, is a professor and head of the public administration program at the University of Texas at Dallas. Ferrell-Benavides said she has hired several outstanding graduates from the UTD program during her career. She says that an internship is the best training for any potential public service employee.
Her son, Geoffry Brown, is now a junior Political Science major at the University of Kansas. He also plans a career in local government, and is interning this summer with the City of Melissa, Texas.
CM Ferrell-Benavides said her mother was a 29-year-employee of the City of Fort Worth. She was the inspiration for her own 30-years of public service that has taken her “all over the country.”
Attracting Young People
“Women are more likely to be mentors than men, who may try to do a task themselves instead of delegating it to someone else,” Ferrell-Benavides said. “I’m at a point in my career where I’m able to spend time in trying to help people grow and fulfill their goals. One of the issues we face here in Duncanville is how many of our work force have been here 20 or 30 years. We need to attract more young people to serve in local government.”
She noted that Duncanville Economic Development Director Agustin “Gus” Garcia recently hired a bright young ED Manager, Clay Mansell, who is a graduate of the UTD program.
The Duncanville City Council unanimously approved a proclamation to name Juneteenth an official holiday at their last meeting. This was initiated by Councilmember Mark Cook, but was supported by all City Councilmembers, CM Ferrell-Benavides said.