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Sullivan City gains city manager, loses another secretary

The good news? Sullivan City council members hired a fulltime city manager last month.

The bad news? Their city secretary quit Monday.

The turnover continues an unenviable leadership exodus trend Sullivan City has seen unfold for at least the past four years, one the municipality hopes its new city manager can reverse.

Sullivan’s city council tapped Lisa Rivera, Texas Citrus Fiesta’s executive director, as city manager in mid-November. She started on the 28th.

For the present, Rivera will be taking on or delegating the duties of former city secretary Rita Maciel-Settle. The council approved her resignation Monday after less than a month on the job.

Maciel-Settle’s resignation follows another city secretary’s recent departure.

Mayor Alma Salinas sketched the bureaucratic turmoil out back to 2021, when the city had Ana Maria Mercado at its helm.

“When I came in, she was the city manager and secretary,” Salinas said, making it clear that Mercado wasn’t her hire. “Then with her, we hired a city secretary. And then that secretary, we fired. And then we hired another one. And then when we hired the next one, we no longer have a city manager. Then that particular city secretary was only with us for a month or two, and then she resigned.”

It’s complicated.

Salinas says she’s seen three city secretaries come and go since her election in 2021.

Little Sullivan City doesn’t get as much media coverage on its administrative changes as its larger neighbors, and unless you’re a religious attendee of its city council meetings or the resident habitual filer of open records requests, figuring out exactly who was running the city when is rather a challenge for the casual observer.

City council meeting agendas, which always have some administrator’s name attached, provide perhaps the most readily available paper trail.

Those agenda’s go back through 2020 on the city’s website, and illustrate some of the turnover, when coupled with news reports and Salinas’ recollections.

Veronica Gutierrez served as city secretary through most of 2020, and became interim city manager as well early that year.

After three years without a permanent city manager, Sullivan hired Ana Mercado to that post at the end of that 2020. About the same time, it canned its city attorney and municipal judge.

According to Salinas, Mercado filled both the city manager and secretary roles.

Melissa Y. Rocha appears to have begun serving as interim city secretary by late 2021, around the same time Sullivan City fired its police chief. It appointed Reynaldo Cortes interim chief in 2022.

Rocha became the permanent city secretary early this year.

The city swore in two new councilmen in May.

Sullivan was accepting applicants for city secretary by late August and once again discussing the city manager position.

By September, Cortes had replaced Mercado as interim city manager.

Two city secretaries who served while Cortes was in that dual position, Salinas feels, may have suffered from a lack of guidance, leading to the present opening in that position.

If you had a hard time keeping up with all of that background, you wouldn’t necessarily be in bad company. Salinas herself couldn’t immediately remember Monday the last name of Maciel-Settle, the most recent city secretary. Granted, her tenure was exceptionally short, Salinas said.

According to Salinas, the municipality’s most recent city secretaries may have misunderstood the position as simply entailing general, private sector secretarial work and never had the support to learn otherwise because they lacked a dedicated city manager.

“It could have been that they probably felt like they didn’t have the support or guidance, you know, someone they could go to…And it could be negligence,” she said, acknowledging a lack of guidance on the city’s part.

Salinas thinks Rivera has the skillset to address that problem.

“I know she has that, she has a good structure,” Salinas said.

A former seventh grade English teacher, Rivera cut her teeth in municipal work as a librarian. She most recently served as the executive director of Texas Citrus Fiesta in Mission, which she profoundly thanked for her work with and says she learned from.

“That was a whole different thing,” she said. “It’s a nonprofit organization. I had no structure — it had no foundation. I mean, it was everywhere and nowhere. So I built it up. I like to build up. I like to be proud of my work, from day one, I’m committed to where I’m employed and I go.”

Rivera says she sees her mission in Sullivan City as being similar: providing structure where there isn’t much structure.

“I think the city of Sullivan has lots of potential,” she said. “I learned a lot from Citrus Fiesta — it was bittersweet, like grapefruit, that I had to leave. But to me, it was something different that I’ve always looked forward to —  building up and working with the city, and developing and coming in and bringing new ideas, and working with council and the staff. And I think we’re gonna get pretty far and build up.”

Rivera spent her first few days at the city learning and observing, riding out with the police chief and listening to office chatter.

Those first few days, Rivera said, pointed to a couple of needs: regular staff meetings. Communication work. City hall phone coverage — she said she noticed gaps in that department during her first days on the job.

On the bright side, Rivera said she’s noticed a little city hall initiative. She’s hopeful to develop bureaucrats, even possibly a future city secretary, in-house.

“Training,” she said. “It’s just a matter of training.”

1 Comment

  1. Sam Thomas on December 12, 2023 at 9:33 am

    Does your headline writer understand there’s a world of difference between a “secretary” and a “City Secretary?”

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