PHARR, RGV – Legendary Pharr leader Fred Sandoval has severed his ties with the city administration, sources tell the Rio Grande Guardian.
On Wednesday, sources say, Sandoval told the EDC board, chaired by Mayor Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez, that he would not and could not accept the terms of a new contract to continue as executive director of the Pharr Economic Development Corporation. He was being offered a salary of $150,000 a year plus bonuses.
Sandoval will meet with acting City Manager Juan Guerra on Thursday to thrash out a severance package, sources told the Rio Grande Guardian.
A special meeting of the Pharr EDC has been called for Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. at City Hall. Among the items on the agenda are “discussion and possible action, if any, on appointment of Interim Executive Director” and “discussion and possible action, if any, on advertising for position of Executive Director.”
City leaders have, the Rio Grande Guardian understands, a long term replacement for Sandoval in mind. “The person they want is very experienced, with a proven track record,” said a person close to the city administration who wished to remain nameless. “Saturday is the big day. Expect an announcement then. All of this will be made public then.”
Sandoval did not respond to a text request Wednesday to comment on the situation. Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports said Mayor Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment either. However, Whitlock did say that former Mayor Palacios was receiving calls from Pharr residents all day Wednesday asking if rumors about Sandoval handing in his resignation were true. “Fred has done what he felt was in his best interests and I wish him well in the future,” Palacios told the Rio Grande Guardian, in a phone interview on Wednesday evening. “He is a good man, comes from a good family, and has a wonderful wife. I am sure he is going to do well.”
Sandoval himself became a major campaign issue during the recent city elections with the Pharr Forward slate saying he “should not be wearing three hats.” This was in reference to his leadership of the city, the EDC and the newly-revamped chamber of commerce. They also questioned some of the deals he made to bring big box retailers into the city. The Pharr First slate defended Sandoval, saying Pharr was in a period of unprecedented growth and that he had played a key role in that growth, particularly with regard to trade at the city’s international port of entry and the luring in of major retail establishments.
Three of the four candidates on the Pharr Forward slate won election to the city commission, including Hernandez. Soon after the new commission was sworn in Sandoval announced he was resigning as city manager but was open to the idea of staying on as head of the EDC. However, some on the EDC board, such as City Commissioner Ricardo Medina, did not to keep Sandoval.
Sandoval, who was born and raised in Pharr, has been city manager for nearly a decade. He was recruited to work for the City of Pharr 18 years ago by then-City Commissioner Polo Palacios. In 2013 he was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame. “Under Mr. Sandoval’s tenure as City Manager, Pharr has earned the All-America City Award, attracted high-profile economic game-changers such as Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen and Costco Wholesale Club and has become the model community in the Rio Grande Valley for environmental preservation,” the Walk of Fame organizers said. “Fred Sandoval is an inspiration to the Pharr community and serves as an exemplary role model for the true meaning of public service.”
Under Sandoval’s watch, Pharr changed from being something of a dormitory community for McAllen to a major player in the Rio Grande Valley in its own right. Under Sandoval’s leadership, Pharr landed a new HEB supercenter on Ridge, and, closer to the expressway, Pappadeaux Seafood Restaurant, Costco Wholesale, a new Lowe’s, At Home, Freddy’s Frozen Custards, an Academy superstore, a giant Cinemark theater complex, and Main Event. Two other high profile big box retail stores are set to announce they are moving to Pharr, sources tell the Rio Grande Guardian.
The Pharr EDC board will likely want to appoint a successor to Sandoval quickly in order to make sure potential developers are not deterred by upheavals in the city administration. Under Sandoval, sales tax revenues shot up 42 percent and, in recent months Pharr had the highest growth rate in percentage terms among the largest Valley cities. The EDC will not want the city to stagnate or for any of the deals Sandoval was working in to fall through. While he considered the terms of the new EDC contract, Sandoval was asked to produce a report on what new economic development deals are in the offing.
Soon after being sworn into office, Mayor Hernandez and City Commissioner Medina told reporters that changes were being planned for the EDC. Asked why the board of directors needed to be changed, Hernandez told the Rio Grande Guardian: “It’s simple: we looked at the performance of the current EDC and we need a new direction for it.” Asked what that direction will be, Hernandez said: “It will be more thorough and more informative before we take on projects.” Medina said of the EDC: “There needed to be changes. We felt we needed to bring new people in. We felt we needed a new direction.” Asked if Sandoval will remain as head of the EDC, Medina said: “We need to have some changes in the way things are done but that is something the board will decide.” Ultimately the board offered Sandoval a contract but, after some thought, he decided to decline it and look at a career move, sources told the Rio Grande Guardian.