Amid calls to postpone, Midland City Council moves to hire new city manager
Despite concerns voiced by citizens and questions swirling about his past, the Midland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Tommy Gonzalez as its next city manager.
“We have worked really hard in our due diligence and in our pursuit of studying the backgrounds of our candidates,” Midland Mayor Lori Blong explained. “We’ve gotten some questions about whether or not we vetted this candidate and I want to tell you we have.”
Blong said Gonzalez beat out over 100 other candidates for the position.
In the days leading up to this vote, city officials praised Gonzalez’s track record and have described in local press how he can help lead Midland towards a more prosperous future.
In an op-ed in the Midland Reporter-Telegram, Blong and two other council members wrote:
“Not only do we believe we have found a candidate who will meet the needs of our growing city, but we truly believe his extensive experience and proven track record exceed the expectations we collectively held as a council.”
Midland’s previous city manager retired in April and for months officials have been assessing who should step into the leadership role. During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Dan Corrales assured residents a lot went into picking Gonzalez as Midland’s next city manager.
“This process is something we put a lot of thought into…so I ask y’all to put some confidence in your local officials that we have been doing our homework,” he said.
However, some Midlanders were not convinced. Reagan Sharp, daughter of former Midland city manager Courtney Sharp, who died in 2020, was vehemently against Gonzalez’s hiring.
“Between higher tax rates in El Paso, criminal complaints in Irving and an ethics complaint in Lubbock, how did he become the finalist in Midland,” she asked the council. “Yes, we the people wanted someone who knows West Texas, we did not want a man who will drive this place to the ground.”
Gonzalez has overtwo decades of experience working in city government, the majority in management positions. Most recently he was El Paso’s city manager for nearly a decade until he left the position earlier this month after the city council voted to suddenly end his contract in February.
Gonzalez has received praise and recognition for his long career managing cities, and has been considered one of the highest paid city managers in the state, according to the Dallas Morning News. Over the years though, Gonzalez also developed a complicated reputation as reports of alleged misconduct emerged.
While serving as interim city manager of Lubbock in 2004, he was accused of gender and age discrimination following staff layoffs. These accusations resulted in an approximately $400,000 settlement between the city and a former staff member.
In 2013, allegations of corruption were raised while Gonzalez served as the city manager of Irving, where he reportedly accepted free tickets to sporting events from organizations that had lucrative contracts with the city. Irving’s mayor at the time defended Gonzalez, but he soon departed from the community following failed contract negotiations.
Appearing on a talk radio show in Midland last week, Gonzalez denied any wrongdoing in Lubbock and Irving saying, “When you get attacked for protecting a community, I'm not going to shy away from that or not stand up to that.”
In Gonzalez’s contentious era managing El Paso, he pursued drawing major companies to the city, like Alamo Drafthouse, Top Golf and Whole Foods, with tax breaks, according to El Paso Matters. Another accomplishment he touts is eliminating millions in budget deficits in the border city, but this effort also contributed to rising property taxes — which has been a challenge for El Pasoans for years.
At the end of June, Gonzalez officially finished up his time working for the City of El Paso — leaving with a nearly $900,000 severance package. He’s told local media that he’s excited to come to Midland.
“Well, I'm really looking forward to being a part of the Midland community.” Gonzalez said on a local talk radio show. “I simply want to really listen to [the city council], listen to the community, talk to the department heads, and really get everyone's understanding of where Midland’s been and what it's doing currently and how we can maybe add to that.”
Following the unanimous vote by the Midland City Council to hire Gonzalez on Tuesday, the city released his contract, which listed his base annual salary at $350,000.