Meeting with many of the 600 city employees.
Preparing a proposed $130 million 2020 city budget.
Mingling with residents and community leaders.
A few of many tasks for a new city manager leading a 67,000-resident community.
During his first month on the job, Jesús Garza has hit the ground running.
“It’s been busy, but it’s been really good,” he said. “With everything that there is to do and to learn, I’m making sure that as a city, we are being deliberate in what we are trying to do.”
Garza, who began his post as the city’s seventh city manager May 20, has been working through a 100-day plan that includes getting to know his employees and Victoria residents, as well as examining what opportunities might exist for the city. The plan was something he volunteered to Victoria City Council during his interview process because he felt that it was important to show what he’d focus on if chosen for the position.
Starting the job in the middle of planning the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, however, has also dictated a significant amount of Garza’s time. He said he’s been familiarizing himself with budget operations and seeking opportunities for the coming year.
“I want to take advantage of low-hanging fruit, because if I don’t do that now in time for fiscal year (2020), I have to wait a whole nother year,” he said.
Garza said all of the low-hanging fruit, for the most part, revolves around economic development. He said he’s taken time to meet with economic development and community stakeholders and has tried to understand downtown development and Main Street efforts.
Also, Garza said that he’s been talking about being intentional with city employees and with the council to best capture the priorities of the council, which includes a new mayor and council member.
Though Garza has only attended a few city council meetings since he began his role as city manager, he said it’s become evident to him that emergency preparedness is a priority.
Because of that fact, he said, there are multiple items in the city’s proposed 2019-2020 budget – which was discussed during two special budget workshops Monday and Tuesday – that address steps to becoming more equipped for emergencies.
Those potential items include major building improvements to Victoria Fire Station No. 1, efforts to have better reliability of back-up power in case of an emergency and the initiation of a drainage master plan project. Garza said it’s evident to him that there’s a desire for the city to be more proactive when it comes to drainage and stormwater.
“It’s important to connect the dots between what we’re doing and the priorities of the council,” he said.
Garza said being responsible for more than 600 city employees also means there are internal duties “that the public might not find sexy” that he’s worked on during his first month as well, which are important as a leader of a large number of people.
He said he’s been looking at the city’s organizational structures and internal processes to begin finding ways to maximize productivity and efficiency of the staff.
Additionally, Garza is driven to make Victoria a 21st-century city, a goal he is trying to emphasize early in his tenure, so he is asking the questions, “Are there technologies that we’re missing out on that could help us be more efficient? Are there technologies that could help us be more customer-friendly? Are there technologies that could help us just be more modern and accessible to the public?”
Garza said he doesn’t like using the word “transparency” because there’s often a negative connotation with the word, but he wants to focus on modern ways for the city to be accessible.
“The reality is that cities are very transparent,” he said. “But the problem is that traditional ways cities are transparent are kind of not conducive to the 21st-century world.”
For example, he said, while the City Council meetings are open to the public, it could be worth live-streaming the meetings, which has become a fairly common practice. Garza also said he feels the city’s website could be improved to make things easier for the public to find.
“The accessibility aspect of how you connect people with how you’re being transparent is evolving,” he said.
Garza said the best part of the job so far has been the people. He said he’s been thankful for the welcoming environment and appreciation he’s felt from employees and the community.
He said despite being a city manager who is coming from the outside, he hasn’t faced any resistance to his plans or ideas, but rather has felt the opposite.
“I feel very comfortable and confident that council wanted somebody to come in and kind of share with them, ‘Hey this is what we can do better, this is what I think what we can do differently,’” he said. But, Garza stressed, he isn’t critical of the way things were done before.
“Victoria is a great place, a great place to live and a great place to raise a family, but there are some challenges, just like there are in any community,” he said. “I’m simply trying to bring the perspective of, ‘With my experience and my background, there just might be a better way to do it.’”
And, Garza said, that desire is a shared one. In his many meetings with city staff, he said he’s been encouraged to hear the similar sentiment to “want to be better than what we have been” echoed across the board.
“I think there is a communal vibe to say, ‘How can we improve upon what we are already doing?’ And there’s also a certain hunger from people to better collaborate as a community,” he said. “So it’s important going forward to leverage our resources and find better and better ways to work together.”
This story was updated to reflect the total overall city budget.