08-17 garcia-01

Palestine's new utilities director, Felipe Garcia

In a restructuring plan following the sudden retirement of most of Palestine's public works department leadership, city leaders have split the department and appointed new leadership.

After Monday's city council meeting, Felipe Garcia, former deputy director of public works, was named utilities director. John Elrod, a street department supervisor, was named interim-director of streets.

Former Public Works Director Tim Perry retired in July, after 32 years with the city. Deputy Director Rob Thames, whose last day is Friday, retired after nine years with the city.

“This streamlines things,” interim City Manager Leslie Cloer told the Herald-Press Thursday. “Now, the director of each department can come straight to me, and we can discuss the problems, without having to go through an intermediary.”

Additionally, Cloer said, money saved by eliminating Perry's old position can be distributed amongst the workers. Perry's salary at retirement was nearly $95,000.

Garcia, 63, a 13-year veteran of Palestine public works, has 33 years of water, and wastewater experience. He supervised the water plant for the Texas Department of Public Safety for 20 years.

“We, as a utilities department, are focused on improving water, wastewater, and infrastructure for the people of Palestine,” Garcia told the Herald-Press Thursday. “We are going to evaluate new and existing projects and come up with a master plan for improvement.”

Garcia, who will earn nearly $69,000 in his new position, said he is confident his department will be part of the solution to Palestine's near-chronic water problem.

Problems include century-old pipes bursting throughout the city, and a water treatment facility not up to government code.

“I have every faith that we will be able to handle it, and that the new water rates will help,” Garcia said. “The new city management seems very interested in transparency, and making this work.”

One way the city can help, Garcia said, is to hire more workers for his department and increase pay for his employees.

“I just had two qualified operators quit, because of low pay,” he said. “Our entry-level position pays only $11.91 an hour; guys are coming in, getting trained, then going to higher-paying jobs elsewhere.”

Cloer said city officials are still evaluating candidates for the director of streets.

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