Alpine finance director “un-resigns” then leaves suddenly

ALPINE – Megan Antrim un-resigned last week as Alpine city finance director but left the door open to leave her job in the near future only to suddenly leave after another dispute with the city manager.

In a rare view of the inner workings of the city, the council agreed to cancel a closed-door executive session and discuss three agenda items in open council during the July 2 meeting. The contentious issues had been in executive session–– except for a spirited discussion in open council June 18 ––away from the eyes and ears of the public.

A large crowd of more than 50 spectators, two television film crews and two local media representatives crowded into the small council chamber to witness a meeting that lasted more than four hours. Additional chairs had to be brought in to seat everyone.

It ended with a failed split vote to fire City Manager Jessica Garza. The city charter calls for four votes to terminate a department head but the 3-3 vote also would have failed. The mayor, who normally only votes to break a tie, was permitted to vote on this issue.

Both sides agreed last week that the city had become “dysfunctional” in recent months with a council split over whether or not Garza was doing a good job. Several employees, including Antrim, have complained of a “hostile work environment” and several have resigned or retired.

A key to the disagreement over the city manager was a performance improvement plan created for Garza by the city council and her refusal to sign the document. Garza countered that she had never received an employee evaluation by the council and could not sign the “PIP” without having had an evaluation.

Speaking from the audience, David Lambrix said in his years of administrative experience with the Border Patrol and elsewhere, he had never seen a PIP issued without an evaluation.

Garza said there was no doubt she could do great things for the city if she could be left to do her job and if employees would cooperate. “It does take trust but if I don’t have that, it makes it challenging.”

But councilors, led by Rick Stephens, complained that materials needed for budget workshops had been delayed, street repairs had been stalled and Garza had failed to deliver on other items. She usually complained that department heads, who report to her, had not provided the material in a timely manner.

At least two councilors, Stephens and Lucy Escovedo, had tried to fire Garza in meetings dating back to February. But others had supported her and voted against the motion in closed-door executive sessions nearly every council meeting.

Stephens had been particularly critical, citing failure to start a street re-paving program well into the paving season, delays in getting materials to council for budget preparation, loss of several employees also citing a “hostile work environment” and other issues.

Mayor Andy Ramos and Councilor Ramon Olivas defended Garza. Councilor Marie Curry joined those voting to terminate Garza and Betty Fitzgerald joined those supporting her.

“She [Garza] has vision,” Ramos said. “The council needs to back her. Streets have been an issue for 40 years.”

He said the city should take action on department heads who don’t work with her.

In a second letter to council members after her June 24 resignation letter, Antrim said she needed more time to finish her work and would provide a 30-day notice of her final day.

In the original letter, Antrim left the door open for her to stay in the job.

“I am prepared to continue with the city as long as the city manager treats myself and others properly and respectfully,” she wrote. “I have made huge strides with the city, am a resident of Alpine and do not wish to see the city go back to where it was when I started.”

Antrim, a former assistant county treasurer under Carol Ofenstein, was credited with providing financial aid to former City Manager Erik Zimmer in putting the city on sound financial footing after several years of money problems.

But last week, she again clashed with Garza and said she was leaving right away.

The council last week was prepared to accept Antrim’s resignation but City Attorney Mick McKamie––attending by teleconference from San Antonio as he often does ––said the city charter says the council should act only on hiring and firing department heads and resignations are the purview of the city manager.

Garza said she had determined that June 27 would be Antrim’s last day and McKamie said that it was up to Garza to decided if she would hold Antrim to that date. He said as city manager, it would be her decision.