Portillo out, Newton in for Presidio city administrator

PRESIDIO — After around five years on the job, Joe Portillo is stepping down as Presidio city administrator. The news was formally announced last Wednesday at a meeting of the Presidio City Council.

Towards the start of the meeting, after a brief executive session, Presidio Mayor John Ferguson gave the news. He felt “regret to see Mr. Portillo leave,” Ferguson said, but also wanted to give him “many thanks for his efforts in the city.”

Next, the city moved to appoint an interim city administrator. Brad Newton, the executive director of the Presidio Municipal Development District, was chosen for the temporary role.

Newton will serve for six months, with an evaluation every month, city officials said on Wednesday. Rogelio Zubia motioned for Newton to take on the temporary role, while Irvin Olivas seconded. The switchover was “effective immediately.”

In an interview last week, John Ferguson said he “greatly appreciated” everything Portillo had done for the city. His decision to leave amounted to a “amicable separation,” Ferguson said.

“He has laid out the road that we’re going to move forward on,” Ferguson added. “I appreciate everything he’s done, and I certainly wish him well moving forward.”

In his own interview on Tuesday, Portillo — a former state police officer — stressed it was time for him to go. The average working lifespan of a city administrator, he said, was around three years. He’d been in the role for more than four.

“These positions aren’t meant to be forever,” he said. “You come in, you make a difference, you see your projects through. Eventually, you have to step aside for there to be change — and change is not a bad thing.”

Before even taking on the role, Portillo noted that he had already retired from a career in law enforcement. He worked in the Army. He was a state trooper. He investigated meth labs in the Hill Country and worked on a cybercrime unit.

“Then, I came back to my hometown,” Portillo said — and “this is the most difficult job I’ve ever had.” He outlined some of the many financial issues that Presidio was grappling with when he first arrived.

“[Presidio] hadn’t done a fiscal audit since 2012,” he said. “The city hadn’t paid the county for its services in five years.” And those were just some of the issues. “Those are all the things I adopted under my watch.” And then — in yet another headache for city leaders last year — COVID had arrived in the border city.

“I’m going to miss Joe Portillo,” Brad Newton, the new city administrator, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “He did a great job.”

Newton said he was picked for the role because he already understood some of the city’s inner workings, including an ongoing project to build a new convention center. But “I certainly didn’t want his job,” Newton added with a laugh. “I’m a spare tire in the trunk. They pulled me out and are going to use me for a while.”

“I know how to do the job and I’m looking forward to keeping the city moving forward,” Newton said. But it was just “a six-month trial run,” and “if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine.”

So, what’s next for Joe Portillo? “We’re staying in Presidio,” he said of he and his wife, Dr. Laura Portillo. “We have no ambitions to go anywhere else.” Portillo rattled off some of the activities he planned to fill his new retirement with: hiking trips, rafting trips, golf and time with his parents, who still live in the border city.

“I’m Presidio’s number one fan,” Portillo said. “That’s the bottom line.” And all things considered, he saw good things in the city’s future. “I think it’ll be the biggest city in Far West Texas,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good.”