“GROW AND PROSPER”
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LARRY DOVALINA RETIRES AFTER 16 YEARS AT COTULLA CITY HALL
ADMINISTRSTOR USHERED CITY THROUGH TIME OF CHANGE
Guiding the city of Cotulla through a period of unprecedented change, weathering unforeseen challenges, and tapping into 21st century opportunities on an ever-busier trade corridor have become the mantra for the city administrator over the past 16 years.
That period of Larry Dovalina’s career drew to a close last week as city councilors agreed unanimously to acknowledge his retirement and hire his replacement.
Dovalina will be kept on at the city of Cotulla as a consultant, on call when needed and in attendance at monthly council meetings for the foreseeable future.
The veteran administrator whose career history includes serving as city manager of Laredo may not have expected to spend more than a decade and a half in Cotulla when he was 61 years old. Originally hired as an interim manager, Dovalina quickly became a stalwart of the city, business advisor and counselor to elected officials at the dawn of an era in which South Texas would see the greatest changes in its history.
Among the improvements Dovalina effected at City Hall have been a focus on economic development and growth, financial stability, modernization of an aging infrastructure, enhancements to the quality of life, drafting and enforcing ordinances aimed at community cleanliness and order; and the use of millions in development funds for projects aimed at drawing trade and new business to the city.
At the community level, Dovalina oversaw street paving projects, drainage improvements, neighborhood clean-up ordinances, park developments, historic preservation of the downtown district, and installation of new utility lines for water, sewer and gas services.
Cotulla’s water supply loop, new water tower and modern water lines now help ensure equalized water pressure throughout the city and adequate supply for future connections, both residential and commercial.
Redesign and re-channeling of the Mustang Creek floodplain, notorious for deluging low-lying residential areas, was among Dovalina’s long-term projects, a decade-long effort that resulted this year in many homes being taken off the at-risk list for insurance purposes and the creek bed being maintained to prevent blockage, allowing floodwater to flow more easily into the Nueces.
In financial affairs, the city administrator pushed for stability in each of the city’s departments under the slogan “It should be run like a business,” balancing budgets in order to prevent a drain on the general fund to support under-performing services.
In furthering economic development, Dovalina managed the annexation of real estate at the city’s boundaries to encompass areas of business growth – notably on the west side of IH-35 and south of town across the Nueces to incorporate three new truck stops; promoted tax incentives to new ventures coming to the area; and steered Cotulla through cooperative arrangements with La Salle County government for multimillion-dollar upgrades to facilities such as the local airport.
When the coronavirus pandemic affected Cotulla’s day-to-day and longterm economy, Dovalina restricted expenditures and managed investments to ensure the city’s financial survival. Ultimately, the city economy would resurface in a stronger position than before lockdown, due in large part to sales tax revenues generated by businesses related directly to the trade corridor.
The city’s management of the economic boom created by the oil and gas play over the Eagle Ford Shale after 2008 included a rake of ordinances related to housing standards, including accommodation of temporary and RV-style quarters for industry employees, standardized setbacks and restrictions on overcrowding, and time limits on placement of trailers and portable buildings on single-family properties.
Demolition of abandoned or derelict buildings, brush clearance and a return to the tax rolls for dozens of properties became part of Dovalina’s drive to speed up the city’s beautification. Today, scores of structures have been placed on the demolition list and are being razed at a rate of more than one per month.
Enhancing local attractions, improving tourism and exploring hitherto untapped opportunities for growth, Dovalina promoted the fledgling Main Street Program that today benefits from portions of more than $1.5 million per year in hotel occupancy taxes. The funds have also been used to upgrade the AB Alexander Convention Center; improve the downtown historic district with sidewalks, lighting and landscaping; commission bronzes of city founder Joseph Cotulla, onetime schoolteacher Lyndon Johnson and local philanthropist Florence Maltsberger; install a hand-painted mural depicting the city’s history on a Main Street facade; and rebuild a disused gas station and car repair shop as the new City Hall. A million-dollar project to save and repurpose the historic former Stockmens Bank on Front Street is nearing completion, and plans are now underway to revitalize and beautify Plaza Florita, add restrooms and parking, to recreate the original atmosphere of the community gathering place.
Addition of the plaza and the adjoining Welhausen School to the National Register of Historic Places has been a high point in Dovalina’s efforts to honor the city’s cultural heritage.
“I am proud to have served,” Dovalina said at the April 13 council meeting at which his full-time service contract was ended. “I thank you for the support you have given me. You listen when I talk.
“I refer to my department as my home,” he said of the office he has held since 2007. “I think that shows the feelings and affinity I have for this city. I am proud to have accomplished many projects.
“You will continue to benefit from being on the Interstate 35 corridor,” the retiring city administrator told the council. “There are new businesses coming in. We are on the verge of new state legislation that could create a foreign trade zone that will catapult the airport into a major trade facility.
“Truck and rail traffic will continue to expand,” Dovalina predicted of the border region’s growth and Cotulla’s proximity to Laredo. “The future of the city has great possibilities. You are closer to the source. There is an interstate expansion coming; two lanes are being added from Laredo to Encinal, and highway retailers are buying properties. This will impact the whole corridor.”
Dovalina said he believes property development beside the interstate at the northern edge of Webb County will have an immediate effect on La Salle County’s economic position, including employment and business opportunities.
“Three thousand acres of development for warehousing and homes near Milemarker 22… You are going to get hit sooner,” he said of the impact on Cotulla. “Companies are buying properties at the outskirts of Laredo. What this means is people are positioning themselves. A new railroad bridge at the border in Laredo will double the capacity for traffic, and you have opportunities to leverage that traffic to grow and prosper.”
Dovalina noted in a separate statement after Thursday’s meeting that he discovered an unusual family connection to the city when he was first hired at Cotulla.
“I told my father that I had taken the job here, and he was very pleased because he knew Cotulla,” the city administrator said. “In 1949, my father was recruited from Laredo to come to Cotulla to play semi-pro baseball for the Cotulla Cubs. He liked the fact that our link to the city was somehow continuing in this way.”
Councilors acknowledged the work that Dovalina has done for the city, running the gamut from financial management to infrastructural improvements.
“We are very blessed to have been able to accomplish many tasks, and in cooperation with the county,” Councilor Gilbert Ayala said Thursday. “Little by little, under Mr. Dovalina, we have been getting federal funds for these jobs. We accomplish things that are best for the people of Cotulla.
“You have to have it in your heart to help people,” Ayala added. “Mr. Dovalina has done a great job. We have used hotel occupancy tax funds for many projects; we have the best water wells; the lowest gas, water and sewer costs; our regular trash clean-up days don’t cost the people anything; and we have good city vehicles and a good line-up of heavy equipment.
“This is how a city government works,” the councilor said. “We have done great. Look at what we have now.”
“It is not easy being a city administrator,” Mayor Javier Garcia said. “We are placed here to make decisions. We brought new ideas, water development grants, and saved our city millions of dollars. None could have been done without unity and patience.
“People want to see what Cotulla is doing,” the mayor said of the city’s example in a period of growth. “People wonder how we did things. It’s all of us; it’s not one man. It’s the council, and Mr. Dovalina played a big part in that. Everything that we worked on was for Cotulla, and that’s what he stands for.”
“It took a gentleman from outside to come in and tell us what we needed,” Councilor Estanislado ‘Tanis’ Lopez said. “At the end, we work together. We have to continue to work to put Cotulla on the map.”
Dovalina is replaced this month by his assistant, David Wright, who has served the city in a number of capacities, including utility services supervisor. Wright was offered the employment contract Thursday evening in a unanimous council vote on a motion by Councilor Manuel Rodriguez.
The motion to retain Dovalina as a consultant was made by Councilor Ayala and likewise supported unanimously.