Martinsville’s new city manager said she’s looking forward to starting a new chapter while moving on from her previous position in Texas, where she was terminated after raising concerns about bookkeeping and other practices in the city she served.
Last week, Martinsville officials announced that Aretha Ferrell-Benavides, 54, will relieve interim manager Glen Adams. Ferrell-Benavides, the first African American woman in the role, will start her position Friday. A 10 a.m. swearing-in ceremony will kick off her tenure.
Ferrell-Benavides is a Texas native whose life and career runs the gamut from a CIA internship to a falling-out with her former employers at Duncanville, Texas, a city of about 41,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In a split 4-3 vote on March 30, Duncanville council members removed Ferrell-Benavides from her position as city manager after two years. The termination, according to local news reports, came after Ferrell-Benavides expressed concerns about irregular and contradictory bookkeeping records discovered by an outside auditor.
According to news reports, council members cited a loss of confidence in her leadership for the ouster.
But critics of the firing maintained that the irregularities were a contributing factor, according to stories in local Texas media.
Duncanville officials did respond to requests for comment for this story.
“Ultimately, the consultant said the city staff maintained two sets of books with conflicting information between both books,” reads Ferrell-Benavides’ statement about the termination. “As the team began to dig deeper, they began to question other procurement and funding practices used by the city.”
The decision to fire Ferrell-Benavides was strongly opposed by several members of the council. Mayor Barry Gordon, following the decision, referred to her as an “iron lady” and a “strong manager” in her advocacy for Duncanville.
According to Ferrell-Benavides, she was the first African American to serve as Duncanville’s city manager.
For their part, Martinsville’s council members say they’re standing behind Ferrell-Benavides. They said they knew about her Duncanville termination during the interview process.
“We actually do research and make prudent decisions,” Vice Mayor Aaron Rawls said.
Council member Lawrence Mitchell said he didn’t consider it to be an issue and his mind hasn’t changed.
“She discussed that with us,” Mitchell said. “We understand and she explained it well.”
Rawls echoed Mitchell’s sentiments and added that he is confident Ferrell-Benavides will keep the board honest.
“That is exactly who we want in Martinsville,” Rawls said. “We want someone who will stand on integrity when there is something wrong going on. They stand on that.”
The decision to hire Ferrell-Benavides, at a salary of $175,000, was unanimous.
Ferrell-Benavides said she is eager to move on. In the days leading up to her start date, she’s been acclimating herself to Martinsville. Although she lived in Petersburg from 2016 to 2021, her interview marked her first time traveling to the city.
“I never got a chance to come directly to Martinsville prior to [interviewing],” Ferrell-Benavides said about the city of about 13,500 people. “The more you talk, the more you find out that people are connected to the city.”
She did say, however, that she is familiar with both the city and the surrounding county. Among her goals is helping the city take advantage of what she described as regional growth. She placed an emphasis on attracting industries like telecommunications.
“When textiles shut down in Martinsville, it left a hole,” Ferrell-Benavides said. “But Martinsville has taken an aggressive approach to filling that hole. It isn’t an easy process but it is something that is doable.”
Housing is another concern. According to Ferrell-Benavides, it is tied to standard of living.
“When I look at cities of this size, I see a destination,” Ferrell-Benavides said about her vision of Martinsville’s future. “We have NASCAR, but we have more than NASCAR. … What we have to do is reintroduce Martinsville to the world and make it a place that people want to come.”