Last week, the City Council hired the veteran utility superintendent as the interim assistant water distribution superintendent.
“I was born in Kingsville and raised in Bishop,” Vela said last week as he sat at his desk at the city’s water distribution facility in the 300 block of West Cleveland Street.
But Vela decided in 1971 that he wanted to move up in the world. He moved to Houston.
Life in the big city was not for him, so, in 1973, Vela returned to Bishop as the water and wastewater superintendent.
After seven years working with that city, Vela decided to make a move to private industry and took a job at the Celanese Chemical Co. facility there.
“I stayed there about a year and a half,” Vela said. “I had some property there, and I opened a restaurant.”
But running the C&M restaurant was not enough of a challenge for Vela. He returned to the City of Bishop as its director of public works.
Sometime later, Vela made his first move to Portland, where he took a job as that city’s director of public works.
He left that position in 1987 and took the same job with the City of Gregory. He also had a restaurant in that city.
“I guess I’ve moved around a lot,” Vela said.
Another job change took him to the City of Corpus Christi, where he served as an operator for that city’s Oso treatment plant.
Then Vela ended up in Weslaco, where he was director of public works until 1993.
The next nine years were spent with the Texas Rural Water Association in Austin.
“I was a circuit rider,” Vela said. “We went all over the state helping smaller systems.” That job required him to show utility personnel in other cities how to run all aspects of the water and wastewater treatment business, including management, finances and other responsibilities.
Starting in 2002, Vela did consulting work until 2005 with a Washington, D.C., organization called MANCON.
That job required him to fill in as an operator at treatment plants around the state.
But in 2007, Vela got a shot at the utility superintendant’s position back in Portland. He jumped at the chance and started working closer to home again.
When the job here opened up, “I had retired,” Vela said. Interim City Manager Deborah Ballí called him and suggested he apply for the opening.
“So I un-retired,” Vela said. “So far, I love it here. I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Vela brings the coveted AA license to the position. “It’s the highest certification the state has,” he said. “I was the youngest person in Texas and the only person who was not an engineer to hold that license,” Vela beamed. “I was pretty proud of that.”
Today, Vela is one of only 300 utility supervisors to hold that license.
Although the position is considered interim, Vela said he would like to make it more than temporary.
“I want to become permanent,” he said as one member of the team, Humberto Saenz, stopped by his office.
“I like a challenge,” Vela said. “I think the city has a good group in this department. I think they just need a little help.”
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.