Is this a democracy or a dictatorship?
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By G. Romero Wendorf
EDINBURG – A new ordinance on the City of Edinburg’s Thursday afternoon meeting (6 p.m.) is certainly unusual.
If you’re a councilmember, let’s say, and you say something Mayor Richard Garcia doesn’t like, can he kick you out of the meeting if the new ordinance is passed?
Look at the way the ordinance is written. In fact, if you say something with which he doesn’t agree, the mayor may not have to call on you again at any other time during the meeting:
“No person shall address the City Council without first being recognized by the Mayor or the presiding officer, including the Council Members.”
In other words, if you’re a councilmember, and you say something the mayor doesn’t like, presumably the mayor won’t call on you again.
So tell him his beard is nicely trimmed. Fine. Just don’t suggest that any of his family members have ever worked for any vendor with whom the city is doing business.
During a special Dec. 12 meeting, held to discuss whether or not the city should move forward with a partnership with Developer David Marquez to lay approximately $35 million worth of debt on the backs of taxpayers so as to develop a so-called low-income apartment complex near the ritzy La Sienna Community, Councilmember David Torres said this to the city attorney:
“Rick (Palacios), can the mayor vote because his wife has done work for Mr. Marquez. Specifically with (helping) Santana Textile get the funding that helped save that company. Can the mayor vote?”
If the new ordinance passes Thursday night, those sorts of questions may no longer be tolerated. The mayor won’t be bothered with any more of those pesky questions from the likes of David Torres.
The Advance tried Monday to ask the mayor about the new proposed ordinance, but he didn’t return our phone call.
The new proposed ordinance contains more:
- Any councilmember who wants to place something on the agenda has to provide his or her request to the city manager in writing five days before the meeting, with all of the supporting documents to back up the request. (No undue hardship there.)
- All persons at the city meeting, presumably including the council members, shall at the request of the mayor or the presiding officer, be silent upon such order. If, after receiving a warning from the mayor or presiding officer, a person persists in disturbing the meeting, he’ll be ordered to leave. If he or she doesn’t leave, they’ll be forcibly removed. (The ordinance makes no mention of whether or not they’ll ever be seen again.)
- Any person who shall intentionally disturb the proceedings of the City Council, after being warned by the mayor or the presiding officer of such action, may be removed from the meeting.
The ordinance is written in such ambiguous fashion, that on one hand, one could argue that it’s only addressing members of the public sitting in the peanut gallery.
But on the other hand, when the proposed ordinance reads, “any person” or “all persons at the city meeting,” and then proceeds to describe how and when and under what circumstances they could be ejected from the meeting – if they say something that the mayor or presiding officer finds offensive or of a disturbing nature – then one can easily argue that it leans toward a dictatorship as opposed to a democracy.
And yes, it sure reads as if councilmembers are under threat of removal if they step out of line.
If this ordinance were in place Dec. 12, would Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia have allowed minority councilmembers Richard Molina and David Torres to utter these quotes when discussing the La Sienna Apartment project before asking them to leave (after being warned once to shut up):
Molina: “How (did) we all go about putting this thing together? I mean, I was at an event Friday night and ran into the city manager (who mentioned this agreement) to me. We’re talking close to $35 million, and we are kind of rushing into this thing. I got an email yesterday (Sunday) that said (these) documents have not been reviewed by the lender’s side and are subject to revision. I got the (agreement) documents delivered to my house Sunday evening. Plus, there was a joint city/county meeting that same day, which just added to the amount of information to digest. We have never had hearings on this deal, nothing.”
Torres: “Mayor, I have a question as to who can vote on this. I need our legal counsel, Rick Palacios, to make sure (everything is being done) in a legal way. I believe one of our councilman, Mr. Jasso, is related to one of the vendors who is going to be involved in this project, who is currently involved (with) City of Pharr’s (Jackson Place Apartments). I believe if (Councilman Jasso) is related to (the vendor, Total Commitment) through marriage, I don’t think (he) can vote (today).”
Molina: “I don’t believe that (that no vendors had yet been hired). And I don’t appreciate you getting up here in front of an open meeting and not telling the truth. That’s not a good way to start a (business relationship).”
Torres: “Staying on budget is fine, but the other side of the coin is transparency, and this is why I’m asking these questions.”
Transparency – that old, annoying thing.
If the new ordinance were in place Dec. 12, would the two “troublemakers” have been told to shut up? One warning, according to the proposed ordinance, and if they spoke out of turn again, they’d be given the boot?
Arguing is apparently now synonymous with “disruptive,” at least based on how the proposed Edinburg ordinance reads, which will be up for a vote and discussion during a city council meeting this Thursday (6 p.m.).
“In my opinion, this attempt to pass this ordinance is an outright attack on both democracy and freedom of speech,” said Councilmember Richard Molina. “As an elected official, I represent the people who expect us to ask the tough questions.”
Molina said there is no doubt in his mind that the ordinance now placed on Thursday night’s agenda is clearly tied to the Dec. 12 special meeting, during which he and fellow Councilmember David Torres raised questions concerning both the mayor’s family members and Councilmember Homer Jasso Jr.’s family members, and whether they had any business ties to either the Burns Brothers (La Sienna developers) and/or David Marquez (D&M Ventures).
In other words, said Molina, were they guilty of any conflict of interest?
“I hope the public sees this for what it is,” said Molina, “which is an attempt by the mayor to completely control any and all discussions that take place during council meetings. The council is supposedly comprised of individuals elected by the people. As opposed to some sort of dictatorship.”
Note: A temporary restraining order signed by state District Court Judge “Bobby” Flores was presented to Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia immediately prior to Thursday night’s meeting, thus preventing the council from voting on the proposed ordinance.
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