A lawsuit was filed against several Weslaco city leaders alleging violations of the Texas Opens Meetings Act, as city commission members worked to clear up any legal doubts caused by a shake-up of the Economic Development Corp.
Attorneys for DKIII Hornback, a contractor chosen by the EDC board to construct an event center, filed the suit Monday afternoon. It alleges five commission members interfered with the contract.
"Upon information and belief, Defendants, or a combination of Defendants, have met in violation of the Open Meetings Act to discuss and conspire for the termination of the construction agreement between DKIII and the EDC," the suit states.
Named in the suit are Commissioners John Cuellar, Lupe Rivera, Jerry Tafolla and Jose Martinez, as well as City Manager Leo Olivares.
As of Friday morning, the city commisioners and Olivares had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
"The Defendants did not meet as City Commissioners, but as individuals seeking to interfere and ultimately terminate the subject agreement. Defendants, other than Olivarez (sic), generally vote as a block in commission meetings," it continues.
Last month, the city commission voted to change its rules to allow elected officials to serve on the board and named four commissioners to the seven-member board. The commission also eliminated the geographic requirements that each member must be from a different commission district.
Mayor Pro Tem John Cuellar, who made the motion to make the change, emphasized that the current board members and Hernan Gonzalez, EDC director, were doing a good job. Still, he said, the city commission should have greater oversight over the organization with so many projects coming down the pipeline.
But at least one of the board members has said the DKIII contract was the catalyst for the take-over because city leaders wanted the bid to go to a different company.
According to the lawsuit, Olivares told Gonzalez March 6 to hold off on any major projects. Gonzalez turned around and told DKIII to stop work March 8.
Meanwhile, the last two scheduled meetings of the EDC board have turned into workshops at the advice of Rick Talbert, attorney for the agency. Talbert said the city should have waited to appoint new members until after the new rules were filed by the Secretary of State and the city received a certificate of filing.
“In my opinion, the procedure the city took left the board completely in limbo after the certificate of filing of the articles. That was why it was requested by the city to be ratified; unfortunately it wasn't.”
At a special meeting Monday night, City Attorney Ramon Vela said the city's actions followed procedure and a vote to ratify those actions is just a formality.
"I'm saying that Rick Talbert and I disagree," Vela said when pressed by Commissioner Olga Noriega on the differing legal opinions. Noriega voted against changes to the board.
Vela later added that he checked with the Attorney General on the matter.
The commission approved the ratification with Noriega casting the sole dissenting vote.
"This is just to clean up, so we can move forward," Gonzalez told the commissioners.