WESLACO – On two issues, four of Weslaco’s candidates for City Commission agreed: that there’s no upside to buying into the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge and the city should proceed cautiously with proposed annexations.
But on most other items, views diverged as mayoral candidates Adrian Farias and David Suarez and candidates for Districts 5 and 6, Letty Lopez and Fidel Peña, sat down to talk city issues with The Monitor last week.
District 5 and 6 incumbents Lupe Rivera and Joe Martinez did not respond to repeated requests over the course of two weeks to answer any questions.
Early voting begins Monday. Election Day is Nov. 5.
While Farias praised City Manager Leo Olivares for his role in implementing policies that drastically boosted the city’s fund balance, Suarez, Lopez and Peña – who are allies against the current administration – critiqued his job performance.
Suarez and Peña called themselves upset about the city manager’s heavy-handed involvement in issues involving Knapp Medical Center and the Economic Development Corp. Lopez said she held him responsible for recommending decisions to the commission that she didn’t support.
Amid a season of controversy involving the city’s water treatment plant construction and water rates, Suarez called for an inquiry into the process of construction to present to the public. The other three emphasized the need to continue finding income to pay off debt as quickly as possible to reduce rates further.
All four touched on various aspects of infrastructure as particular challenges for the City Commission. Suarez called for a focus on paving streets, Peña on drainage. Lopez and Farias said the biggest issue was addressing old water lines.
“I know everyone talks about the beautification of Weslaco and the parks and all, but we’ve got to worry about the infrastructure first,” Farias said.
Suarez, Lopez and Peña all said they thought downtown revitalization, rather than expressway development, should be the most important economic development priority, while Farias said he couldn’t choose.
On procedural issues, some of the candidates agreed.
Farias and Suarez both said they would depart from the tradition of former Mayor Miguel Wise to abstain from voting on most subjects and, if elected, plan to vote regularly.
Suarez and Peña both called to move public comments from the end of City Commission meetings to the beginning.
All four indicated some skepticism of the construction manager-at-risk (CMAR) process the city uses frequently in construction projects – which involves setting a price that cannot be exceeded, rather than bidding for a low price.
Peña and Suarez said they would rather see the city use a traditional bidding process for projects. Lopez and Farias said they couldn’t answer whether they might support CMAR in certain cases, but generally supported bidding out projects.
Asked to name an under-utilized asset within the community, Farias and Lopez also found rare common ground, both suggesting restoring funding to the Chamber of Commerce.
Peña and Suarez called for reaching out to citizens in areas of the city where political participation is low. Suarez noted circumstances in which people have worked with the city or served on boards and are now involved in related litigation.
“We don’t appreciate them – we’re suing them,” he said. “When you sue them, you antagonize them.”