Mayor, council member speak out against alleged charter violation

HIDALGO — The mayor here alleges a personal tie between a council member and a Weslaco attorney led council members to violate the city charter.

The issue revolves around the municipal judge post and who on the council can appoint. One faction of the council argues the charter stipulates only the mayor can appoint with approval from the council, while the other believes it can be interpreted otherwise.

Mayor Martin Cepeda, who believes he’s the only one who can appoint, successfully filed a temporary restraining order last week after three members of the council — Noe Reyes, Sergio Coronado and Gustavo “Gus” Sanchez — nominated and approved Ivan Perez as an interim judge despite objections from Cepeda.

“I told them not to do it because they couldn’t do it,” Cepeda said about the discussion during a council meeting held last week. “But the attorney told them anybody could interpret it the way they wanted to.”

Cepeda believes the issue began about a year-and-a-half ago when the council voted to reduce the hours the current municipal judge, Juan Pimentel, could work. He essentially went from working anywhere between 25 to 30 hours per week to six hours.

“You can’t work with six hours,” Cepeda said. “He still shows up, but he gets paid the hours that he is allowed to work.”

Cepeda and his political ally Rudy Franz believe the council voted to hire Perez as a judge because of his ties to Sanchez. Sanchez did not return a call seeking comment.

“This gentleman is a good friend of commissioner Gus Sanchez,” Cepeda said about Perez.

Franz echoed the sentiment and said Sanchez had approached him and the mayor about eight months ago with a request to hire Perez.

“He said that he wanted to see it happen because he wanted to help Ivan,” Franz said.

“And I told him no,” Cepeda said. “I guess that’s where it all started. He didn’t like that I told him no.”

Perez previously served as Sanchez’s attorney in a case against him in 2013, court records show. The civil case was dismissed earlier this year at the behest of the plaintiff.

“Why would you want to hire another attorney when you can extend (Pimentel’s) hours,” Cepeda asked rhetorically. “Why have a city charter if you’re not going to follow it?”