Mission councilman disputes residency accusations

MISSION — As the city council elections draw near, the residency of a city councilman who’s now running for mayor has become a topic of much interest after a resident alleged he doesn’t actually live in the city.

The council member in question, Armando O’Caña, has owned a residence in Mission located on Greenlawn Street for 40 years, but in 2007 he built another residence outside of the city, along Shuerbach Road.

Thomas Tijerina, the citizen who raised the issue at two city council meetings, alleges the second location is where O’Caña actually lives full time, possibly violating the city charter. To make his case, Tijerina cited water utility records which show usage at the Mission residence was lower than average.

Records obtained by The Monitor show that water usage at the Greenlawn residence hovered between 12,000 gallons to as low of 1,000 gallons per month since early 2010, with the exception of a few months in 2017 when usage reached 14,000, 16,000 and even 26,000 gallons.

Going back further to 2003, there were several months when there was no water consumption at all.

O’Caña maintains that records reporting zero water usage are incorrect and said he plans have the city correct the records after the election.

“There’s no question about my residence because I comply with the city charter,” he said. “I live (on Greenlawn Drive), that’s where I slept last night.”

However, in response to Tijerina’s accusations, Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said that not only does O’Caña not live in the city, but that the issue has been an open secret for years.

“We all know that he lives outside the city of Mission, we’ve known that for 10 years,” Salinas said during a Feb. 12 city council meeting. “I have no problem with him running, he’s got all the right. If he can get away with him lying to the people of Mission, that’s fine; I have no problem with that either.”

O’Caña remained silent during the exchange as city council members are not allowed to address the person speaking during public comment, but he was adamant the mayor was wrong.

“I don’t understand where he’s coming from, as far as that everybody knew,” O’Caña said Friday. “Maybe his comments are based on the fact that I opened an O’Caña family center and I have that center that’s on (Shuerbach).”

O’Caña explained that the residence on Shuerbach Road, which he referred to as a family center, serves as a place for family get-togethers.

“A lot of people go to (South Padre) Island for Labor Day, we spend it there,” he said referring to the Shuerbach residence.

However, Salinas again claimed that O’Caña had been living outside of the city since he’s known him. He said no one had ever filed a complaint about the issue until now, referring to Tijerina. As of Friday, though, Tijerina said he had not done so yet, as he was awaiting assistance from an attorney.

The process of filing a formal complaint would have to go through the district attorney’s office or the state attorney general’s office, according to City Attorney Abel Flores.

Flores said if anyone has reason to believe a sitting city council member does not live within the city, that information had to be submitted to either of those agencies. After reviewing the case, they will make a determination of whether it should be considered by a district court for a quo warranto proceeding, a legal action to resolve whether or not a person has a right to hold the public office he or she currently holds.

Tijerina said he raised the issue with the city council after a discussion with a friend over his disappointment at being ineligible to run for the Mission city council because he technically lives in Palmhurst.

“And he said, ‘Hey, that doesn’t matter. In Mission you just get yourself a little shack and you can be on the council,’” Tijerina said, recalling the conversation. “I was outraged.”

The city charter, under article 3, states that “each member of the city council shall be a resident citizen of the city of Mission, shall be a qualified voter of the state of Texas, shall have been such resident citizen of the city of Mission for a period of not less than six months immediately preceding his election, and shall not be indebted to the city of Mission at the time he takes office.”

Charters for cities throughout the Rio Grande Valley have similar provisions and recently led to controversy during the Donna city council elections last year.

In that instance, mayoral candidate Ernesto Lugo had little choice but to suspend his campaign after a state district court judge did not find enough evidence to support his claim that he lived within the Donna city limits, The Monitor previously reported.

“I think they’re trying to take the focus away the fact that I’m running for the position of mayor,” O’Caña said. “I think that it’s a political move; that’s all it is.”