EDINBURG — The mayor here put on quite a show as he made his way into the Municipal Auditorium on Thursday night for his first State of the City address since his election last year.
New Public Information Director Cary Zayas introduced Richard Molina after a round of mariachi music, the presentation of colors, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem and invocation.
“Ladies and gentleman, standing at 6 feet tall, with a perfect election record of 4 and 0 — all wins by knockout — the former U.S soldier, former police officer, former police field training officer, former police corporal, former police sergeant, former Edinburg city council member, and our current mayor of the city of Edinburg, the honorable Richard Molina,” she said in the style of a boxing ring-announcer.
Molina strutted from the back of the auditorium to Flo Rida’s “Welcome to My House,” while a title belt was carried behind him by Valley professional boxer Eric Molina. About a dozen cheerleaders surrounded the mayor as he high-fived his way to the front of the stage, where he spoke for about 20 minutes before a pre-produced video presentation about the city began.
The auditorium was filled with both ardent supporters and detractors of the new administration. A group of about 50 people donned red shirts that read “I support the recall” and “#SaveEdinburg.” They sat together in the far left corner of the auditorium, while the most vocal supporters of the council sat in the front right corner.
They clashed throughout the speech, which touted everything from a new resource center to a new city logo to road and drainage improvements.
Molina began his address by highlighting the city’s recent investment into public safety. Council members spent more than $1.26 million earlier this month on 20 new police SUVs and a fire truck. That figure, however, doesn’t include two additional fire trucks the city also plans to acquire.
“Never before has the city invested in our fire department on a scale like this,” Molina said.
The expenditure drew criticism from former Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, who donned a red shirt at the event.
“When he ran he said there was no money, and it seems to me like they’re spending a lot of money,” she said after the event. “It’s just a lie.”
Molina appeared to take a jab at the former administration when he said, “We’re not going to allow anymore of the wasteful spending … we’re not going to allow deals to be made so a select few can profit. Those days are over.”
He then teased his critics a bit when he thanked the former mayor — Joe Ochoa, who left office almost a decade ago in 2009.
In the five months since he took office, city staff have cleared more than 20 miles of ditches and 35 miles of storm drains to help alleviate flooding, Molina said. Solid Waste crews also picked up more than 92 tons of debris during a clean-up event at the La Hielera neighborhood in north Edinburg.
He proceeded to list new businesses and indicated the city had closed out 2017 with more than $271 million worth of construction permits, adding an additional 900 new apartments and 469 homes to the city.
“Bottom line, more people are moving to Edinburg,” Molina said. “They now know what you and I have known all along — this is the best place to live, work and learn.”
He also touted the streamlining of services with the relocation of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation to city hall, and announced the vacated building would be turned into a resource center, giving residents access to computers and workforce-related support.
“It’s been proven that an educated community is a successful community,” he said. “Our future looks bright in Edinburg.”
The city currently has a 4.9 percent unemployment rate.
“Edinburg is tied with our sister city of McAllen for having the most number of employed residents,” Molina said.
At one point, the mayor touted projects that have previously drawn criticism from the council, most notably the Bert Ogden Arena, which was one of the first attractions displayed across the video screen promoting Edinburg. The arena is expected to generate a $45 million output and create 460 jobs, not including the employment generated by its construction.
“It’s going to be the biggest and best venue in South Texas,” Molina said, drawing criticism from his detractors.
“They were always criticizing those things,” Palacios said. “Besides, those projects were done a long time ago. They didn’t’ do them in the last six months that he was mayor. Come on. Give me a break.”
The address also touched on some of the ongoing projects, like the construction of the Eisenhower Memorial Park and a new pediatric clinic run by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.
“We’re proud to say that our community is also becoming very well known for our health centers,” Molina said. “We are the home of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, a world-class system serving the community with excellence. DHR is Edinburg’s largest employer, with over 4,700 employees.”
DHR recently committed to starting a satellite program with the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, which Molina said was the “first of its kind in the entire nation.”
“We have a strong city council that represents the very best of what we can accomplish when we work together,” Molina said.
At that point, the group of red shirts got up and exited the auditorium.
“I’ve heard enough bull—-,” one critic said as he exited the building. Meanwhile, another supporter who saw the group departing said, “Good. I’m glad they’re finally leaving.”