EDINBURG — Residents here came out in full force to stop the council from potentially changing the way the city chooses its municipal judge during a meeting last week.
According to the city meeting agenda, Edinburg leaders were supposed to discuss and possibly take action on a “proposed charter amendment election.”
There was no supporting documentation or staff recommendation attached to the item to shed light on the proposed changes, and yet, at least three residents came to the same conclusion: the council wanted to amend the rules regarding the election of the municipal judge position.
“The main reason why I’m here today, this afternoon, is because (it’s) my understanding … that Judge Terry Palacios was going to be removed as the municipal court judge,” resident Raul Casares said, addressing the council.
The small business owner proceeded to speak in support of current Edinburg Municipal Judge Terry Palacios, and said he was “one of the main reasons” Casares opened his business, Tigre’s Boxing Gym.
“If it weren’t for Terry … honestly, I don’t know where I would be right now,” Casares said.
But before the Edinburg resident left the podium, Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina told him he was misinformed.
“Just for the record, the council does not have the power to remove an elected official that is serving his term,” Molina said. “That’s incorrect information. So you’ve been misinformed — so that you know.”
At that point, several people in attendance groaned at the remark, prompting the mayor to call for order.
Next to the podium: retired Edinburg school teacher Sandra Davis.
Davis, who taught civics, social studies and history, said she had heard the council wanted to do away with electing the municipal judge and instead wanted the power to appoint someone to the position. Doing so, however, would require the council to change the charter, which would likely trigger an election.
During her time at the podium, Davis tried to rally the residents in attendance, instead of speaking directly to the council.
“My concern is, is that you’re going to take an elected position — which you get to choose who you want to vote for — and they’re going to take that position, that job from you, and our illustrious city council is going to decide who’s going to judge you when you end up in front of the judge,” she said.
Davis urged residents to participate in local elections and vote.
“You don’t let a few people decide who’s going to sit in judgment of you on your bad day. That’s your right to pick your candidate,” she said. “And if you don’t like him, then vote him out the next time.”
Davis was applauded as she left the podium.
Then came Regina “Regi” Richardson, an attorney who “implored” the council to reconsider its alleged attempt to take the right away from the hands of the people.
“If you take that away from the city, you’re telling the city that you don’t believe that they have the ability to choose on their own, and I doubt that’s the message that you (mayor) and the rest of you want to send to this city,” Richardson told the council. “You wouldn’t be sitting there right now if you didn’t trust the people of Edinburg to choose …
“Don’t spend these people’s money on a referendum that we don’t need, and let the people choose who they want as their municipal judge, as they always have.”
Richardson’s impassioned speech was also received with applause from the audience and two council members: Homer Jasso Jr. and Gilbert Enriquez.
Then came time for the council to discuss the issue.
“I was asked to put this on the agenda,” Edinburg City Manager Richard Hinojosa said, but did not offer a name.
Hinojosa indicated the charter, which is 100 years old, has “language issues” and “conflicting problems with state law.” State annexation laws changed during the last legislative session, and the charter needs to reflect that, Hinojosa said.
Its language has also spurred at least two legal arguments over the definition of two terms: successive and willful.
“We need to look at these terms to make sure that they’re not as vague,” the mayor said, indicating he supported a charter update.
“I think going to the voters and (letting) them decide on any charter amendment — whether it be the judge, whether it be the council, whether it be changing some of the ordinances — is up to the voters to make that decision,” Enriquez said. “Why anybody would dispute that, I don’t know, but it’s up to the public. It’s up to the voters.”
The council’s discussion touched slightly on the role of the municipal judge, with the mayor indicating there are currently both elected and appointed municipal judges serving in Edinburg.
In 2015, the council appointed Roger Solis to the municipal judge position to help Palacios with the caseload. At the time, the move was seen as contentious by those who supported Palacios.
Today, the city pays Palacios, the elected judge, $90,000 for serving in a part-time capacity, and does not preclude him from seeking outside employment, Hinojosa said.
“There’s no reason for an elected official to be getting paid a salary for a part-time job,” Enriquez said. “And that’s my concern.”
The council ultimately directed Hinojosa to research how many cities in Hidalgo County elect their municipal judges and to find out if they are compensated for their service.
This story was updated to reflect Regina “Regi” Richardson is an attorney.