Pharr moves public comment , mayor responds to criticism

PHARR — In response to criticism over the city moving public comment from the beginning of city commission meetings to the end, Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez issued a stern speech at the end of Monday night’s commissioners meeting after multiple public commenters assailed the change as lacking transparency and accountability.

“Now that the dog and pony show is over, let’s get to the facts,” Hernandez said, beginning an unusual and long-winded response. Normally, the mayor and city commissioners don’t respond to public comments.

“This is why I love public comment,” he said. “I love people to come up and speak their mind, English or Spanish, makes no difference to me. But we also have to speak in facts, not three minutes of fame.”

The change is legal and it’s for the betterment of the community, Hernandez said. But he did not offer any reasoning beyond that.

Pharr has not had any public displays of outrage, profanity or showmanship during public comment recently, which is part of what confused critics.

Many meetings, it is often one man, if anyone at all, who signs up for public comment. Kenneth C. Fletcher, a Pharr resident and veterinarian, attends nearly every city commission meeting and lately, his public comments have focused on commotion at Costco disturbing him at his residence.

Fletcher had a few criticisms for the mayor and city officials over the public comment section being moved to the end of commissioners meetings. He predicted that because the section will now be at the end of meetings, commissioners will hold longer executive sessions.

The local government watchdog group Objective Watchers of the Legal System, or OWLS, was also represented Monday night. Fern McClaugherty, an Edinburg resident who ran unsuccessfully for local office in 2017, was called up as the final public commenter Monday night.

“We’d love to hear from Fern,” Hernandez said, just after he finished his forceful response to public comment criticism. “The great city of Edinburg.”

“I don’t need the cameras, I don’t need anything to make myself any better,” McClaugherty, a Pharr native, said.

She said public comments are intended for citizens to know that elected officials hear them out.

“So with you slamming the door in their face, I hope they remember this on election day,” McClaugherty said.

Hernandez mostly dismissed her as not being a Pharr resident, adding that “nobody” listens to the OWLS.

Earlier, though, Hernandez said commissioners will continue to be held accountable to residents despite public comment being held at the end of meetings.

“I’m sure you can bring your phones, you can broadcast live like everybody else and get your three minutes of fame for your dog and pony show, that’s up to you, it’s not a problem with me,” he said. “But we will be here to serve you.”