Unsolved residency issue causes political dilemma in Edcouch

Through the power of a temporary restraining order signed by a judge last week, a new majority took control of the Edcouch Board of Aldermen — for now.

Attorney Michael Pruneda applied for the temporary restraining order last Tuesday after city administration attempted to bar recently-elected Place 2 Alderman Joel Segura, his client, from the board. In a letter dated Oct. 1, the city’s elections administrator claimed Segura lives outside city limits, making him ineligible to hold the office.

Despite city administration’s residency debacle, voters elected the entire “United for the Community” slate, which included Segura, incumbent Alderman Rene Flores and newly elected Alderman Lorenzo “Lencho” Cabrera.

Segura received 776 votes, compared to former Alderwoman Esmeralda Cabrera’s 492 votes. Flores and Lorenzo Cabrera would likely be in the minority without Segura on the board, preventing the slate from enacting their priorities.

The accusation also brings another alderman race into question and the motivations behind the letter sent to Segura three weeks prior to the start of the early voting period.

Interim City Manager Eddy Gonzalez, the election administrator’s boss, unsuccessfully sought to unseat Flores, who is aligned with Segura. The interim city manager filed against Flores, one of his bosses, after encouragement from supporters.

In October, Attorney Orlando Jimenez, speaking on behalf of Segura, said the residency accusation was “politically motivated” and a “desperate attempt” to intimidate him.

Pruneda, Segura’s current attorney, applied for the temporary restraining order a week after Election Day. A judge granted the order, preventing the board from discussing two agenda items — the “disqualification of Joel Segura as a candidate” and “appointment of possible vacant alderman position.”

Moments after being served with a temporary restraining order prior to the special meeting, Esmeralda Cabrera and Aldermen Danny Guzman and Fred Borrego walked out of the chamber, leaving only two other aldermen and the mayor to canvass the votes.

Guzman walked out because there were “too many legal issues” surrounding the order, he said.

“I didn’t want to be part of that,” Guzman, who was part of the old guard, said.

Flores and Alderman Orlando Villarreal instead canvassed the votes without them, allowing Segura to take the Place 2 seat — but not without procedural hiccups.

At first, the interim city manager did not read the votes cast for Segura or Esmeralda Cabrera during the meeting, saying “we won’t even discuss that one because that’s going to be going to court.”

Flores insisted Gonzalez read the votes cast for Segura and Esmeralda Cabrera in order to canvass those votes.

“Can we do the numbers? Okay, okay, okay, well, I’m asking because I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez then read the votes, and the record was made official by Flores and Villarreal.

Segura, Flores and Lorenzo Cabrera, elected as a new majority, took the oath of office during a ceremony following the special meeting.

The board of alderman held a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday when another spectacle emerged. Esmeralda Cabrera wants to retain the seat on the basis that city administration disqualified Segura.

Segura took a seat on the board, but was the only one of his slate without a nameplate. The board took no action on the listed agenda items, including ones seconded by Segura.

“Officially, he shouldn’t be in the seat because we’re going to court on that,” Esmeralda Cabrera said following the meeting, noting she would have sat in the Place 2 seat if she would have arrived before Segura.

“It officially belongs to me because he was disqualified,” she said.

A hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for Nov. 27.