Judge: Edcouch alderman lives within city limits

EDINBURG — A visiting judge on Tuesday allowed recently elected Edcouch Alderman Joel Segura to continue serving despite city administration’s belief that he lives in neighboring Elsa.

Following testimony from witnesses called by both sides, 275th state District Court visiting Judge Robert Garza issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from further interfering with Segura’s duty as an alderman.

In an Oct. 1 letter, the city’s elections administrator accused Segura of living outside Edcouch city limits. Segura listed 108 Frederick St. on his application for a place on the ballot and the administrator claimed it did “not exist within the city of Edcouch.”

Segura has consistently asserted he lives at the home on Frederick Street with his aunt, the homeowner, for about a year-and-a-half.

His aunt’s home is located within Edcouch city limits, testimony revealed, but the home’s address changed from 108 to 110 Frederick Street for emergency response purposes in 2014.

Though information in the letter had spread throughout the city of about 3,270 residents, voters elected Segura on Nov. 6. He received 284 more votes than Esmeralda Cabrera, the incumbent who sought a second term on the board of aldermen.

Cabrera wanted to keep the seat even though she only received about 39 percent of votes cast.

“She did everything right, he did not, and the court in essence is giving a gift,” the city’s attorney Javier Villalobos said following the judge’s order.

The judge, however, pushed back at Villalobos’ comment.

“He’s going to continue serving as an alderman, as far as I’m concerned,” Garza said. “He’s qualified to serve as an alderman, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m ordering that he continues serving as an alderman.”

At the start of the hearing, the judge was ready to make a determination based on court filings submitted by Segura’s attorney Michael Pruneda and Villalobos. But Villalobos requested testimonial evidence be provided in court and Pruneda did not object to it.

The judge granted the request for testimony and witnesses were called to the stand, including Edcouch Police Chief Eloy Cardenas, who testified he was ordered to conduct an investigation into Segura’s residency by interim City Administrator Eddy Gonzalez. As the city’s top administrator, Gonzalez oversees all city employees, including the police chief and the elections administrator who wrote the letter.

Gonzalez and Cabrera ran together on a slate against Segura’s “United for the Community” team, which called into question the motivation behind the letter and directives given to employees who conducted the residency investigation.

Under the direction of Gonzalez, the police chief said he filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office about Segura’s residency three days after Election Day because “allegedly some laws had been violated.”

Gonzalez could not be immediately reached for comment following the hearing.

Much of the evidence centered on documents and testimony from people who know Segura.

Ernestina De La Cruz, who lives on Frederick Street, said she did not see Segura living there. De La Cruz, however, testified her brother is Edcouch elections administrator Pete De La Cruz.

Arnoldo Reyes Jr., a friend of Segura’s, said he visited the Frederick Street home.

“I’ve gone over there, hung out with him a couple times,” Reyes said about Segura. “I went over there once because his aunt made some enchiladas, and he called us over.”

Segura, who previously worked at oil refineries throughout the U.S., said he listed an Elsa address on his drivers license, where his girlfriend lives, even though he lives in Edcouch with his aunt.

In Texas, residency is not lost when a person leaves a home “for temporary purposes,” according to the election code. Residency often boils down to where a person believes or claims to live.

Segura, 32, voted in Edcouch, despite working in other states because he intended to return.

He first registered to vote at an address on Crenshaw Street in Edcouch, where he said he lived with his sister in public housing. Segura then updated his address to Frederick Street with the Hidalgo County Elections Department after receiving the letter.

He now works at Iced Cube, a raspa and snack stand in Elsa and Mission, owned by his brother.

“Now everyone’s doubts are put aside, and now they know the truth,” Segura said, noting challenging city administration in court was not what he expected when he filed to run for office.

Villalobos suspects he will be removed as the city’s attorney because Segura’s slate mates also won seats, but Segura did not commit to ousting him or the city’s administrator.

“Honestly, I really don’t know why they would just go after me,” Segura said. “I don’t understand why, maybe because I’m the new guy.”

Segura will be moving to another home in Edcouch in a few weeks and will update his drivers license address.

“We need to make Edcouch great, just like Elsa is — that is our plan,” Segura said outside of the courtroom following the hearing. “Our plan is to make it better, beautify it, make it a better town, and move on from this whole thing.”

He then left to celebrate a second win — this time in the courtroom.

“I’m glad it’s finally over,” Segura said.