The scene of an elected official in handcuffs, answering to criminal charges before a judge and confirming long-held suspicions of the presence of an investigation into public corruption, is not an unfamiliar sight for Rio Grande Valley residents.

Sheriffs, judges, district attorneys and mayors have not been immune to scandal here. But while the Valley community has long-grown fatigued by controversies ranging from pay-to-play plots to election fraud, one particular scene Thursday came as a shock to us all, even amid the hoopla surrounding the arrests of Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina on illegal voting charges.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and his wife Dalia Molina face Justice of the Peace Jerry Muñoz for their arraignment proceedings in their illegal voting case.

Posted by The Monitor on Thursday, April 25, 2019

The sight of Cary Zayas, director of communications and media for the city of Edinburg, shielding the Molinas from reporters by physically blocking the state troopers’ units the couple occupied became the spectacle that day, and drew the ire of many who witnessed it all unfold in our Facebook Live video.

“Regardless of how I feel about this arrest, I don’t appreciate the inappropriate behavior demonstrated by the public information director, Cary Zayas at our mayor’s arrest and arraignment,” one Facebook user, Alma Robledo, wrote on the city of Edinburg’s page. “Zayas stood in front of the cameras acting like a security guard and this is totally inappropriate and reprehensible behavior by one of our public servants that represents us, the taxpayers of the city of Edinburg. A very shameful and unprofessional demonstration by a public servant. I ask that she be spoken to about refraining from this type of unprofessional behavior and reminded that she represents us and her behavior reflects on us, the taxpayers.”

Others chided Zayas, a TV news anchor-turned-city spokesperson, for lecturing a Monitor reporter about “Reporting 101” and sarcastically instructing a KRGV journalist to “get good video of the car” because “video of the car is important for the story.”

While this display spawned many reactions, there are more distressing implications to consider.

Outside the Pharr justice of the peace’s courtroom where the Molinas had just been arraigned, Zayas confirmed that she was present in her capacity as the city’s spokesperson. This means that when she attempted to restrict our access while covering law enforcement proceedings, which she has no authority over, she did so while on the clock for the city in a position funded by taxpayers.

Certainly there are better uses of city resources than paying Zayas to physically obstruct journalists from doing their job.

Consider for a moment the optics: Being the sister of a volunteer voter registrar who, according to complaints, assisted several of the individuals arrested for allegedly falsifying their addresses, Zayas would have served the city better by staying away from these proceedings.

Of course it would have been appropriate for Zayas to issue a statement, hold a press conference and respond to media inquiries in a professional setting at city hall, but the image of her physically getting between the media and the Molinas outside of their arraignment proceedings looks extraordinarily bad.

What’s more, she then spoke on behalf of Edinburg in claiming that the city supports Molina amid the Texas Attorney General’s case against him — a stunning declaration since local governments normally distance themselves from such matters.

As spokesperson, it’s Zayas’ responsibility to represent the city as an entity and not any one member of the commission or administration in their personal plight against criminal charges.

I can appreciate the impulse to protect those she clearly cares for, but during a time in which spokespersons are facing scrutiny for defending their figureheads to a fault, I hope the city will review these actions to ensure its employees no longer infringe upon the press, and — by extension — the people who rely on us to hold their public officials accountable.

Michael Rodriguez is the deputy editor for The Monitor.

Editor’s Note: This column was updated to clarify the public officials who have faced scandal.

Related links

EDITORIAL: Corruption charges add to Valley’s bad reputation

Here we go again: Edinburg mayor, wife latest to be charged with illegal voting

Former mayoral candidates weigh in on Molina’s arrest