Questions abound over $10,000 Donna commitment to McAllen

A Donna city councilman is raising concerns after the city pledged $10,000 to the city of McAllen to promote public safety with regard to the continuing influx of asylum-seeking migrants dropped off there by federal immigration officials.

Place 3 Councilman Arturo Castillo said neither he nor fellow Councilman Oscar Gonzalez voted to approve the donation.

The item in question was part of the consent agenda, which the council considered at the top of last Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The idea came about after Mayor Rick Morales, along with other Rio Grande Valley mayors, recently attended a meeting with acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin A. McAleenan to discuss what federal officials have dubbed a “humanitarian and security crisis” of asylum-seeking migrants entering the country.

For Morales, McAllen’s plight is not their issue to shoulder alone. The Donna mayor spoke of the issue as a regional one.

“They’ve been overrun with a lot of illegal immigrants coming over and so city of Donna, showing solidarity with the region and our city of McAllen, we’re going to be helping them out,” Morales said shortly after the meeting adjourned.

The meeting began with Morales opening the floor for a motion; the item was so moved by Place 4 Councilman Eloy Avila. Place 2 Councilman Joey Garza Jr. seconded the motion, City Secretary Laura Balderrama said.

A third man can be heard in an audio recording of the meeting also trying to second the motion.

The mayor then called for those in favor to signify their vote by saying aye. After a brief pause with no audible ayes, the mayor then asked for those opposed to the item to signify their vote by saying nay.

After no audible nays, the mayor then said the motion had passed.

Reached by phone late last week, the city secretary said her notes of the meeting reflect that the measure passed unanimously. She added that no councilman approached her to say they wished to vote against the item or to abstain from voting.

“Not at the time of the meeting, or before,” Balderrama said.

However, she added that Castillo did reach out to her after the meeting.

“It wasn’t unanimous,” Castillo told The Monitor last week. “It doesn’t make any difference, whether it was a nay or a yay, if you didn’t speak, if you didn’t vote that means you didn’t want to vote.”

Yet, for both the city secretary and City Attorney Javier Villalobos, the silence during last Tuesday’s meeting was an assumed affirmative vote.

Asked if an elected official needs to physically speak up to register a nay vote or an abstention, Villalobos said yes.

“If it’s a nay, yes. Otherwise, it’s an affirmative. Or, if they want to abstain, well, they say, ‘I abstain,’” said Villalobos, who also serves as the District 1 McAllen city commissioner.

“Otherwise it’s an affirmative. That’s not just in Donna, that’s pretty much everywhere,” he said.

However, silence on the part of an elected official does not necessarily mean affirmation of a measure, at least according to John Milford, who teaches public administration to graduate students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Milford, who spent three decades as a city manager and continues to provide consulting services to various municipalities, said the silence — from everyone on the council — means the measure did not pass at all.

“Any time that a public meeting or action’s taken by elected officials, a recorded vote should be taken on how elected officials voted, either yes or no,” Milford said Monday, adding that officials can signify verbally, or by gesturing a sign of their vote by raising their hand or nodding.

“If there was no sign like that given, then the motion fails and … it should be recorded as such,” he said.

Too, Milford added that making a motion or a second on an agenda item does not necessarily signify an aye vote for that item.

“Just because you make a motion and second, doesn’t mean that they’re voting that way. Robert’s Rules of Order is intended to have a motion and second to get it for discussion before a vote is taken,” he said.

It’s unclear what will happen now. Last Tuesday’s gesture came as a surprise to McAllen city leaders, including McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who said he was unaware of, but grateful for Donna’s plans to aid the city in accommodating the migrants.