EDINBURG — Petitioners calling for the removal of city council members may begin collecting signatures as early as next week.
The council essentially adopted five different versions of the same document to collect signatures during a special-called meeting Friday because affidavits have been filed to remove every single member of the council.
Edinburg resident Robert Solis was the first to submit a petition affidavit calling for the removal of Mayor Richard Molina on May 1, but others have since followed suit, city attorney Omar Ochoa said during the meeting. Ochoa, however, did not give any further details about who submitted the other affidavits.
The Monitor submitted a public information request for copies of those documents on Friday, but it could take up to 10 business days to obtain that information.
Because all members had a potential conflict of interest, Ochoa suggested the council vote on separate documents for each member of the council.
“We’re over-thinking this. It’s been long overdue,” Councilman Gilbert Enriquez said before the votes began. “I don’t see why we’re making this more difficult than it should be.”
Councilman David Torres joined Molina in calling the recall effort a “waste of time,” but voted to approve the documents nonetheless.
“I really want to vote against it,” Torres said before casting his decisive vote. Had he not done so, the motion to approve the document for the mayor’s removal would have failed.
“We’re in uncharted territories,” Molina said following the discussion.
Before adjourning the meeting, the mayor urged his critics to channel their energy into volunteering for the city.
“This is a complete waste of time and I wish that the people that put the efforts into chasing people down, give us that volunteer time here with the city because we need people at our boys and girls club and other places,” he said.
Molina’s attorney, Jerad Najvar, called the recall petition “an elaborate attempt to re-take political power through the abuse of the legal process at multiple levels.”
“Before Molina can defend himself in court, they race to file a recall petition based only on the untested allegations from the one-sided investigation,” Najvar said in a statement he issued Friday. “I think what it shows is that they are apparently afraid this selective prosecution is going to fail, so before it caves in, they have to try to use it as a pretext for a recall.”
Najvar, who has been critical of Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez’s involvement in the case, believes another section of the charter better addresses the issue at hand: that Molina has been arrested and charged with organized election fraud and illegal voting, but has not been convicted.
“The charter specifically addresses criminal matters and says an elected official forfeits his office if he is convicted, but not based merely on allegations,” Najvar wrote in reference to article II, section 3 of the city’s governing document. “The charter respects the legal process and the presumption of innocence.”
Najvar went a step further and said allegations of a crime are not enough to remove an elected official.
“In fact, the specific provision of the charter addressing criminal allegations prevails over and acts as a limit on the scope of the more general recall power,” he said. “Given this, mere allegations of a criminal nature are not sufficient grounds for a recall before a conviction.”