EDINBURG — The mayor here sat down with nearly 50 residents and a slew of public servants for breakfast Wednesday morning in a show of accessibility and transparency, but the event comes after a fellow councilman accused him of doing just the opposite with city business.
The taco and coffee breakfast at Los Mismos in Edinburg also comes in the middle of what promises to be a heated campaign season and amid an obvious fracture in the council.
Still, a number of constituents attended the event to voice concerns, say hello and speak to a number of city officials, including the police and fire chiefs, the planning and zoning director, city secretary and sanitation director, to name a few.
“People don’t like to get up in front of the podium and come to a city council meeting and have to voice their opinion about a complaint — (whether) it’s trash or potholes, or the fact that they’re taking too long to get a permit,” Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina said following the two-hour breakfast, dubbed Coffee with the Mayor. “They would prefer a one-on-one setting like this.”
There were also no time limits or rules on who can speak, like there are during council meetings, he said. That flexibility allowed him to engage with residents on a personal level, and it also allowed him to hear from several special-interest groups, including a number of businessmen who own small-aircraft that would like to see the city expand its airport.
Representatives from the Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center, for example, were able to speak to Molina about steps the city could take to curb what they’ve dubbed an animal crisis, while also promoting spaying and neutering.
“They were able to get in my ear about a grant that they got for about a million dollars over the next three years that’s going to help with that issue,” Molina said. “But they’re going to need us to do some type of (monetary) match. So that’s something that we’re going to have to consider.”
In order to figure out just what exactly constituents really want, city officials passed out surveys during the event. Forty-eight residents responded to questions concerning areas for improvement and businesses they would like to see pop up in Edinburg.
And while the event provided a platform for a two-way discussion, there’s no doubt that Molina has recently faced criticism regarding his handling of opposing views on the council.
Councilman Gilbert Enriquez has been his biggest critic, accusing the mayor and his majority faction of making public meetings inaccessible and trying to silence him. First, he kicked him out of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board, and most recently by not letting him speak during a council meeting in which the majority awarded Edinburg City Manager Juan Guerra a $25,000 raise.
Molina, who rushed through the proceedings without yielding the floor to Enriquez, is no stranger to being silenced.
He and Mayor Pro Tem David Torres fought for their ability to speak at council meetings in 2017 while former Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia was in power.
At the time, Molina and Torres formed the minority faction, and the issue ended up in court when Garcia proposed an ordinance that essentially allowed him, as mayor and presiding officer, to choose who could speak at meetings.
Anyone who disobeyed the rule could be asked to leave or be removed by an officer.
Garcia’s proposed rule also forced council members to give a five-day notice and provide supporting documentation in order to place an item on an upcoming city meeting agenda.
Edinburg residents at the time took the issue to court, and State District Judge Bobby Flores ultimately sided with Molina and Torres. He signed a temporary restraining order that prevented the majority — which then included councilman Homer Jasso Jr. who is now in the minority — from passing the ordinance.
Flores opined that if the ordinance passed, residents would lose their right to free speech and to “have their concerns represented and voiced by their duly elected council members.”
“I think the mayor is given too much authority, and he’s going to try to silence us,” Torres said about Garcia at the time. “What concerns me is that there’s things that are going to be put in action or in place that are not allowing me to ask questions.”
Molina, however, does not believe the circumstances surrounding the recent meeting are comparable to their previous plight.
“That was an ordinance — this is not the same thing. Let’s cover factual information. The reason that became a topic with me and the former mayor was because he tried to pass an ordinance that didn’t allow us to put anything on the agenda, unless we had five business days (notice),” Molina said. “There’s no ordinance that I’ve tried to pass to try to allow that same law to happen.”
Instead, he said, he is trying to keep decorum and adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order, a guideline first published in 1876 meant to promote fair and orderly meetings.
“…Sometimes you can’t let other people control the meeting when you’re the chair. You have to have decorum, you have to have order,” Molina said.
Garcia gave a similar response in February 2017, saying the rules he was proposing then were needed due to the argumentative nature of their recent meetings.
“It’s become very disruptive as of late…” Garcia told The Monitor at the time. “I’ve never had occasion or problem to have to rein in people because they won’t follow the rules.”
Still, Molina believes it all boils down to politics and the upcoming election, which will decide which faction takes the majority.
“November is a big election, okay? Gilbert Enriquez is endorsing other opponents. I’m on the other side and endorsing other opponents that are running against each other. This whole thing is rhetoric until November. It’s election season,” he said. “He wants to act like he’s being silenced because he wants to prove that there is something going wrong so that he can have majority of the board.”
Daniel A. Flores contributed to this report.