New state law takes effect at McAllen meeting

McALLEN — City officials here were concerned going into Monday’s meeting. It was the first regularly scheduled commission meeting since a new state law took effect Sept. 1.

“It could certainly turn into a problematic situation,” McAllen City Attorney Kevin Pagan warned late last month.

Those hesitations were not realized. On Monday, at least.

Just two people signed up to comment publicly, a new opportunity provided to the public by the state legislature that affords the public to comment on any agenda item before commissions take them up for a vote, which lawmakers passed during the 86th legislative session earlier this year. Pagan and other city officials have said cities across the state are worried about the prospects of this new law.

Typical city commission meetings in McAllen have upwards of 45 agenda items, and they aren’t alone. City officials worried about the efficiency and disruption that could potentially be introduced with the new law, something residents took advantage of in the early 2000s, officials said. Citizens would provide public comment about issues not pertaining to city business but to draw attention to themselves, officials said.

That was not the case on Monday. But simply getting people to participate in elections and serious city business has long been a challenge for McAllen, a city infamous for its lack of public participation in those fields.

“We have two citizens who requested to be heard under the new law, and both of them requested public hearing items, so I thought it’d be better to have the public hearing start,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said Monday.

The public hearing portion of city commission meetings often relates to rezoning and permitting, among other things, and if anyone shows up to commission meetings to oppose or support any issues under the public hearing section, commissioners can hear from those people.

The public hearing process has existed for years, and the two people who signed up on Monday had requested to discuss issues under the public hearing section. Those people agreed to hold their comments until that part of the meeting, which is usually the first section.

Both citizens, who are McAllen residents and who regularly attend commission meetings, commented about the budget and the tax rate, which is set to slightly increase the property tax rate next year to pay for drainage and traffic projects. The property tax rate will increase by 1.6 cents per $100 of taxable assessed valuation. One of the citizens supported the tax increase while the other opposed it.

“I congratulated them both,” Darling said after the meetings, adding that “criticism’s fine.” “Before, we had people that would say stuff that had nothing to do with city business. That’s our concern.”

mferman@themonitor.com