The city held its first town hall event Wednesday amid growing concern about the integrity of the upcoming November election, with the council facing pressure to safeguard the races.
The town hall meeting, held at Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library, included guest speakers Mayor Richard Molina, City Manager Juan Guerra, Communications and Media Director Cary Zayas, Chief of Police Cesar Torres, Planning and Zoning Director Jesus Saenz and Cultural Arts Manager Magdiel Castle.
Those who spoke presented a positive outlook for the city and its efforts to connect with the public.
“It’s called the On Call meeting because we asked every single director to come and be present to communicate and answer questions the public might have,” Guerra said after the meeting. “This is the first time we do it. We’re hoping that as we go along and do this more often, which we will be doing, the public feels comfortable in coming over and communicating with us.”
While many city officials attended the meeting, there was an apparent lapse in attendance by the general public. Guerra believes the reason behind the lack of participation by the general public is a result of the upcoming elections in November.
“These town hall events, we’re planning to do them on a quarterly basis. So the next time we have a town hall event, we’re expecting to have it after the election,” the city manager said. “I am aware that a good percentage of the public doesn’t want to be involved in government and politics when there’s an election process happening, mainly because there’s a difference of opinion.”
But he assured that Wednesday’s event was separate from politics.
“These events are for the public. It’s not a political thing,” he said. “We’re opening ourselves up for corrective criticism and opportunities for improvement. Hopefully the next time we have one of these town halls, we’ll have more of the public participating and helping mold their services.”
The town hall meeting comes a day after the council met behind closed doors to discuss the employment status of City Secretary Ludivina Leal, who oversees election issues for the city.
Last month, a Hidalgo County grand jury indicted Leal on an illegal voting charge, a second-degree felony.
When council members emerged from executive session on Tuesday, Councilman Gilbert Enriquez made a motion to terminate Leal, but before the vote was taken, Enriquez asked City Attorney Omar Ochoa if the mayor could vote since authorities believe he concocted the scheme for which Leal was arrested.
Ochoa, however, opined it wasn’t an issue and said the mayor could cast his vote. That legal opinion basically split the vote in half, with Molina and Councilman David Torres voting against Leal’s termination, and Enriquez and Homer Jasso voting in favor. Councilman Jorge Salinas did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Then in a news release Wednesday morning, Carlos Jasso, a Place 3 candidate, announced he sent a letter to the Texas Secretary of State on Monday to request the office send staff to oversee the November election.
Enriquez, who was present at the town hall meeting, said he did not have any comment as to why Jasso sent the letter. However, he said, as a resident he understands Jasso’s concern.
“You put in a lot of effort into a campaign. You put a lot of money into a campaign,” Enriquez said after the town hall meeting. “You want to make sure that (the election) is fair and equitable, that there is no shenanigans going around. So I can understand why he sent the letter.”
When asked whether he felt it necessary to have the state oversee the election, he said yes, considering the situation surrounding Leal.
“In light of the circumstances that have happened in the last few months regarding Mayor Molina and our city secretary, I think it’s necessary that the integrity of our elections is not compromised,” Enriquez said. “I feel that the only way that the citizens of Edinburg are going to feel confident that (the election) is not compromised, is by the city secretary stepping down and allowing someone else to take over the elections.”
The Edinburg municipal election is set for Nov. 5.
Staff writer Naxiely Lopez-Puente contributed to this report.