EDITORIAL: Vigilance

Astute citizens given credit for helping uncover bribery

Since long before our nation’s founding, it has been said that an involved citizenry is essential toward keeping public officials honest and responsive to their constituents. Evidence of that truth shines through often in the Rio Grande Valley — some might say, a little too often.

Public vigilance has been cited as a factor contributing to two ongoing federal criminal cases in the mid-Valley.

Concerned residents are credited with informing officials about some of the information that helped uncover two bribery cases in Weslaco, and a possible link between the two.

One of cases involves city officials and members of the Weslaco Economic Development Corp. and involves a $3 million hotel project; the other deals with a $38 million renovation of the Weslaco water treatment plant, which the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had cited for violating environmental regulations by operating above capacity.

Astute residents began to question the latter deal after determining that the projected cost was higher than similar work that had been done in South Texas.

Weslaco City Manager Mike Perez told The Monitor earlier this year that people had expressed concerns that they were being taken advantage of.

Investigations uncovered information that led to federal charges in both cases. In each, officials are accused of accepting bribes to steer multimilliondollar contracts to specific engineering and construction companies.

At first glance the two cases might seem unrelated, but they involve many of the same people, including the same alleged intermediary, and last month federal prosecutors filed a notice of related cases in the two cases, officially linking them.

The notice did not elaborate on the relationship between the two cases, in which some former officials already have pleaded guilty and others are awaiting trial.

It’s unknown whether, or when, these alleged crimes might have come to light if concerned residents hadn’t made their concerns known, but that how many cases begin.

Moreover, involved citizens are the driving forces for many changes and improvements here and everywhere. In any community, citizen requests for public information far outnumber those made by news reporters, and they use that information to affect change. Citizen, especially when they organize, convince city and county officials to place sidewalks near schools or signal lights at dangerous intersections. They influence zoning decisions that keep industry away from residential areas, or prevent alcohol from being served near parks or day-care centers.

And they alert officials about possible misdeeds that should be investigated.

A public announcement that is gaining popularity encourages people that if they see something, they should report it. The value of that advice is borne out constantly in communities just like Weslaco, and it’s what helps ensure public safety and deter crime — both in our streets and in our public offices.