Edinburg councilman sues city, EDC for access to information

EDINBURG — A councilman here filed a lawsuit against the city and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation last week to obtain confidential information that he believes he is entitled to see in order to carry out his oath of office.

And the soon-to-be court battle once again draws the line between Councilman Gilbert Enriquez and the three who comprise the council majority: Mayor Richard Molina and Councilmen David Torres and Jorge Salinas.

Enriquez is asking a state district court judge to step in to direct the two entities and the two officials he sued — Edinburg City Manager Juan Guerra and EEDC Executive Director Ruben Ramirez — to release documents associated with potential economic development incentives.

The councilman requested executive session documentation from all regular and special-called EDC meetings held between April 1 — shortly before the majority removed him from the EDC board — and Sept. 30.

Enriquez began serving as EEDC president after winning the council seat in November 2017. At the time, he appeared to be united with the council majority, but after a rift between them, the majority demoted him from his post as president in February, and by April, they removed him completely from the EEDC board.

He believes both entities are withholding the information he wants for the same reason his colleagues removed him from the nonprofit’s board: to stop him from speaking out against them.

“They removed me because they didn’t want me to have any knowledge of any of the transactions that they were doing, that they were approving,” he said about the majority last week. “And so I believe this is just another opportunity for them to say, ‘Hey, you’re not allowed to know what’s happening with our tax dollars.’”

The issue, however, is that some of those documents he wants are considered confidential under Texas law and only a select few can access them.

Enriquez, however, believes he is one of them.

As a council member, Enriquez must approve the EDC budget, can appoint members to the board, and has the right to evaluate the board’s performance, he argued in his lawsuit.

“For example if current EEDC members are not being diligent in their analysis of EEDC business, then Enriquez needs to know this in order to determine whether those members should continue to serve on the EEDC,” the suit stated.

And though his lawsuit acknowledges the corporation is a separate entity, Enriquez notes that it is still required by law to provide Edinburg access to “all of its books and records” pursuant to the Texas Local Government Code.

The issue, according to the lawsuit, began in late August when Enriquez asked Guerra, the city manager, to obtain information on his behalf from the development corporation. On Aug. 30, Guerra refused to do it, which prompted Enriquez to request the information from the nonprofit directly.

Guerra defended his actions Monday, saying that while it’s his job to provide the council member with information to help him make “sound and timely decisions” for the city, he did not have access to the information Enriquez wanted.

“In this instance, or an instance where it’s a third party (involved), the city does not have that information,” Guerra said. “In this instance, he requested information that I do not have, have never seen it (and) I don’t know that it exists.”

Ramirez, who heads the corporation, did not return a call for comment Monday.

Guerra said he wasn’t sure why Enriquez would sue the very city he was elected to serve, but added that it was Enriquez’s right to do so as an American and an elected official.

“I think it’s meant more for the EDC than the city, but we’re included in the lawsuit,” the city manager said. “He can request it, and then it’s up to the EDC to provide the information to me or not. I have no right to the information since I’m not involved with the board.”

Still, there may have been a time not too long ago when council members could call upon the city manager to request information from the economic development corporation — albeit, not without its own controversy.

The Monitor obtained a copy of an email former EEDC Executive Director Gus Garcia sent to former Mayor Richard Garcia and former City Manager Richard Hinojosa on Nov. 3, 2017.

In it, the former EEDC director tells the mayor that he has reason to believe that Molina, then a council member, obtained confidential information through Hinojosa, the city manager at the time.

“Mr. Molina may have obtained information from this office via a Mr. Hinojosa without submitting an open records request and may have provided it to the Monitor, Mr. Patrick Eronini, and Julio Carranza,” Gus Garcia wrote. “You are already aware of the issues with Patrick Eronini and The Monitor so I will not elaborate further on those.”

Gus Garcia goes on to explain that Molina had received information in August 2017 about a $79,000 incentive package that was being negotiated with the owners of Benji’s BBQ/Lincoln.

But the following month, on Sept. 19, 2017, Carranza visited the EDC director’s office and said in front of him that he knew Benji’s BBQ/Lincoln received $79,000 in incentives, the email indicated.

“I asked Carranza how he knew? Mr. Carranza simply stated that ‘he knows people,’” Gus Garcia wrote. “I would like to know how Mr. Carranza had knowledge of the amounts approved for Benji’s/Lincoln since these negotiations are still pending. To date an agreement has not been signed by either party.

“This continued issue needs to be resolved ASAP.”

Molina and Carranza did not return calls for comment Monday.