The council here agreed to offer the city manager a $250,000 severance package to walk away and terminated two high-ranking employees, two municipal court judges and replaced a majority of its economic development board Wednesday, as the new majority took over.
The moves did not come without criticism.
Mayor Richard Molina called the decision to negotiate an exit with City Manager Juan Guerra “absurd” and blasted the new majority for taking such drastic measures on their first meeting in power.
Place 3 runoff Candidate Deanna “Coach” Dominguez took to the podium during the public comment section of the meeting to ask the council to table the items until after the Dec. 10 runoff election.
“We need to stop this vengeful behavior at the cost of our tax dollars and pocketbooks,” she said. “It’s one thing if employees are not doing their jobs — it is another thing to remove people because of political motives or pride. This move could hurt our taxpayers upwards (of) a million dollars.”
But her pleas fell on deaf ears.
City Secretary Ludivina Leal was the first to go, with Councilman Gilbert Enriquez making the motion to replace her with Joe Rios.
Then came the removal of the city’s two appointed municipal judges: Armando M. Guerra and Agustin “Gus” Hernandez.
“I would like to evaluate the department and see if we need one or two temporary judges,” Enriquez said.
Next came the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board, with four out of five members replaced.
Councilman Homer Jasso Jr. made the motion to keep Councilman Jorge Salinas on the EEDC board and nominated four other new members: Dan Diaz, Roland Gomez, Xavier Salinas and Councilman Enriquez.
Jasso was also named the new mayor pro-tem, a position former Councilman David Torres held.
Molina initially nominated Enriquez to the post, but Enriquez declined and instead nominated Jasso.
Jasso, however, will only don the title for another 26 days, a point not lost on Dominguez, who is fighting for Jasso’s seat against Juan “Johnny” Garcia.
“With all due respect, we have one council member that will be out in 27 days, another who was sworn in less than an hour ago, and another who has made it clear that he has majority or else these items would not be on the agenda,” Dominguez said. “Do not try and trick our taxpayers — especially when you claim to be vigilant and a defender of their dollar.”
Jasso also made a motion to terminate Municipal Court Clerk Celine Pardo and nominated Maribel Velasquez to the post.
The move sparked an objection from the mayor, who lost his majority last week when newly sworn in councilman David White beat Torres for the Place 4 seat. White and Municipal Judge Terry Palacios were sworn in before Wednesday’s meeting.
“We haven’t really had an evaluation on Celine. I think this is detrimental,” the mayor said about Pardo. “I just think this is going to lead to a lawsuit. That’s just my two cents.”
But it might be too late for that, as the city and Velasquez are already tangled in a lawsuit.
Velasquez is no stranger to the court. She previously served in that position for 16 years, but was terminated and replaced with Pardo in early 2018, about two or three months after Molina’s majority took over.
Velasquez subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city and four councilmen — Molina, Torres, Salinas and Enriquez — alleging they conspired to retaliate against her because of her political affiliations.
The council then met behind closed doors to discuss City Manager Juan Guerra’s employment contract, and after several hours, they emerged with a verdict.
“I’d like to make a motion for our City Attorney Omar Ochoa to negotiate a separation agreement with our City Manager Juan Guerra with a $250,000 severance package and six months of medical insurance,” Enriquez said, prompting the mayor to speak out against the move.
“I got criticized for giving him a $25,000 pay raise, and this new council is willing to give him a quarter of a million dollars,” Molina said.
Enriquez defended his motion by noting that under Guerra’s new contract, which was awarded by the previous majority a few months ago, Guerra is owed half a million dollars if he is terminated.
White nominated former City Manager Richard Hinojosa to serve as interim. And just like that Edinburg is again trying to find its footing as another election approaches.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to accurately identify the municipal court judge who was removed from his post.