Roma residents must soon choose which two of the four candidates on the general election ballot will sit on the city council for the next four years.
The posts for mayor and Place 1 council member are up for grabs with the two incumbents running for reelection. In asking for the people’s votes, the two men tout their experience as elected officials while their challengers are campaigning on new ideas.
Jaime Escobar Jr., a teacher at the Roma school district, is hoping to replace current Mayor Roberto A. Salinas.
Escobar, 42, previously served on the city council from 2010 to 2013, has a master’s degree in public administration, and is in his 18th year of teaching. He formerly taught history and now teaches media technology.
His life experiences, he said, have prepared him to take on this leadership role.
In his push for mayor, Escobar urged an increased focus on economic development and promoting services such as water and trash collection.
Infrastructure was another issue that needed to be addressed, he said, and that included pot holes and maintenance of public areas such as parks, cemeteries and plazas.
“I really do want to be an advocate for all our citizens,” Escobar said. “I feel like there’s a lot of things that we can do without having such a big budget like better customer service, better services overall.”
As an example of the economic growth he’d like to see, Escobar said he’d like to expand the city’s port of entry.
“We’re a border town and we should be striving, we should be growing and we’re losing a lot of our people, a lot of our tax base, to neighboring cities,” he said. “And I feel that we should be able to retain our people by offering a better economy, a better quality of life.”
Another proposal he had in mind was a “Roma First” initiative that would encourage residents to shop from local businesses.
He also envisioned the formation of a private-public partnership between the city and local businesses through which city officials would learn more about local businesses and meet with business owners to find out what the city could do for them.
“In a small community like ours, like Roma, we really have to partner up, regardless of whether we’re in different sectors,” Escobar said. “We really have to promote the whole idea that in Roma, we can grow businesses, we can have a better quality of life.”
Escobar is running on the “Stronger Together” political slate alongside Gabriela “Gaby” Rodriguez, who is running for the Place 1 seat on the council.
Rodriguez, 42, is a public health and prevention specialist with the Department of State Health Services.
“I want the citizens and voters of Roma to know that I am ready to serve for the benefit of our city,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “There is no reason why our city is not growing and thriving.”
In a campaign video for the “Stronger Together” team, Rodriguez said she would listen to the concerns of residents and expressed a message of unity within the city to bring “new ideas to the table.”
“We can have more parks for our children, we can have more opportunities for our youth, we can have more services for our adult population,” she said. “Why aren’t we doing that, why aren’t we working together?”
Salinas, the current mayor, is running alongside Councilman Clyde Guerra for reelection as part of the political slate called “The ‘A’ Team.”
Neither Salinas nor Guerra returned requests for an interview. However, both appeared in campaign videos making their case for reelection.
A former banker, Salinas is running on his experience on the city council.
“In the 12 years that I have served on the city council, I have come to have a good understanding of the city budget which is a foundation for properly managing the city,” Salinas, 59, said in a campaign video.
In a statement on social media posted when he officially filed to be a candidate, Salinas wrote about the limitations of what the city council could do based on the city’s finances.
“Yes, we all want new parks and many other things that our citizens lack but it’s of the utmost importance that we have a good understanding of the City’s budget and what it allows,” Salinas wrote. “For me public safety and a sound infrastructure system like water, sewer and drainage have always had priority. Without these things, the city can never grow.”
Guerra has served two years on the council, having been elected in 2018 to finish out the unexpired term of Ramiro “Toto” Sarabia, who stepped down from the council to run for the Roma school board.
Guerra, 56, who previously served on the school board, currently works as the maintenance supervisor for the Roma school district and is now seeking his first full term on the council.
“I learned a lot,” Guerra said in a campaign video, “and I want to continue helping our community and our people.”
In a different campaign video, Guerra said his experience on the council and the school board made him the best choice for the job.
“All my decisions have always been for the good of my city and our citizens and not for political gain,” he said.
The city council races are not the only decisions facing residents.
Amendments to the city charter will also be on the ballot, the most controversial among them is charter amendment No. 4, which would make it easier to hire and fire the city manager.
The proposed change would only require a simple majority vote by the council, three out of five, instead of the currently mandated super-majority vote, four out of five.
The two political slates lie on opposite sides of this issue with the challengers — Escobar and Rodriguez — advocating for the passage of the amendment while the incumbents — Salinas and Guerra — urge citizens to vote against it.
Escobar said he’s in favor of the change because it’s about accountability.
“Elected officials are accountable to the voters and we, the elected officials at the city, should hold the city manager, administration, accountable,” he said.
He added that he wouldn’t want to fire a city manager who was performing their duties well and thus cause voters to get upset.
“But when they’re not, or when there isn’t that sense of accountability, that sense of urgency on behalf of the city manager — because they know how the system works — then I think that can be dangerous,” Escobar said, “and I’m just asking that we help create that system of checks and balances.”
Rodriguez, his running mate, added, “I also ask the city of Roma to give us the tools we need to hold the city administration accountable and advance the city of Roma by voting in favor of Amendment #4.”
On the other side of the issue, the mayor argued that allowing a city manager to be fired by only a simple majority would enable political intervention in the city administration.
In another campaign video, Salinas alleged that the other current city council members wanted to fire the current city manager to replace him with someone politically aligned with them.
“If this happens, these members of the council will have a hand in hiring and firing of all city employees, including the police and fire department,” Salinas said. “The way the city charter is currently structured, there is and there needs to be separation between the city manager and the city council.”