SAN BENITO — The city commission’s majority is backing a proposed ordinance drafted in response to Mayor Rick Guerra’s attempted removal of members of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
In February, Guerra tried to remove City Commissioner Rene Garcia and EDC President Julian Rios from the board, leading Rios to file a federal lawsuit contesting the mayor’s move.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. reinstated Rios, ruling Guerra tried to remove him without the city commission’s consent.
In a related case, Guerra tried to remove Rosanna Aguilera, the San Benito Housing Authority’s chairwoman, arguing she didn’t live within the city limits, before Rodriguez granted her request for a temporary restraining order, effectively reinstating her.
“The mayor attempted to remove Ms. Aguilera from the housing authority without complying with the removal provision,” Rodriguez’s order states.
On Wednesday Guerra, in his capacity as mayor, presided over a hearing in which Aguilera presented her arguments against her removal. After she made her case, Guerra said he would consider her arguments before making his decision.
The proposed ordinance
On Tuesday, City Attorney Mark Sossi presented commissioners with a proposed ordinance revising the commission’s EDC nomination process.
Under the proposal, each commissioner would get three chances to make nominations to his or her respective slot on the seven-member EDC board.
In case the commission rejects all three nominations, another commissioner would make a nomination.
The proposed ordinance would also give commissioners the chance to nominate two other EDC members, whom the current ordinance requires the mayor appoint.
“Under state law, the city commission of a city appoints and removes members of the EDC,” Sossi told commissioners. “It’s very important for the city commission to have a clear set of rules, a clear set of procedures, so everybody knows what the rules are. State law requires that the city commission appoints and removes for any cause. There’s no limitation. They don’t have to explain why they’re doing it.”
Equal nomination power
In response, Garcia said the proposal would give the mayor and commissioners equal appointment powers.
“We don’t need anybody to have more authority than anybody else on the commission,” Garcia said. “We’re all equal. I want to make sure that we do the best we can to make it fair for not only ourselves here but for the rest of the community and we’re not going to act as individuals. No one has more authority than anybody else.”
Garcia called on the commission to work together.
“To me, it’s embarrassing that we’re going through the mud here because certain things are done by some people that just don’t get it that we are a commission,” he said. “The people expect us to work together.”
Commissioner Rene Villafranco, who worked with Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez to call for the proposed ordinance, also said the revision would give the mayor and commissioners equal appointment powers.
“Now we got into the legal issues where we’re at,” he said. “No one should have total control of a board to do whatever they want.”
However, Commissioner Pete Galvan questioned the push to revise the current ordinance.
“The City Charter states that the appointments are made for (each commission) place — Place 1, 2, 3, 4 — and the rest of the seats belong to the mayor,” he said. “If you want to go with this, you’re going to have to revise the City Charter. We’ll have to go to (a) vote, I think, (of) the citizens.”
But City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said state laws supersede the charter.
“The thing the city commission has learned is that there are certain things about state law that supersede city ordinances, including our charter,” he told commissioners.
Meanwhile, Galvan also questioned whether the proposed ordinance would help the commission’s majority appoint their nominees to the EDC board.
“The majority gets to appoint whoever they want and then they can vote for their appointment,” he told Sossi. “Do you think that’s fair?”
In response, Sossi told Galvan the commission was unlikely to reject three qualified nominees.
“Only if I presume the majority is acting on bad faith,” he told Galvan, in response to the question. “Commissioner, if you nominate three qualified candidates … do I think it likely that the majority is going to vote down three solid candidates? No, I don’t.”
Call for team work
Sanchez, who worked with Villafranco to propose the ordinance, called on the commission to work together.
“It’s time we learn to work together,” she said. “I’m tired of coming in here with the drama, trying to separate us — majority, minority. No, we’re all here to work together. That’s the purpose of us being here. If this (proposal) is something that makes us work together, then I’m all for it.”