Recall petition hits snag

EDINBURG — A resident seeking to bring a recall election against Mayor Richard Molina is in limbo after the city determined it has no official form on which to collect signatures to invoke the recall process.

The city council will therefore have to draft and approve the signature form, known as a “petition blank,”  before it can be given to Robert Solis, the resident who filed an affidavit with the city secretary’s office last Wednesday seeking to remove Molina from office.

Solis filed the affidavit in the wake of Molina’s April 25 arrest on illegal voting and engaging in organized election fraud charges, which stem from the November 2017 election in which Molina unseated the longtime mayor. Solis said the “public mistrust” and “negative light that (Molina has) cast upon the city and himself” prompted him to attempt to oust Molina from office.

The recall provision dates back to 1949, when the then-city council adopted the city’s original charter, but no council has ever drafted or approved a form on which the person requesting a recall can gather the requisite signatures.

“Apparently it’s taken 70 years for the city to realize that the 1949 city council didn’t follow through on what the charter had asked it to do,” Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa told media at an informational meeting held Monday. “And the reason for that’s very simple: this is the first time, that the city’s aware of, that the recall provision has ever been invoked by a citizen.”

Solis has 30 days from the date he filed the affidavit — or until May 31 — to collect the required signatures, which amounts to 25% of people who voted in the 2017 municipal election. Approximately 8,400 people voted in that election, according to the Hidalgo County Elections Department’s unofficial results, so Solis will need at least 2,100 signatures.

Solis, who was at Monday’s meeting with the city attorney, said he was confident he’ll be able to gather that amount, but it’s unknown when he’ll be provided with the necessary form.

Ochoa could not provide a date by which the city council, of which Molina is a member, would meet to draft and approve the signature form. It is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The city attorney also said the charter has no set days by which the city must provide the form and that it will be up to the council to determine whether there is a conflict of interest in having Molina take part in creating the form.

“The City of Edinburg is following the letter of the law and that is our goal; nobody is above the law but nobody is below it either,” Ochoa said. “Everybody deserves due process and anybody that asks us to use a form to gather signatures that has not been approved by the city council is essentially asking the city to break the law and that’s not something we’re going to do. We’re going to follow the charter as it requires and move forward with this process.”

Per the city charter, a recall election is the only way an Edinburg mayor or city councilmember can be removed from office, and Ochoa said Solis could re-file his recall affidavit in order to extend the timeframe in which he needs to collect signatures.

Once a recall packet, which consists of signatures, affidavits and other documentation, is submitted, the city secretary has 10 days to certify whether it is sufficient. If that determination is made, the mayor would have five days to resign or a recall election would be scheduled. If the recall passes, the city council would then nominate and vote on who would assume the office through the remainder of the term.