Mercedes eliminates public forum from commission meetings

MERCEDES — Commissioners this month opted to remove the open forum portion of commission meetings despite opposition from a group of citizens who regularly attend.

MERCEDES — Commissioners this month opted to remove the open forum portion of commission meetings despite opposition from a group of citizens who regularly attend.

Commissioner Leo Villarreal declined to comment about the removal of open forum after a special meeting Tuesday night, referring comment to Mayor Henry Hinojosa.

Hinojosa refused to elaborate about the elimination of public forum and deferred comment to a press release, which referenced a “new method of electronic communication to allow all citizens and property owners an opportunity to provide their input.”

The city launched a website for citizens to “voice their concerns” at any time, according to the news release provided by Interim City Manager Sergio Zavala.

“No one is going to have their voice silenced,” said Commissioner Ruben “Chano” Guajardo. “The only thing that is happening is you’re not going to have the public podium to pound your chest and indirectly smear the community and make it seem like the world is crumbling all around us when in reality, that is not the case.”

Though Guajardo responded to questions about the removal of open forum, Commissioners James Howard Wade and Cristella “Cris” De Leon did not respond to requests for comment.

The city has a new “citizen action form” section on its website in which residents can request assistance or file complaints.

“The online complaints, they don’t give you an opportunity to voice it publicly,” said Leonel Benavidez, who unsuccessfully ran for commission in 2016 and 2017 and regularly attends commission meetings. “The only person that knows about the complaint is yourself and the city. What you voice in city meetings, you can voice on the agenda.”

The city secretary checks the messages submitted through the website then distributes the information to appropriate departments. The city has already been receiving complaints through its website, including at least one about parking on a sidewalk.

The city did not incur an additional cost for the tab’s creation.

“We wanted to have an alternative, a better alternative, for people from anywhere to go ahead and convey their thoughts to the city,” Zavala said.

Open forum had previously been suspended in March 2015 and subsequently brought back months later, The Monitor previously reported.

“As long as I can speak and walk, I will continue to be a thorn in their side,” said Yolanda Molina, a Mercedes resident who attends the meetings.