Residents left waiting 2 hours to have their say

SAN BENITO — April Flores waited more than two hours to tell city commissioners they won’t stop her from pressing for answers surrounding the death of her son.

Earlier this week, Mayor Ben Gomez’s decision to push the city’s public comment period to the end of meetings didn’t stop two other residents from calling for “justice” for 21-year-old Ricardo Treviño III, who was unarmed when police officers repeatedly shot him Dec. 7.

After a lengthy closed-door executive session, Gomez offered the audience a new opportunity to raise their concerns before commissioners.

Now, Gomez is calling for monthly meetings to allow them to speak up.

Tuesday night, Gomez called for the monthly “round-table” meetings, days after moving the city’s public comment period from the beginning to the end of commission meetings.

“I know that public comment is made for public comment and for our citizens here in San Benito,” Gomez told residents after they had waited more than two hours to speak during the public comment period.

After sitting through the commission’s regular meeting, residents waited through a lengthy executive session with 10 agenda topics, including six proposed economic development projects.

“Maybe we need to hold one day a month for public comment, maybe a round-table discussion where people can come and instead of a 30-minute session we can have an hour session,” Gomez told the audience. “We can gain more ground that way. I’m all for the community coming forth and discussing with us what their concerns are.”

Gomez moved the public comment period to the end of meetings after weeks of often-heated remarks surrounding Treviño’s death.

Tuesday night, an executive session with City Attorney Mark Sossi was expected to include discussion of “threatened litigation” stemming from Treviño’s shooting.

The shooting

While residents complained about the decision to move the public comment period to end of meetings, their concerns continued to surround the shooting.

“The day my son’s life was taken, I became his voice,” Flores, Treviño’s mother, told commissioners as she fought back tears. “So I don’t care how long I would have to wait. If the public comment would take longer, I could wait. But I will continue to be my son’s voice. All we want is justice. The officers are human just like us. They can make mistakes, too.”

In response, Gomez told Flores an ongoing Texas Rangers investigation will determine whether police officers involved in the shooting will be “held accountable.”

“We do want justice also as well, believe me,” Gomez told Flores. “It’s an ongoing investigation. If somebody did something wrong, they will be held accountable for it. I am very sorry for your loss. I really, truly am and people will be held accountable.”

Lynne Pare, director of Keep San Benito Beautiful, told commissioners, “Of course, what’s primary on our minds right now is justice for Ricky Treviño.”

What residents are asking for

“Did it do the public good to have us sit here for over two hours while you were in executive session knowing that we had things we wanted to express to the commission?” Pare asked as she used her cell phone to record the meeting.

“The community wants to feel a part of. We don’t want to be separated anymore. We don’t want to be ignored. We want to be shown some respect,” Pare said. “I come here for accountability and transparency — that we’re all held accountable. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here. If these people didn’t care, they wouldn’t be here, either.”

Alfonso Benavides, the Treviño family spokesman, told commissioners, “We continue to seek justice for Ricky Trevino III.”

Benavides said the city should have requested residents’ input before moving the public comment period.

“This seems like an intention to stifle or silence the community in a way,” Benavides said. “It can seem also that you’re discouraging residents and possibly the media from being here because they have a timeframe also.”

“This change that you all have made in this agenda to place public comment at the end of the whole meeting is not fair to the residents. It doesn’t give us an exact timeframe as to when public comment will occur. Some of these people may not want to sit throughout the whole meeting. They may have just a concern they want to convey to you.”