Commission calls meeting for tax hike vote

Lawsuit planned to stop special meeting

HARLINGEN — After days of dispute, city commissioners have called a meeting to cast the final vote on a proposed 4-cent tax hike.

But commissioners won’t vote at the city’s regularly scheduled meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday because Commissioner Michael Mezmar, who plans to vote in favor of the tax increase, said he couldn’t attend.

So commissioners have called a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, which Commissioner Frank Puente, expected to cast the lone dissenting vote, said he can’t attend.

Meanwhile, former Commissioner Robert Leftwich is planning to file a petition for a temporary restraining order requesting a judge bar officials from holding the special meeting. Commissioners plan to cast the second and final vote on the proposal to increase the city’s property tax rate from about 58 cents to 63 cents per $100 valuation.

Earlier this week, Puente questioned the validity of the commission’s Sept. 4 vote on the first reading of the proposal, which would increase the tax rate to generate $1.3 million a year, balancing a proposed $47.8 million general fund budget.

According to Puente, officials violated a new amendment to the Open Meetings Act.

Earlier this year, legislators passed the amendment authored by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, requiring governmental bodies to give the public an opportunity to speak on issues before they go to a vote.

On Sept. 1, House Bill 2840 became law.

Puente argues officials violated the law when they failed to give the public a chance to speak up on the proposal before commissioners voted on the ordinance’s first reading Sept. 4.

However, Mayor Chris Boswell has said he gave residents a chance to speak up on the proposed tax hike before commissioners cast the vote.

Now, Leftwich is trying to stop the commission from holding Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s time the citizens take a stand,” Leftwich said yesterday. “It’s just a blatant disregard for citizen input. They need to comply with the laws — they’re not be skirted.”

Meetings dispute

For days, officials worked to set Tuesday’s meeting after Mezmar said he couldn’t attend Wednesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

“I don’t see a need for a special meeting to be called when they’re going to have a quorum and they’re going to have the votes,” Puente said, noting the rest of the commission supports the tax hike.

Yesterday Mezmar, a registered nurse and nurse practitioner, said he couldn’t attend Wednesday’s meeting because he’s pursuing continuing education credits to meet license requirements.

Meanwhile, Puente, a roofing contractor, said he can’t attend Tuesday’s meeting because he plans to inspect a roofing project he completed for the Navy’s naval air station in Kingsville.

Public comment periods set

Late yesterday afternoon, officials posted notices to hold the two meetings, each setting public comment periods, or “citizen communication/input” at the start of the meetings.

But for the Sept. 4 meeting, officials set the public comment period at the end of the meeting, where they’ve placed it for about five years.

Still, Boswell has said officials complied with the new law because he gave residents a chance to speak up on the proposed tax hike before commissioners cast their vote during Sept. 4’s meeting.

“I looked directly at the audience and said, is there any discussion,” Boswell said Thursday.

Meanwhile, City Manager Dan Serna has said Boswell allows residents to speak up regarding agenda items before they go to a vote.

A previous City Commission had also passed a resolution allowing residents to speak up regarding any agenda item at any time during a meeting, officials have said.