HARLINGEN — The city’s attorney is requesting a judge today deny former City Commissioner Robert Leftwich’s request to call Mayor Chris Boswell to the witness stand during a hearing challenging the city’s recent four-cent property tax hike.
During the hearing, state District Judge Janet Leal is expected to consider City Attorney Ricardo Navarro’s request to quash a subpoena calling on Boswell to appear at the hearing in 103rd state District Court.
Three days after attorney Ron Lozano, representing Leftwich, presented Boswell with the subpoena Oct. 22, Navarro’s office filed a motion requesting Leal deny the call for the mayor to appear in court.
“If Boswell respects the legal process, considering he’s an attorney and part of the legal system, I would expect him to make an appearance at the hearing,” Leftwich said yesterday.
Boswell declined comment, citing the court case.
The hearing stems from Leftwich’s lawsuit requesting Leal grant a temporary restraining order nullifying commissioners’ vote approving an ordinance boosting the city’s property tax rate from about 58 cent to 63 cents per $100 valuation.
Last month, Leftwich filed the lawsuit arguing Boswell violated a new amendment to the Texas Open Meetings Act requiring governments give residents a chance to speak up on issues before they go to a vote.
House Bill 2840, filed by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, became law Sept. 1.
The lawsuit claims Boswell denied residents a chance to speak out before commissioners cast their vote on the first reading of the tax rate’s ordinance during a Sept. 4 meeting.
Boswell has denied the claim.
During the hearing, Leftwich is expected to request Leal consider evidence including a city-recorded video he argues shows Boswell denied residents a chance to speak on the proposed tax increase before commissioners voted to approve the first reading of its ordinance.
“We hope to negate the historic tax increase imposed on the citizens of Harlingen,” Leftwich said yesterday. “We know the evidence will prove a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act regarding citizen input in that particular meeting. We’d like to get the court to rule based on the evidence and nullify that particular meeting.”
Second time Lefwich subpoenas Boswell
The hearing will mark the second time Navarro’s office has requested the court deny Leftwich’s request to call Boswell to the witness stand.
On Oct. 1, Judge Louis Sorola, the county’s administrative judge, granted the city’s request to quash Leftwich’s subpoena.
During that hearing, attorney Robert Drinkard, who works with Navarro’s law firm, argued Lozano failed to personally present Boswell with the subpoena while not giving the mayor enough time to respond to the call to appear as a witness.
Drinkard also argued Boswell’s position as mayor gives him “legislative immunity” to excuse him from testifying.
In response, Sorola granted Drinkard’s request to quash the subpoena, arguing Lozano had presented City Secretary Amanda Elizondo with Boswell’s subpoena a day before the hearing, failing to give the mayor enough to time prepare any testimony.
Leal denies first request for TRO
On Sept. 16, Leal denied Leftwich’s first request for a temporary restraining order aimed at stopping commissioners from voting the next day on the second and final reading of the ordinance boosting the tax rate from about 58 to 63 cents per $100 valuation.
Apparently, city officials had expressed concern the temporary restraining order could prevent commissioners from approving a $47.8 million general fund budget before the Oct. 1 close of the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Officials were counting on the tax increase, projected to generate $1.3 million a year, to balance the budget.
During a special meeting Sept. 17, commissioners voted to approve the second and final reading of the ordinance boosting the tax rate from about 58 to 63 cents.
Commissioner Frank Puente cast the lone dissenting vote.