EDINBURG — Elections have consequences, and for some high-ranking city officials here, it could spell trouble as the power on the council shifts.
Edinburg City Manager Juan Guerra, City Secretary Ludivina Leal, and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation board appear to be first on the chopping block. That’s according to Wednesday’s council agenda, which marks the first meeting since Mayor Richard Molina lost his majority last week.
Those positions, which the current majority either hired or appointed, have been a point of contention for various reasons.
And David White’s win over incumbent David Torres last week ensured that Molina lost an important ally on the council and a crucial swing vote, at least until a runoff election is held next month.
White, the former Edinburg police chief who felt scorned enough to run for office, will be sworn in as the new Place 4 councilman during Wednesday’s meeting. And in doing so, it will shift the ruling power from Molina to his minority faction, comprised of councilmen Gilbert Enriquez and Homer Jasso Jr.
Enriquez was initially Molina’s ally, but he has since parted ways and become one of the mayor’s most vocal opponents.
Jasso Jr. will vacate his position in December once voters chose a new Place 3 council member in a runoff election between Deanna “Coach” Dominguez and Juan “Johnny” Garcia. That runoff is set for Dec. 10.
But in the meantime, Jasso Jr. remains an important piece of the puzzle.
While it remains to be seen if White will join Enriquez and Jasso in forming a new majority, the move seems likely. White is supported by the Palacios family, a long-time political faction in Edinburg that has recently rallied against Molina.
In fact, a member of the Palacios family is credited with uncovering what the Texas Attorney General’s Office now believes was a scheme by Molina to fraudulently swing the November 2017 municipal election in his favor.
That investigation has since opened a litany of problems for the mayor and his allies, and it has also led to the arrest of about two dozen people, including Molina, his wife and Leal, the city secretary. Leal is accused of allowing a person to vote illegally through the use of her Edinburg address.
On Wednesday, the council will discuss Leal’s employment status in open session, and she could very well be fired from her post.
As city secretary, Leal is supposed to oversee all things election, but because of her recent arrest and ensuing felony indictment, the council stripped her of those duties for the 2019 municipal election.
In a previous contentious council meeting, Enriquez and Jasso tried to remove Leal from her post following her arrest, but they didn’t have enough votes to do it.
That will likely change Wednesday.
Guerra, the city manager, could face a similar fate. The council is also scheduled to discuss his employment status and contract behind closed doors Wednesday.
Guerra, the former Pharr city manager, received a $25,000 raise earlier this year — courtesy of Molina’s majority.
The pay raise, which came as Guerra appeared ready to leave his post for a position with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, drew criticism from Enriquez, who previously told The Monitor he believes Guerra’s contract was not executed according to law.
Enriquez will likely head the new, temporary majority.
The breakdown between Enriquez and Molina appears to have occurred sometime earlier this year, when the mayor and his two allies, Torres and Councilman Jorge Salinas, kicked him out of the EDC board.
When Molina ran for office in 2017, he criticized former Mayor Richard Garcia, whom Molina eventually defeated, of abusing his power on the council to appoint himself president of the EDC board. Molina campaigned on the promise that he would not lead the EDC board.
However, Molina and his majority, which at the time included Enriquez, eventually appointed themselves to the EDC board soon after they won their respective seats and secured the majority vote.
Enriquez headed the EDC board as president for over a year, but in February he was demoted from his post and Salinas was named president. Two months later, the majority completely removed him from the board.
Enriquez has since spoken out against some of the financial incentives the EDC has doled out and went as far as filing a lawsuit against the EDC, Executive Director Ruben Ramirez, the city and Guerra after they refused to give him confidential information.
That lawsuit might be moot after Wednesday’s meeting because the council is set to appoint new members to its board.