San Juan commission mum on suspended police chief

San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez (Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro lzazueta@themonitor.com)

SAN JUAN — After a special called meeting of the San Juan City Commission on Monday, in which the status of Chief of Police Juan Gonzalez was discussed, little remains known of the action taken on the long-tenured lawman’s suspension.

Commissioner Marco “Markie” Villegas, Mayor Pro-Tem Leonardo “Lenny” Sanchez, Mayor Mario Garza and City Manager Benjamin Arjona convened in executive session at 6:21 p.m. to discuss Gonzalez’s employment.

Commissioners Jesus “Jesse” Ramirez and Ernesto “Neto” Guajardo were not present at Monday’s meeting.

Gonzalez was placed on paid administrative leave following an executive session discussion during a regular meeting on Tuesday, July 14. Since then, the administration has released little information regarding the circumstances leading to the police chief’s suspension.

After reconvening in open session 10 minutes later, a motion was made by Villegas to follow the city manager’s recommendation and seconded by the mayor before passing unanimously.

However, the details of what exactly the city manager recommended remain unknown.

Asked for his recommendation after the meeting was adjourned, Arjona said he could not provide any details.

“It’s a personnel matter,” Arjona said. “Whatever is on the executive session, I cannot discuss that.”

Garza remained mum about the situation as well when pressed.

“He’s still on administrative pay,” Garza said. “Right now, as far as the status, I can’t go into detail because this was an executive session matter. It’s a personnel matter, so I can’t make any comments in regards to that. Anything that happens in the back, we can’t discuss that.”

Kelley Shannon, who is the executive director for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, disagreed with the mayor and city manager.

“They’re not right on that,” Shannon said. “They have the ability to not speak on their exact deliberations in executive session, but if they come out of executive session and they take action, then they need to state exactly what they’re taking action on.”

“They can’t just say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do what we talked about in executive session.’ They need to tell the public what their vote is on and what they’re doing.”

Shannon explained that when a city commission takes action on an agenda item, it is a public matter.

“When they come out and take some action, they are informing the public of what they’re doing and what they’re voting on, so votes and decisions have to be made in public,” Shannon said. “If they aren’t even giving a clue as to what they’re voting on, that’s not informing the public.”

At the start of the meeting, Garza asked City Secretary Diana Cavazos if Ramirez and Guajardo had been notified about the meeting. She said that she had provided copies of the meeting’s agenda to them on Friday as well as calling to remind them about the meeting.

The mayor was also asked about whether he was able to establish a quorum since only two commissioners were present at the meeting.

“I can’t answer that,” Garza said. “I’m not going to speak on their behalf. It’s something that you may need to ask them. But we had a quorum here today, and we just had to continue with our agenda.”

With over 30 years of law enforcement experience, Gonzalez has served as San Juan’s police chief since 2009.