Mayor says all six Sullivan City judges will work without pay

This article was originally published in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, April 12, 2019.

The idea seemed a little crazy.

Why did Sullivan City — a small town with just 4,100 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — need six municipal judges? Bad jokes started circulating that Sullivan City Hall, a modest building where the conference room doubles as the courtroom, had become the Sullivan City Courthouse.

20190419 EleazarVelasquezSwearingInCeremonyMayor Leo Garcia, though, had a plan.

“My whole point all along was to save some money for the city,” Garcia said.

Sullivan City employed several municipal judges, who handled arraignments and held traffic court.

Mission Civil Service Director Jesse Lerma, the municipal judge in Peñitas, had served Sullivan City since the early 2000s. So had Roberto Garza, who also served as a municipal judge in Pharr.

Neither lived in Sullivan City. To avoid delays and scheduling problems, police occasionally drove suspects to Pharr for arraignment.

After he became mayor, Garcia started searching for a solution.

The City Commission appointed La Joya school board Trustee Alex Cantu of Palmview, the municipal judge in La Joya, to assist them.

With three judges, Sullivan City had options. Garcia, however, started worrying about the cost.

Garcia wanted to build a library. After years of delays, he pushed for lights on U.S. 83. And under his administration, Sullivan City completed the long-awaited splash pad project.

Sullivan City could afford to pay the municipal judges a small stipend for their services, but Garcia wanted to save every dollar possible for city projects.

He hatched a plan.

The City Commission appointed three new municipal judges: La Joya school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas, a local businessman; attorney Marco A. De Luna, who is running for justice of the peace; and Rio Grande City school board Trustee Eleazar Velasquez Jr. of Alto Bonito, a community just a few minutes west of Sullivan City.

Salinas and De Luna accepted the positions in February. Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez administered the oath of office to Velasquez last week.

With six judges willing to serve Sullivan City, the mayor started making phone calls. Starting in April, the position would become strictly volunteer — nobody would receive a paycheck.

“We’re going to get all six judges at no cost,” Garcia said.

Sullivan City will save $275 per judge every month, Garcia said. The number of judges will provide options for police and avoid scheduling problems.

The positions also provided Sullivan City with an opportunity to forge connections with neighboring communities.

“I’ve been friends with Mayor Garcia since a long time ago. Maybe 10 years,” Velasquez said. “He gave me the opportunity. So, for me, it’s an honor for me to serve this community, the city of Sullivan City. I look forward to serve the people of the community to the best of my ability.”

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