Concerned about corruption at Peñitas City Hall, a crowd packed the local library Monday to watch the City Council meeting.
Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez and the City Council said the Pledge of Allegiance. They prayed for guidance from God to “make the right decisions for our city.” And, without any discussion, they scheduled a special election to replace City Councilman Alex Guajardo, who resigned after pleading guilty to a federal bribery and money laundering charge.
The meeting lasted just 103 seconds — and Lopez walked away without answering any questions.
“It’s about time we all got involved because these people are doing whatever they want to do,” said Amadeo Villarreal, 69, a retired trucker from Peñitas. “They don’t do what they’re elected to do. They do what benefits them and their cronies. I hate to say that, but that’s what’s been happening.”
When a Progress Times reporter approached Lopez after the meeting, attorney Frank Garza said the City Council would not answer questions.
Lopez, City Councilman Ramiro Loya and City Councilman Felipe Quintanilla left after the meeting adjourned. City Councilman J.R. Flores didn’t attend the meeting.
The standing-room-only crowd included former Mayor Marcos Ochoa, former Mayor Servando Ramirez, former City Councilman Tomas Cedillo Jr. and Mario Chapa, the former president of the Agua Special Utility District board.
During the past few months, they watched Guajardo and three city administrators plead guilty to corruption charges:
* Former City Manager Omar Romero pleaded guilty to bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges in November.
* Armin Garza, the deputy emergency management coordinator, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in January.
* Public Works Director Andres “Andy” Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm in January.
* Guajardo, the city councilman, pleaded guilty to a federal bribery and money laundering charge in January.
Guajardo and Garza resigned. Romero and Morales, though, remained at City Hall.
Romero became a consultant. Morales is still the public works director.
“The phrase that comes to mind — or the word that comes to mind — is quid pro quo. The founding fathers of this community, the founding fathers of our nation, the founding fathers of the city of Peñitas, that terminology was not part of their vocabulary,” said Ramirez, the former mayor. “And it seems now that is an everyday thing.”
People who plead guilty to corruption charges shouldn’t be employed by the city, Ramirez said.
“You are representing the oldest settlement in the United States — Peñitas — and it’s an embarrassment to have staff members that have pled guilty and are still on the payroll with our tax dollars,” Ramirez said.
Members of the City Council need to focus on the community they serve, Ramirez said, not themselves.
Former City Councilman Tomas Cedillo Jr. and his wife, Tina, said they believed Peñitas needed to make big changes at City Hall.
“And the people are fed up,” Tina Cedillo said. “There’s nothing we can do right now.”
Peñitas plans to hold the special election to replace Guajardo on June 21.