Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The First Order of Business for the New Brownsville City Commission

From the editor:  It's disrespect; to Brownsville's hardworking taxpayers, to democracy itself.  Consider this: The words, gestures, even light-hearted banter and self-aggrandizing reports of the city commissioners and mayor are broadcast on Channel 12/Brownsville TV.  But, the very moment a citizen, taxpayer, voter steps up to the podium for a public observation on the state of our city, his or her words are blocked from broadcast with a "Public Comment" logo appearing on thousands of television screens across town.

Ben Neece
One would think that, in a city where only 7% of registered voters participated in the most recent city election, the city commission would want to do everything to encourage participatory democracy.  

Goodness knows the commission needs every bit of help available, with dozens of properties purchased still gathering dust and decaying, off the tax rolls after half a decade, not to mention a 35% increase in utility rates for a power plant that will never be built.  Smart, they've not been, but worse much of this was done on the sly, covertly without politico's favorite word; transparency.

Joe Munguia
But, there is hope for the hopeless, a glimmer of light for those left in the dark. Brownsville has two new city commissioners, soon to be sworn in.

Will one or the other have the intestinal fortitude to submit an agenda item to rescind the ban on the broadcast of public comment?

We repost our 2015 article on this issue below:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Broadcast Ban of Public Comments Hovers Like a Dark Cloud Over City's Participatory Democracy

City Attorney Mark Sossi Caricature by Nena Barton
Certainly, Argelia Miller had no idea of the far-reaching effects of her August 25, 2010 letter to City Manager Charlie Cabler about a $167,323 judgement awarded to City Attorney Mark Sossi' former employer, Willette & Guerra for theft of funds. What Miller was upset about was that the City of Brownsville seemed to be paying off Sossi's debt by utilizing Sossi's old firm to represent the city in legal matters.

When this obviously compounded conflict of interest was later mentioned during the Public Comment section of a subsequent City Commission meeting, Sossi had heard enough and issued the ludicrous legal opinion to Mayor Pat Ahumada and the City Commission that the continued broadcast of public comments on City of Brownville's Channel 12 would make the city vulnerable to lawsuits.

Sossi knows a thing or two about lawsuits, being on the receiving end of, not only the Willette & Guerra judgement, but a $20,711.66 judgement from the Texas Workforcefor stealing monies, a $100,000 lien from the Internal Revenue Serviceand two malpractice lawsuits from locals who wrongfully assumed a City Attorney might be someone to engage for personal legal matters. In hindsight, perhaps the City of Brownsville should have considered a banishing of the City Attorney instead of banning the broadcast of public comment. But, no, Sossi hangs on as a Tony Martinez lap dog, facilitating the mayor's backdoor deals on a $10,000 per month contract basis, also netting $5,000 per month from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation for a net of $180,000 annually.(Ironically, the payee for Sossi's payroll checks is The Good Government Firm. Lol!)
A couple months into the Tony Martinez tenure as mayor, former City Commissioner Melissa Landin(Zamora) introduced an agenda item to consider rescinding the ban on the broadcast of public comment. Shocking those who thought they'd voted for a democratically-oriented mayor, Martinez voiced his opposition to lifting the ban: "I'd like to continue doing things the way the previous administration did them. It's been working pretty good so far. I don't want to change that."
The former commissioner was set to introduce the agenda item to restore the broadcast, but behind the scenes Mayor Martinez and City Attorney had worked up a little surprise for Lindin. Sossi, who could never seem to find 15 minutes to work on an ethics code, something this city of 200,000 doesn't have, had spent all week working up his infamous pie chart to demonstrate to the City Commission audience how pulling the switch on the broadcast of public comment had actually enhanced representative democracy, not stifled and choked the life out of it. Here is our reporting of the incident from 2011:

"Melissa Hernandez-Zamora seemed dumbstruck when City Attorney Sossi stood up to give opposition testimony concerning the broadcast of public comment item she had placed on the agenda. It was obvious that Commissioner Zamora had not been advised of the behind-the-scenes manipulation by Mayor Martinez and his eager cohort Sossi. Sossi, afterall, had the most to lose from public comment broadcast since it was comments about his questionable ethics that triggered the ban in the first place. As Zamora got her bearings, Martinez waved Sossi the "go ahead". Sossi made no attempt in his feeble, highschoolish power point to express a legal opinion. There was no mention of free speech, the first amendment, the constitution or even the phony liability issues he has pretended previously. Those might have been worthy legal issues. Instead he expressed only viewpoints, unscientific at best, but most likely simply wrong. With a straight face he used a pie chart to illustrate the greater "diversity" of commenters since the ban, not even having the honesty to acknowledge that many of those new participants were speaking out against the anti-democratic ban. He also railed against grandstanding as he grandstanded."

Tony Martinez was once heard bragging to a commissioner after a City Commission meeting: "I told you I could get this thing done in 45 minutes." That is not what conducting the city's business should be all about, rushing things through without discussion. Agenda items that involve the hard-earned tax dollars of Brownsville's citizens should be carefully, judiciously considered. Commissioners need to come to City Commission meetings prepared to discuss each agenda point intelligently, articulately.
In a city where 10% of registered voters actually vote, our city needs more participatory democracy, not less. The broadcast of public comment should not only be restored, but enlarged. Our city needs, not only Robert Uresti and Letty Perez-Garzoria speaking up with ideas, but also Teresa Saldivar, Trey Mendez, Dennis Sanchez, Daniel Lenz, Abraham Galonsky, Larry Jokl, Craig Grove, Peter Zavaleta, Tony Zavaleta, Dino Chavez, Laura Miniel and others. Expand the session to 30 minutes. Martinez can TIVO Boston Legal. Hopefully, someone who actually "believes in Brownsville" will have the intestinal fortitude to introduce this matter. Cesar??????

Posted by Jim Barton at 11:11 AM 30 comments:


  1. Remove the DAMN Ban!! This van is just another way to claim that the city commission was never enlightened on a subject, or had no knowledge of a priblem. Just classic covering their sorry assess!! Lift the ban and encourage public comments and support!!

  2. Agree. If this is truly a democracy let the people have their say.

  3. None of these people represent anyone. They represent 600 voters. The majority have given up for now. Make no mistake though, These dumbfucks elected a stoner, wife beating, coffee smuggling Neece who do NOT represent the majority. Tread lightly Neece. You are a marijuana smoking lucky bastard with a former cocaine snorting girlfriend. Not sure about your cocaine use right now but we will figure that out. That's who you are. So do not believe we are not on to your fucking drug game. Next time don't wait till the last minute John Villarreal. Pendejo.

    1. Neece is a dumbass - thinks he's Timothy Leary but looks like a woman with that hair. Fock him!

  4. Would be nice if everybody came out of the shadows with their proper names instead of going anonymous. Not that disagree with the comments but you guys play a double standard when you want our government to be transparent but hide when you want to use foul language and insults. Come out of the shadows and show our city leaders how transparency works...