Monday, June 5, 2017

How Crazy Were the Public Commenters Now Banned from the Broadcast?

From the editor:  Those critical of public commenters at city commission meetings frequently used the word "crazy" to describe the participants.  City Attorney Mark Sossi, who Mayor Martinez asked to make a case against including citizen comments in the Brownsville TV broadcast, used the word "grandstanding" in reference to the taxpayers who signed up for public comment.

Yet, public comment is a feature of participatory democracy, so much needed in a city where only 7% of the registered voters participated in the last city election.  To stifle, stymie and squelch the broadcast of public comment is an anti-democratic move, actually cowardly.

It's admirable and courageous for public officials to open up to hard questions in a public forum. Mayor Tony Martinez and the most recent manifestations of the city commission lack that strength and courage.

Let's go back a few years to the time before the broadcast ban of public comment and analyze the type of comments made by the most frequent commenters:

Letty Perez-Garzoria
Letty Perez-Garzoria, always respectful, low-key, carrying herself like a retired schoolmarm, may have inadvertently triggered the exclusion of public comments on the city commission broadcast when she revealed that City Attorney Mark Sossi had a judgement from his previous employer, the Willette & Guerra Law Firm for pocketing $167,363 belonging to the firm.  If that wasn't a big enough bombshell, Ms. Garzoria hinted that the City of Brownsville had now engaged  Willette & Guerra for some of the city's legal work so as to help "pay" back Sossi's debt.

One would think the mayor, city commission, even city manager would be grateful to Ms. Garzoria for uncovering such an obvious breach of ethics, Brownsville's version of Watergate, or even, Trumpgate, but the city's response was to institute a ban of the broadcast of public comment from that point on.

Roberto Uresti Sans Usual Ballcap
Perhaps the most prolific of public commenters, typically with a viewpoint to express on agenda items as well, is Roberto Uresti, a Viet Nam vet, retired school teacher, who worked past retirement age at an automatic car wash.  

Uresti, no grammarian, despite working in education, was always full of ideas and specific suggestions.
Uresti has fought for flood control, tearing down dilapidated housing, street repair and brush cleanup.   Actually, he has been a de facto city commissioner without having a portrait hung along the wall of hallway leading to the commission chambers.

Several years ago, as the city proposed raising taxes, City Finance Officer Pete Gonzalez lamented that he had exhausted every possible way to reduce the city's budget. Uresti stepped up in public comment and quickly rattled off four or five ways the city could save money instead of always taking money from P.U.B. or raising taxes.

Add caption
Dagoberto Barrera typically brought a manuscript to public comment, reading it in an old-fashioned oratorical style.

His prevalent theme was that the city, county or school district "live within its means!"  Who could successfully argue with that?

His dress shirt was always matched by his necktie, with obvious pride in impeccable dress.  

Mr. Barrera also took pride in amplifying his own voice without the microphone.

He expressed in graphic terms a strange, racist view of Mexican Nationals, strange because of his own ethnicity and marriage to his longtime maid from Matamoros.
Fernando Ruiz

There are many notable others, certainly Fernando Ruiz, now deceased, a learned man, who I often encountered at the public library researching some legal issue relevant to the city. Mr. Ruiz, a tall man, used sweeping gestures, sometimes a little intimidating.  My favorite Ruiz line:  "If I took a leak on Elizabeth Street, the police chief would arrest me.  What the city commission is doing is just as illegal!"

Interestingly, none of these folks were crazy enough to use taxpayer money to buy buildings the city had no need for, taking them off the tax rolls.  None of these people were crazy enough to pay $2.3 million for Casa del Nylon, triple its actual value.  None of  them were crazy enough to raise utility rates over 30% for a utility plant that will not be built.

It would make more sense to ban the broadcast of comments by the mayor and city commissioners than these hardworking taxpayers.

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