By ESTEVAN MEDRANO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
In the weeks leading up to the Port Isabel election, city commission meeting attendance has increased from a handful of regular attendees to a near or above full capacity presence of local residents. Before City Attorney Robert Collins could begin making a summary of previously held mediation meeting regarding the future of the City’s annexation boundaries with Brownsville, the tone of Wednesday’s city commission meeting soon turned sour due to simmering tensions among the City’s commission members.
The tension began when Commissioner Juan “J.J.” Zamora accused Mayor Joe E. Vega of wasting taxpayer money by seeking two additional lawyers for City representation for, in his opinion, unnecessary legal proceedings. He also said the mayor deserved no credit for the City’s ability to settle the matter of Brownsville’s “illegal annexation” in court simply by not signing the original annexation agreement between the two municipalities. The mayor responded to the commissioner’s accusations by saying Zamora had given “false information, like he has always done in the past” and that the minutes from previous meetings reflect that the commission agreed as a unit on the annexation terms.
As the commission moved down the agenda, discussions of the second item — regarding the legal proceedings currently against the City — soon overtook the entire meeting. City Manager Edward Meza recommended the continued legal counsel of two additional attorneys for the representation of the City and its commission, but Commissioner Martin C. Cantu had harsh words for the lack of a special meeting on the subject being called beforehand to discuss the issue.
“You had a whole week to schedule a special meeting to seek approval for the hiring of attorneys and you never did,” said Cantu. “You and your own decided to incur thousands of dollars in legal expenses that the City does not have to have three lawyers represent the City and the commissioners in this lawsuit,” he said. “This is wrong and this is illegal… All these lawyers did during the hearing is repeat what each of them was arguing to the judge and then they lost. You lost,” he said.
Cantu made a motion to not hire the additional attorneys — Frank Perez and Michael Cowen — which was seconded by Zamora. The mayor repeatedly sought legal counsel from City attorney Robert Collins on whether many of the procedures occurring during the meeting were legally permissible, including the authority for providing counsel for the commissioners who have been sued. Collins responded by referring to Article 38.01 of the City Ordinance to proceed with the vote to approve the action. Cantu described the action as “lies.”
Article 38.01 concerns attorney fees incurred by city commissioners and is written in the City of Port Isabel Code of Ordinances as follows: “The City shall assume liability for reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by City Commissioners who have been sued in their individual capacities for action taken while they are members of the City Commission and acting in that capacity at the time the acts took place. The City Commission retains the right to determine whether the attorney’s fees are reasonable and only assumes liability for attorney’s fees determined to be reasonable by the City Commission. The City Commission also retains the right to determine whether or not the Commissioner involved was acting for and on behalf of the city at the time the acts took place.”
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