|MISSION, May 3 - Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas has dismissed claims from his challengers that he could have done more to prevent the Panama Unit, a narcotics task force comprising Mission police officers and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies, from going rogue.
Salinas appears on Ron Whitlock Reports on Televisa on Sunday morning to talk about his re-election bid. He is hoping to win a fifth term as mayor of one of the fastest growing cities in Texas.
“The problems with the Panama Unit would have happened if somebody else had been mayor,” Salinas told the Guardian. “We have no control over the police department. In an ordinance they passed back in the 1980s the mayor and the city commission cannot get close to the police station. We cannot talk to the police officers, we cannot hire and fire. They only thing we can do as a city commission is hire and fire the city manager and appoint the municipal judges. We have no control over how the police department is run.”
Two members of the Mission Police Department have been sentenced for their involvement in the drug trafficking activities of the Panama Unit. Jonathan Treviño, the son of former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Alexis Espinoza, son of Hidalgo Police Chief Rudy Espinoza, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Jonathan Treviño was identified as the de facto leader of the Panama Unit.
“To be very honest with you, I do not even know the boys Trevino or Espinoza. I knew their fathers but, to be honest, I did not know they were working for us. We have so many police officers,” Mayor Salinas said.
“If they (Salinas’ challengers) want me to take responsibility for it (the Panama Unit) I will take responsibility for it. It has nothing to do with lowering the tax rates, it has nothing to do with me being a full-time mayor, giving my all for this city, and it has nothing to do with the incredible economic growth we have been experiencing.”
Once it went rogue, members of the Panama Unit profited by helping certain drug dealers steal drug loads from other drug dealers. Salinas said he is pleased justice has been done.
“Thank God they caught them and that they are on their way to prison for a long time. My opponents should join with me in thanking the law enforcement officers, the FBI, that caught them and put them in their place. Hopefully, this will not happen here again or any other place,” Salinas said.
“Thankfully, we only had two of them working for us. Actually, they were working for the Sheriff’s Office but we were paying their check. They were not in our meetings every morning. They were not in our meetings every night. They were not patrolling our streets. They were doing something else and that something else was not right.”
Mayor Salinas also defended last year’s decision by the Mission city commission to appoint former Mission Police Chief Martin Garza as city manager.
“Martin Garza has a college degree. He was running the police department as second in command, then he was first in command. He was born here in Mission, he knows everyone in Mission.
Everyone in Mission loves this guy. One of our council members was his teacher, and he is very bright. He knows what he is doing,” Salinas said.
“Also, Martin Garza is very straight. He has a badge and he has a lot of honor carrying that gun, he has a lot of respect for that badge. He will not tolerate anything that is not right. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he is going to do great because of what he has learned from his father, from his family, and, of course, he loves the city of Mission. I think it was the best choice.”
Salinas has two mayoral challengers, businessman Jaime Gutierrez and physician John Guerra. Political pundits say Gutierrez has the better chance of causing an upset because he is better financed and is mounting a strong grassroots campaign.
Asked how his campaign is going, Salinas said: “I don’t think those guys (Gutierrez and Guerra) know how to run an election campaign in Mission. Whatever happens is fine with me. I am ready to serve four more years and I am also ready to retire. Whatever the voters want is fine with me. If they give me their blessing for four more years I will do it. If they don’t I will thank the voters of Mission for giving me the chance to do it for 16 years. Most people should appreciate that. Not many countries have a democracy. This is healthy politics. This is the only place you can find a good democracy. We enjoy it. We like it. It is very different to Mexico.”
In his interview with Whitlock, Salinas defended his decision not to participate in the one candidate forum held this election cycle. The forum was hosted by the Mission Progress Times and held at the Mission Public Library. Gutierrez and Guerra participated. Salinas said he was a no-show because he did not want to give additional publicity to candidates no one has heard of. He said the people know what he has achieved in his 16 years as mayor – unprecedented growth and job opportunities.
The Ron Whitlock Reports show runs from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Sunday on El Canal de las Estrellas, Televisa, XERV, Channel 9. On cable it is on Channel 19. There is also a link to the Salinas interview on the Ron Whitlock Reports website, www.ronwhitlock.com.