|HIDALGO, May 14 - A city commissioner in Hidalgo has moved to reassure employees they will not lose their jobs or suffer any other form of retaliation for voting a certain way at election time.
Commissioner Gustavo “Gus” Sanchez addressed employees at a regular city commission on Monday evening.
“Everybody has got the right to vote without any repercussions over the way they vote. I want you guys to hear it from me,” Sanchez told staff members. He said he had heard rumors that “a couple of people were let go” because they voted for a slate of candidates.
“I want you to send the message loud and clear to everybody that you will not be retaliated on, one way or the other, guys. You have our full support because we are in a free country and you guys can vote whichever way you want,” Sanchez told the employees.
There was no further discussion on the matter during the commission meeting. However, afterwards Sanchez and other city commissioners spoke in more depth to the Guardian about their concerns. They said that in a small city like Hidalgo, the city and the school district are major employers and lots of good paying jobs can be at stake depending on the results of city and school board elections. They said retaliation should not be happening if a city or school district employee works for a particular campaign. But, they said, such retaliation has gone on in the past.
“In the last three months at the school level there have been people who were probably manhandled,” said Hidalgo City Commissioner Rodolfo “Rudy” Franz. “At the city level I never saw anything of this sort. But, I did hear about it at the school level. There were moves made, people taken for salaries and moved in downward positions and moved into small offices. The grievances are there.”
Franz told the Guardian to check out the grievances filed with the school district. Hidalgo ISD public relations officer Jennifer Villarreal confirmed grievances have been filed. She said she would get back to the Guardian with more information about those grievances later.
Franz reiterated that he has not heard of any retaliation happening at the city level. “We all know each other. They are all good employees,” he said. “If you are doing your job you should be paid accordingly. You should not be fearful of losing your job.”
Like Commissioner Sanchez, Hidalgo City Commissioner Guillermo Ramirez works for Hidalgo ISD. Ramirez told the Guardian that retaliation just because a city or school district employee worked on a campaign or voted a certain way cannot be tolerated.
“People come in and work without any repercussions or fear. We want to make sure the city does not tolerate or endorse that kind of behavior. Voting is a basic right, it is a civil responsibility and we should not be penalized for going either way,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said employment at city hall or with the school district can be a big deal in a small community that is socio-economically challenged. “Small cities live pretty much in the same cycle. All families are connected, and the city and the school district tend to be the biggest employers in the community,” he explained.
Asked if Hidalgo has a history of threats of retaliation, Ramirez said: “There is retaliation in certain instances if you are not following a particular party or voting a certain direction. We need to get the word out that city does not tolerate that behavior. We want to make sure employees come in, do their work and at the end of the day it is their choice who they want to support without any type of repercussions.”
The Guardian asked Sanchez, a relative newcomer on the city commission, why he brought up the issue.
“I had to say it. I do not know if I was out of line but I needed to say it. We are in 2013. A lot of times our employees have the concern that if they vote one way or the other there is going to be repercussions here at the city or here at the school. We have got to make sure that mentality goes away. Employees have to be able to choose whatever they want. People should not live in fear,” Sanchez.
Sanchez added that he wanted the media across the Rio Grande Valley to get the word out about the importance of voting and that elections must be conducted fairly without fear of reprisals. “We need to promote freedom of expression, freedom of voting. We need to promote this message all across Hidalgo and all across the Valley. Rumors spread and that is where the fear comes in. I want to put our employees at ease that nothing is going to happen. If it is going on we have got to put a stop to it,” Sanchez said.