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Rio Grande Valley mayors and city managers listened intently to remarks by Shanna Igo of the Texas Municipal League at a meeting at Weslaco EDC on Thursday evening, Aug. 3, 2017.

WESLACO, RGV – A meeting designed to bring city mayors and managers up to speed on the special legislative session turned into a passionate debate about how the Rio Grande Valley can better punch its political weight.

The meeting was held at the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation offices and featured Shanna Igo, director of legislative services at Texas Municipal League. Igo spoke in-depth about a slew of bills supported by Gov. Greg Abbott that, she argued, are designed to diminish the power of city government. She called it “an attack on cities.”

Shanna Igo

More than two dozen city mayors and managers listened intently and politely for about 30 minutes, interjecting only occasionally with questions about specific bills. The discussion got lively, however, thanks to a rallying call from Esmeralda Lozano, a city commissioner from La Feria and a higher education professional.

“It has been weighing on me since before SB 4 became law. My question to everybody in this room is: at what point are we, small cities, mid-size cities, big cities, at what point are we going to lock arms and say, enough?” Lozano asked.

“If we truly ran on the principle of representing the people in our communities, however small, however big, however poor, however rich, at what point are we going to say, enough?”

Lozano went on:

“The stupidity at the capitol and in the federal government has become the norm. I know people roll their eyes but it is true. You call it an attack on cities but as a minority twice, I can see this as an attempt to crush the crush the minorities, who are in the big cities, who are in the small cities. At what point are we going to start becoming a vocal, action advocates?”

Esmeralda Lozano

Leo Olivares, interim city manager for Palmview, said the problem is Austin does not listen to the Valley.

“It is not us that is the problem, it is not that we are not acting regionally, we are the enemy in their eyes. That is the reality,” Olivares said. “They are not going to listen because hundreds of people testify. They don’t care so what specifically can we do? Is it the House that needs to step it up? Is it our individual senators or representatives? What specifically now can we do?”

Lozano responded: “We need to start mobilizing our constituents, use old school tactics like petitions, like marches to the Capitol, like blitzing the media. Keeping our face in it, in it, in it. Bringing up the hard issues.”

Lozano there are “a lot of fantastic programs” that are under way that bring the Valley together, that get cities working regionally, and by way of example referenced the work of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. However, she said, more needs to be done in fighting back against Senate Bill 4.

Senate Bill 4, passed during this year’s regular legislative session, allows local law enforcement to ask the legal status of people they stop. Many police chiefs have said it will undermine community policing.

“When it comes to state attacks on us, like Senate Bill 4, let’s just talk about that,” Lozano told her colleagues in the audience. “I have worked in higher education for the better part of 18 years. Some of the undocumented kids are the ones that made the winning touchdown at the district game. Some of those kids are head cheerleaders. Some of those kids are the valedictorians. They (schools) are no longer sanctuary buildings.”

Lozano also defended the rights of cities to annex adjacent land. “Annexation for small cities is often times an artery to keep us alive,” she said.

“I don’t have the answers but I think we have to start, even if it is with a small group of people who are interested in seeing what we can do, and start mobilizing. We have got to get re-energized in some way and understand this is happening. It is not going to get better if we don’t start acting,” Lozano said.

Rolando Vela, city manager for Laguna Vista, had called the Thursday evening meeting. He said he invited Igo to come and explain what is happening in the special session. He said he was heartened by the turnout.

“We have the city manager of Mission, McAllen, Edinburg, here. Also, Los Fresnos, San Benito, South Padre Island, Small cities and large cities, we all need to be holding hands,” Vela said.

Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez is mayor of Palmview and TML’s director for six counties in South Texas. He said he had taken a call recently from a chief of staff to a Valley legislator who urged him to keep the pressure on against legislation that curbs city power. “He called me and said, ‘keep it going, you have got the momentum, don’t stop.’”

Rodriguez added: “I am pro-regionalism. Have your Friday night football, that is great but we have got to think as a region. From Brownsville to Sullivan City, we are all one big community now. We have got to work together.”

Lozano said that as of tomorrow folks in Sullivan City, La Feria and Santa Rosa would be “hitting the phone banks” and “calling, calling, calling” in opposition to what is happening in Austin and Washington, D.C.

“Is there something in the Constitution that says we can oust a crazy man? Maybe there is. Maybe we need to start looking at that and garnering some signatures. Sometimes it is about going back to old school tactics. We are under attack. That is what is happening. We are going to be judged and our children are going to have a bright future or not.”

Lozano then returned to the potential impact of SB 4.

“One of the points I brought up with my elected official was my concern about my undocumented students and the potential for the round-ups. There is a lot of talk about round-ups, round-ups, round-ups. There are a lot of naysayers saying it is not going to happen. Guess what? They have happened,” Lozano said.

“At the beginning of the Depression, in the late 20s, millions and millions of people, citizens who were born here of Mexican descent were sent to Mexico, families split, women raped, their land taken away, their bank accounts stripped. It wasn’t something the federal government approved. It was quietly sanctioned by the counties and the cities and the state turned a blind eye. Do we guarantee that does not happen here?”

R. Dave Kusch

Primera Mayor R. Dave Kusch said he was concerned that if there is mobilization against certain legislation, that no laws are broken.

“You have gone on a little tangent here,” Kusch told Lozano. “One of the things you have got to look at, I don’t disagree with you but you have federal laws. So, change the federal law. If you don’t like the laws that deal with illegal immigration or whatever, then change it at the federal level. A nation survives under the rule of law. A city survives under the rule of law. If you advocate, or because of your own beliefs, feelings or whatever, that the rule of law doesn’t apply, you end up with what you are talking about. You end up with anarchy. So, change the law.”

Laguna Vista’s Vela praised those in the room for their “very positive” discussion. He pointed out that he tried to get a meeting for Valley cities with Gov. Abbott before the special session started but was rebuffed.

“A month ago, we contacted the Governor’s Office. They said we can give you the policy director. When other cities started meeting with the Governor two weeks ago, we submitted a request through J.J. Garza, chief of staff to Rep. Rene Oliveira. I said, he (Abbott) is meeting with other mayors, why can’t he meet with ours? The Rio Grande Guardian wrote a story, Shanna was interviewed and boom, I got an email yesterday, the Governor can meet you, two o’clock on Friday. It (the RGG story) caught the attention of the Governor’s Office. The mayors are coming together in the Valley and boom we have several mayors that are going, from small and large cities.”

While Valley mayors have achieved the goal of meeting Abbott, things cannot end there, Vela argued. He said more Valley mayors, city commissioners and city managers need to get engaged. “We need more of you. It makes the world of difference,” he told those in the audience.

Wanda Reyes

Wanda Reyes said she could offer advice as a public relations strategist. She urged those present to utilize their contacts in the media.

“What I am seeing and hearing here is, maybe we can’t change it today but it has to start somewhere. As a collective group, all of you have strength in numbers and you can be heard, very, very loudly. It starts with your local senators. If you are okay with your state Reps, let’s start with the state senators. Let them know, if you don’t help us, if you are not about local government and the people you represent, we are going to start voting differently,” Reyes said.

“How do we get the word out? Well, we utilize the media. Steve over there with the Guardian telling the local stories, the local newspapers, from the Brownsville Herald all the way up, in Spanish, English, Russian, whoever will write your story. A concerted campaign to talk about who we are as a collective group of citizens, as communities that have specific needs in the Valley.”

Reyes then gave advice on how the message should be crafted.

“It is not about cities, it is about the people you represent. People in your communities. If we are not about citizens for accountable government, we could be talking about this for the next year and we are never going to fix the problem. So, utilize your media friends, get a concerted campaign going, as a collective group. Send a letter to the governor. Each of you, signed, we the following cities and city managers and so forth, we no longer are going to stand for this. You will start to listen to us because we have needs down here.”

Reyes said presentations could be made to constituents through town hall meetings and church groups.

“It has to start at the local level. Galvanize, get people excited about their local government. Otherwise we will be settling for the same situation over and over again. Again, utilize your local media, tell them what your concerns are. The Rio Grande Valley is very specific in its needs. Its story has to be told and you are the best leadership group to tell it. Maybe the next meeting Rolando calls should be a strategy session. City managers and mayors, we are a power to be reckoned with.”

Edinburg City Manager Richard Hinojosa said the Valley’s voice needs to be projected beyond its four counties.

“I agree with your (Reyes-Rice’s) premise but we need to find a strategy to go after the legislators outside our region. I think we are strong here. I think our Reps understand us and I know our senators understand us. But we are isolated in South Texas and we don’t have a voice with Houston or Dallas or El Paso or Lubbock. We have to find a way to get into those markets and those legislators. We are getting stronger and we are getting stronger as a region but we do not have enough votes to change legislation.”

Reyes responded: “We may not have the votes right now but at least you will get on the radar of these other folks.”

Hinojosa responded: “We need to find a way to get those other legislators to understand.”

Vela said he had sent an email to TML’s Igo asking what can be done to get the voice of Valley mayors and city managers heard in Austin, to get legislators to understand that the Valley does not like a lot of the bills currently under consideration.

“One of my emails to Shanna was, what can we do and she said, let’s approach the campaign contributors and the business community for their help.”ed

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows La Feria City Commissioner Esmeralda Lozano.


  1. “Some of the undocumented kids are the ones who made the winning touchdown at the district game”. Seriously? Is this the concern of most citizens?

    What was said about Mayor Kusch’s suggestion of respecting & changing the rule of law at the federal level? I don’t live in the Valley, but am interested in statewide politics, initiatives, and outcomes.

    Reacting to what is occurring reflects how far behind you (we) are; it’s a little too late to be in this position when legislation is being passed. You should have started organizing your concerns 6 months ago.