MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez says the state legislature’s “war on cities” is likely motivated by politics.

Participating in a wide-ranging livestream interview on Facebook with Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna, Rodriguez said the attacks on cities were unjustified.

His comments echoed those of other city managers and mayors in the Rio Grande Valley. Collectively, they are working with the Texas Municipal League to thwart a number of bills supported by Gov. Greg Abbott in the special legislative session currently underway in Austin.

Rodriguez gave his remarks in answer to a question about Senate Bill 10014, which was passed during this year’s regular legislative session. The bill weakens the ability of cities to charge fees when utility companies want to access city-owned property. The City of McAllen has said it intends to file a lawsuit against the bill, which goes into force on Sept. 1.

“SB 1004 is just one example of many where Austin is just upset at cities. Everybody is using this word: they have got this war against cities and really, it is hard to understand because everyone knows that the government that touches your life the most is local government,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez gave examples of how city government directly affects the quality of life of its residents.

“We provide you water, we provide you a sewer system, we provide you a trash pickup, and streets. If you do not have that, it doesn’t matter what they do in Austin or D.C. You do not have a life. Take it away for a month and see what happens. Or, let us stop picking up your trash for a month and see what happens,” Rodriguez said.

He then explained how city leaders view events going on in Austin right now. “There is something going on at the Capitol that is just very hurtful to cities.” Asked if anti-city legislation is politically motivated, Rodriguez said:

“It is all political. There was an article a couple of days ago about what the lieutenant governor was saying about cities and that cities are the problem in America. We disagree with that. We don’t have mayors and commissioners that are Republicans or Democrats or Independents. They don’t run that way. There’s a reason: water does not have an “R” or a “D”. Potholes do not have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’.”

Rodriguez went to say: “These things going on in Austin right now will hurt cities, whether it is 1004, or whether it is these new rules on annexation that require cities to hold an election, which is ridiculous, or revenue caps, or on and on. It is anti-city laws. That is the way we see it.”

Asked by Hanna if the state legislature was trying to micro-manage cities, Rodriguez answered affirmatively. Asked to comment specifically about SB 1004, Rodriguez said:

“It is going to restrict how we govern utilities in our own right of way. We were dealing with utility companies that wanted to do the new cell phone type of tower, which are called nodes. Instead of having the 100- or 200-foot tower go in certain locations, they put little nodes in small towers in many locations around the city. That is a great thing but we have to be able to control that. We have to be able to be able to say, yes, you can put it at this location, or no you can’t, or we want it to look this way,” Rodriguez said.

“It is your property. They want to go put an antenna in front of your house. You as a citizen are not going to call AT&T, you are going to call city hall and say what the heck is going on. They are restricting our ability to govern that. No. 2, they are restricting our ability to collect a revenue for them getting their equipment on our property. Let me tell you the irony of that. They won’t allow that on a state highway and yet they want to ensure we have no say when they put it on a city right of way. There is something wrong with that picture.”

Rodriguez noted SB 1004 goes into effect on Sept. 1. “That is why we are filing suit. We are either going to join or we are going to lead. We are willing to lead that fight because we believe, No. 1, it is unconstitutional. No. 2, we believe that restriction is just wrong.”

Asked about the power to telecommunications and utility companies, Rodriguez said: “It is called lobbying. They go and they lobby the representatives and senators. There are campaign contributions. It is all legal but that is what’s driving these kinds of bills. That’s unfortunate because those companies are our partners. We feel they are doing this wrong and they are doing our citizens wrong.”

Asked by Hanna what the counter-argument is, Rodriguez said:

“Basically, they are saying we should not have a say or be able to restrict utilities place their equipment. That it is part of the free market and that they should be able to do that without over restrictive regulations by municipalities. But, guess what? We own that property and we ought to be able to say what goes in and what doesn’t go in and at what price. Let the free market that they allude to dictate whether they can do it not. We want it. We want those nodes in our city. We need the service. The Rio Grande Valley, because we are at the end of the line, needs an upgraded service but it has got to be done right and it has got to be done with respect towards municipalities.”

Rodriguez urged the citizens of McAllen and the Valley in general to pay attention to legislation such as SB 1004.

“Our citizens should be in tune with these kinds of things. First of all, we want to improve their services. Their cell services are very important to us because it will improve our service. But when a state government is dictating the revenue that goes to a municipality, it is very simple. We have one pot of money. Every dollar we cannot collect from a utility company that we really should is a dollar I have to take from a taxpayer in order to provide a service. It is that simple. So, I hope citizens are engaged here.”

Other topics covered at the RGG LIVE event included McAllen’s leadership role on promoting regionalism in the Valley, retail development, the importance of Mexican shoppers, the Tres Lagos development, a Texas A&M University campus in McAllen, a UT-Rio Grande Valley research center in McAllen, and the new McAllen Performing Arts Center.

RGG LIVE: City Manager of the Year in the State of Texas, Roy Rodriguez, discusses the future of the City of McAllen TX Government and the RGV.

Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Wednesday, August 9, 2017