Wednesday, June 7, 2017


By Juan Montoya
You won't be able to shout "fire" in a crowded City Commission meeting, slander or libel another person, or incite a riot.
But with the unanimous vote by the new City of Brownsville Commission at the tail end of Tuesday's regular meeting, you – Joe Public – will be allowed to express your opinion and it will be broadcast on the city's Channel 12 cable television station. The agenda item was placed for consideration and action by new city commissioner Ben Neece and commission Cesar de Leon.

So what, you say?
This right to expression on a public forum bought and paid by city taxpayers has been denied for the last six years based on a self-serving legal opinion by ethically-challenged contract city attorney Mark Sossi. As others have pointed out, Sossi made that determination after comments were made about his settlement with his former law firm were aired by a commenter. Apparently, it irked the lawyer for the city channel viewers at home to learn that had a judgment from his previous employer, the Willette & Guerra Law Firm for pocketing $167,363 belonging to the firm.

And despite Sossi's continued presence advising the city commission  – but now a full time city employee – a unanimous city commission approved the rebroadcasting of the public comments section pending the formulation of new guidelines for speakers. That is about par for the course. The Brownsville Independent School District, Cameron County and the Brownsville Navigation District all have guidelines for public commenters.

All of us were disappointed that Mayor Tony Martinez when he was a candidate promised to bring the public comment section back only to go back on his word once he got elected. That deception only grew once he started speculating in downtown real estate to the detriment of the public treasury and the benefit of his cronies or outside institutions such as the UT System. The people's voice protesting such usurpations of power was sorely missed when that happened.

One would expect that those of us who exercise our craft under the umbrella of the First Amendment would be the first to defend others' rights. Democracy is not a neat system. The struggle of ideas – however unpopular – in a public forum sometimes skirt the edge of civility. But as long as practitioners stay within the parameters of the Bill of Rights and recognize that everyone is entitled to an opinion and that unpopular ideas and criticism of public officials are a necessary leaven of a free society, public discourse will shape – and one hopes, improve – our government.
But we have to watch the fox in the henhouse because it was the same Sossi who justified gagging the public's voice to drafted the new guidelines to broadcast the comments section. Its proponents, Neece and De Leon, should not let down their guard and let Sossi curtail this exercise within constitutional parameters.

Below is a rebuttal to those elitists who think their take on any issue is the exclusive one to logic and who heap disdain on some of our fellow citizens who have had the pluck to make their opinions public in the past. Some, alas, are no longer with us to see the day that the public took back the people's airwaves. The post below as published in the Brownsville Observer published by blogger Jim Barton. 

By Jim Barton
From the editor: Those critical of public commenters at city commission meetings frequently used the word "crazy" to describe the participants. City Attorney Mark Sossi, who Mayor (Tony) Martinez asked to make a case against including citizen comments in the Brownsville TV broadcast, used the word "grandstanding" in reference to the taxpayers who signed up for public comment.

Yet, public comment is a feature of participatory democracy, so much needed in a city where only 7% of the registered voters participated in the last city election. To stifle, stymie and squelch the broadcast of public comment is an anti-democratic move, actually cowardly.

It's admirable and courageous for public officials to open up to hard questions in a public forum. Mayor Tony Martinez and the most recent manifestations of the city commission lack that strength and courage.

Let's go back a few years to the time before the broadcast ban of public comment and analyze the type of comments made by the most frequent commenters:

Letty Perez-Garzoria

Letty Perez-Garzoria, always respectful, low-key, carrying herself like a retired schoolmarm, may have inadvertently triggered the exclusion of public comments on the city commission broadcast when she revealed that City Attorney Mark Sossi had a judgement from his previous employer, the Willette & Guerra Law Firm for pocketing $167,363 belonging to the firm. If that wasn't a big enough bombshell, Ms. Garzoria hinted that the City of Brownsville had now engaged Willette & Guerra for some of the city's legal work so as to help "pay" back Sossi's debt.

One would think the mayor, city commission, even city manager would be grateful to Ms. Garzoria for uncovering such an obvious breach of ethics, Brownsville's version of Watergate, or even, Trumpgate, but the city's response was to institute a ban of the broadcast of public comment from that point on.

Roberto Uresti Sans Usual Ballcap

Perhaps the most prolific of public commenters, typically with a viewpoint to express on agenda items as well, is Roberto Uresti, a Viet Nam vet, retired school teacher, who worked past retirement age at an automatic car wash.

Uresti, no grammarian, despite working in education, was always full of ideas and specific suggestions.
Uresti has fought for flood control, tearing down dilapidated housing, street repair and brush cleanup. Actually, he has been a de facto city commissioner without having a portrait hung along the wall of hallway leading to the commission chambers.

Several years ago, as the city proposed raising taxes, City Finance Officer Pete Gonzalez lamented that he had exhausted every possible way to reduce the city's budget. Uresti stepped up in public comment and quickly rattled off four or five ways the city could save money instead of always taking money from P.U.B. or raising taxes.

Dagoberto Barrera

Dagoberto Barrera typically brought a manuscript to public comment, reading it in an old-fashioned oratorical style.
His prevalent theme was that the city, county or school district "live within its means!" Who could successfully argue with that?

His dress shirt was always matched by his necktie, with obvious pride in impeccable dress.
Mr. Barrera also took pride in amplifying his own voice without the microphone.
He expressed in graphic terms a strange, racist view of Mexican Nationals, strange because of his own ethnicity and marriage to his longtime maid from Matamoros.

Fernando Ruiz (RIP)

There are many notable others, certainly Fernando Ruiz, now deceased, a learned man, who I often encountered at the public library researching some legal issue relevant to the city. Mr. Ruiz, a tall man, used sweeping gestures, sometimes a little intimidating. My favorite Ruiz line: "If I took a leak on Elizabeth Street, the police chief would arrest me. What the city commission is doing is just as illegal!"

Interestingly, none of these folks were crazy enough to use taxpayer money to buy buildings the city had no need for, taking them off the tax rolls. None of these people were crazy enough to pay $2.3 million for Casa del Nylon, triple its actual value. None of them were crazy enough to raise utility rates over 30 percent for a utility plant that will not be built.

It would make more sense to ban the broadcast of comments by the mayor and city commissioners than these hardworking taxpayers.


Anonymous said...

I applaud Commissioners Neece and de Leon for putting this item on the agenda.
The public needs a voice at these meetings and there should be a public comment period after ever agenda item. Neece and de Leon have forced Mayor Martinez to vote on something he promised 7 years ago....transparency and public involvement in city government. This public comment may bring items into the discussion that commissioners, their attorney or other city officials don't want to hear.....but transparency is good and public oversight is important to honest and effective governing.

Anonymous said...

Mas cheeeeeeeeeeps!

Anonymous said...

Good job commissioner Neece

Anonymous said...

Sossi be fucked now. Asshole.

Anonymous said...

What part of these meetings do people NOT understand! The Public Comment does not need to be brought back people....Public Comment is still an item on every agenda....the only thing is that it is no longer televised live on Channel 12 because of crazy people like those mentioned who are there only to talk about crap that has nothing to do with the betterment of the city, they are there only to go off on crazy topics about their campaigns, about why they should be voted in to office, they are there to gossip about everyone else's crap and not theirs! They all want the same thing....their 3 minutes of fame. And do NOT start with this "free speech" crap, and how they are entitled to speak their minds, the first amendment and so on...if they are so adamant about saying public comment is "free speech" then it should go both ways, if they throw rocks at the commission, then the commission should be able to respond to any allegations, accusations, and gossip thrown at them, pretty sure they would not be signing up to speak for 3 minutes.

Anonymous said...

About time somebody had the balls to stand for the silent majority.Rick finally did something for the people fking guy always maneuvering for a hand out skeezy ass dude been there way way too long.�� to new blood on the commission.Dont stop here next PUB and Tenaska and the rate payers refund.

Proud Liberal said...

There is no law or statute that prevents or stops any member of the commission to speak up or defend themselves. However it is up to the presiding officer, the mayor, to decide who in the commission can speak or to stop a speaker who is abusing or attacking anybody's character. The person from the audience shall address the entire city commission and not one individual. . If the topic is on an agenda item, it cannot be discussed until they get to that agenda item.

Anonymous said...

How can the culprits respond to the public speakers when they have no way to defend the audacities they get involved with and with whom, that does not benefit the city in any way except for their own personal friends or own pocket. Those people who speak are not crazy!!! They have the guts to stand up and tell our so-called elected officials that someone is keeping an eye on them. However, what difference does it make? How many times have you noticed that the commission listens to the speaker and tries to make the corrections they are recommending or suggesting. If the commissioners were allowed to respond, I bet more will come out in the debate that they surely do not want known. I agree with the public audience allotment, for how else can we be heard, except for voting? More power to those who stand up for what is right and feasible!! I will certainly listen to them and may even join them.

Anonymous said...

You can not speak after EACH agenda item! You can only speak at the allotted time for public audience. That is far from Public Hearing, where it is opened when each agenda item is discussed. They are two different animals.
Let's see if they play public audience in the back so that the speakers walk out after hours of non-sense and waiting.

Anonymous said...

Would you please be so kind and inform your readers what happened or where is Dagoberto (The racist) Barrera? Strange how I have not seen him in the Price Road intersection with his American Flag like in the Bush days. Of course, now, he would be cheering for Donald Trump.

Anonymous said...

BPUB should telivise again and allow public comments there also for the public to see. Transparency is needed in our community. There are public officials destroying families . I will speak at those meetings. Eat Shrimp Stay Sexy. Sincerely Mr. Shrimp

Anonymous said...

What about Rev. Resendez? His feeling are going to be hurt for not being included in the "Loco List!"

Anonymous said...

You dam right Bob PUB board getting away with a lot of crap they and some city commissioners.They forget we citizens own PUB and THAT they wrk for US.

Anonymous said...

I applaud our liberal idealistic City Commissioners, I like their drive and enthusiasm, but, the speaker's podium attracts mostly useless contributions and should be limited to allowing only a couple of minutes speaking time.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who is a patron at that "other shrimp" place on Price Rd, after it's advertisement could be classified as "sexual harassment" deserves to smell sexy! The ad and the holier than thou attitude of the owner is so obnoxious
that even a free lunch would not have my car parked in front of his place.

I will stick with Oyster Bar - the best shrimp in town.