September 14, 2012

Sinton City Council recall petition made public after dispute

By Mark Collette | Corpus Christi Caller-Times | 14 September 2012

SINTON – The Sinton city secretary publicly released City Council recall petitions Friday after about three weeks of arguing they could be kept secret.

The three petitions could trigger a recall election aimed at unseating three of five council members, but those council members plan to fight it with the help of city attorney Juan Perales. Together, they are challenging the validity of the petitions.

Perales sought to review the petitions after they were filed with the city, but City Secretary Betty Wood did not release them, saying they contained the addresses and birthdates of city officials and employees that should be kept private. She also said in a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s office, which reviewed her request to withhold the petitions, that people who signed them could be subject to retaliation.

Wood said she kept the petitions from the city attorney because she felt he was working only for the three-member council majority and not for the city government as a whole.

The attorney general’s office ruled the petitions must be released. The Caller-Times also sought their release in an Aug. 28 request that Wood said she never received because it was sent to a shared city email account.

Wood continued to withhold the petitions this week, saying Perales instructed her to do so. Perales said he gave no such advice. On Friday, Wood agreed to release them, saying she doesn’t fear repercussions because her resignation is effective at the end of the month.

Wood said the town’s political turmoil has increased her stress and made it difficult to do her job. The city’s financial officer, Dennis Lindeman, cited similar concerns in his resignation, effective Dec. 31.

Each petition has slightly more than 500 signatures, the amount needed to trigger a recall. Wood said her office took about one workday to verify that all the signatures belong to registered voters in the city.

Wood indicated that some who signed the petitions are Sinton school district employees. The district is the town’s largest employer. Wood said the employees could face retaliation from the district for signing the petitions.

Former City Manager Jackie Knox, fired Tuesday by the council majority, said those three council members have been influenced by the school district. Tensions between the district and city emerged this year when the district unsuccessfully sought building permits for a wind turbine project. The dispute ended in a lawsuit, with the city prevailing.

The council majority had tried to allow the district’s project to move forward, while Knox and two city boards opposed it.

Mayor Eloy Lopez, who leads the council majority, sought Friday to dispel notions that the district is somehow orchestrating the restructuring of city government.

People who say that “just try to make the school look bad,” he said.

The council is set to meet at 6 p.m. Saturday in a closed session to discuss the appointment of an interim city manager. No action will be taken, Lopez said.

It could act on the appointment at Tuesday’s meeting, when it also will consider the 2012-13 city budget, which the council is required by charter to adopt in September, Wood said.

That vote presents another challenge because Knox was preparing the budget before he was fired.

Lopez said the council could adopt last year’s budget temporarily until a permanent city manager is hired.

The recall targets Lopez, Linda Guzman-Alaniz and Michelle Soliz.

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