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Brownsville commission reschedules vote on city attorney

September 20, 2018

The Brownsville City Commission on Tuesday voted to hold off hiring a city attorney until all four candidates could be interviewed.

The contentious vote came after Commissioner Ben Neece accused Commissioner Cesar de Leon, who led the search committee, of ignoring input from law community members invited to help throughout the process.

Candidates are former San Angelo City Attorney Lysia H. Bowling, former state district Judge Rene E. De Coss, Brownsville attorney Gerry Linan and Denton City Attorney Aaron Leal.

Mayor Tony Martinez called the meeting to order after an hour-long executive session during which only two candidates were interviewed. A third candidate was available by phone, and a fourth could not attend due to work obligations, he said later in the meeting.

“ I just don’t understand how this commission can act without having talked to everyone that was applying … I think that’s highly unfair and totally inappropriate,” he said.

Commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa said the city has spent $100,000 on legal services without a permanent city attorney. Former City Attorney Mark Sossi’s employment was terminated by the commission in August 2017.

“ I feel it is my due diligence to my constituents and the public that a decision is made and a full-time attorney for the City Commission is in place to protect public dollars …” Tetreau-Kalifa said Tuesday.

Neece, who was on the city attorney search committee along with de Leon and Tetreau-Kalifa, went on to detail what he said was disregard for search committee members’ input.

Neece said de Leon was given charge of the committee in October but did not hold the first meeting until April. Six meetings were scheduled, he said. Neece said search committee members were not allowed to review the job description, fee structure, terms of employment contract or participate in interviews.

“ This whole selection process has become a farce, and it’s been manipulated by the chairman of the committee,” Neece said of de Leon. “This process could have served the citizens of Brownsville to obtain quality legal services, but instead it has been hijacked and corrupted, and I want the citizens to know this.”

De Leon responded by pointing out that the City Commission has failed to appoint a permanent city manager since the retirement of Charlie Cabler in October 2017. De Leon, who is the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation board chairman, added that he also was working to hire a director for GBIC at the time he was made chairman of the city attorney search committee.

“ I have not taken unilateral action to do any of these things, or cancel any of the meetings or close the application. That was actually done by the city manager,” he said, referring to Interim City Manager Michael Lopez, “who I wish was here so he can actually respond to this.”

De Leon maintained that he has kept the process transparent throughout and said it appears the commission is trying to hold off on decisions until after the election in May.

Katy Youker, a committee member and employment attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said a structural problem they were asked to analyze were outsourcing of work, the city’s insurance policy for litigation, saving costs and whether the department should expand.

“ Certainly there were a few of us who were taking it seriously and doing quite a bit of research on our own,” she said. “We really dug in and were led to believe our work would be considered. Instead it was completely hijacked.”

Youker said committee members continued to receive emails to ask about availability for meetings in September. It wasn’t until last week when she inquired about the next meeting that members were told about the city attorney agenda item.

The item will be back on the commission agenda Oct. 2.

nadia@brownsvilleherald.com

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