Private marina stirs up Laguna Vista neighborhood
As a believer in being involved in your neighborhood, Margaret Ingle is someone who works to make things better for everyone. She ran unsuccessfully for alderwoman in the recent Laguna Vista municipal election, but losing that race did not dim her ardor for active community service.
She sees several ways to improve life in Laguna Vista, and she takes no prisoners in her attempts to bring about change for the better.
Last week Ingle called a meeting of interested citizens to form Citizens for Transparent Government committee. At the meeting attended by about two dozen people at the South Padre Island Golf Club, Ingle presented her reasons for wanting a more open government for the town.
First, she wants to know the details concerning the town’s purchase of property from former mayor Hap Fairhart. The land deal was controversial at the time of the purchase but had enough support from the divided board of aldermen to approve the mayor’s action in buying the land.
Ingle also is unhappy about an attempt to renew the lease on the marina to the Laguna Vista Recreational Association. She said Mayor Stan Hulse and Alderwomen Nancy Ostos and Terri Galloway support renewing the lease on certain conditions rather than just outright refusing to renew the lease.
She believes the recreational association may be in violation of the terms of its lease, and refers to Laguna Vista as the “The Only City With A Gated Bay”. Explaining that if you can afford to pay $125.00 [to the recreational association] to get past the gate, only then is it the “Gateway To The Bay”.
Ingle indicated she would like to see the marina as a part of the town’s park systems.
She said she submitted agenda items concerning the marina, and the items were removed by the mayor. She made the same request to each alderman to include the marina on a meeting agenda, but none of them acted on it.
The city manager told her the board has advised that citizens do not have the right to request an item be placed on the agenda, Ingle said, and added that this denies the citizens of Laguna Vista the right to have their elected officials address their concerns.
Ingle, an attorney, is unhappy with the closed session evaluation of City Manager Iris Hill. She said the mayor had promised to return to open session and state the result of the evaluation. Instead, the mayor decided the evaluation form was flawed, even though the board of aldermen had previously approved it. As a result, according to Ingle, the mayor said there would either be no evaluation, or else there would be a re-evaluation of Hill’s performance.
“This method of handling a personnel matter by the board amounts to a kangaroo court, does not allow for a fair and equitable review of the city manager, and could possibly lead to more lawsuits against the city,” Ingle stated.
And so, since the board has failed to represent the interests of all the citizens of Laguna Vista, Ingle said, “it is time to put the board on notice that we intend to take action to see that all of their actions are transparent and that citizens do have a right to be heard at board meetings.”
Board of aldermen agenda items often do not give enough information for the public to know what they are discussing and acting on, she said.
She felt the organizational meeting was a success, even though, “a heated and educational discussion and debate was had on specific issues but there was no resolution reached as to the general issues of having the city agenda set forth sufficient information for the citizens to be able to determine exactly what business is going to be conducted at a board meeting, there was no resolution as to how to find out exactly what was the status of projects voted on by the board, and there was no resolution as to having more citizens show up at the board meetings and participate in their City Government.”
The only city official available for comment Saturday afternoon was Alderman Richard Hinojosa. “I believe our board has been transparent and up front with everyone,” he said. “I don’t understand where Mrs. Ingle is coming from. If anyone feels we haven’t been open, all he or she has to do is come to a meeting. Every citizen has five minutes at the beginning of the meeting to tell us what’s on his mind.”
Flag Day brings history and tradition to light
On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution adopting the United States Flag. It was President Woodrow Wilson who in 1916 officially established June 14th as Flag Day.
An Act of Congress followed in 1949, which created National Flag Day. It is not an official federal holiday, but since 1937 Pennsylvania has celebrated it as a state holiday, the only state to do so.
Several patriotic citizens have tried in the past to recognize the significance of the day Stars and Stripes was adopted.
The earliest reference can be found in Hartford, Connecticut where in 1861, encouraged by George Morris, the city celebrated with an all day program that concluded with prayers for the success of the Federal arms and the preservation of the Union. The observance, however, does not seem to have become a tradition.
Bernard J. Cigrand, a grade school teacher in Waubeka, Wisconsin held the first recognized formal observance of Flag Day at Stony Hill School in 1885. Cigrand toured the country encouraging observance of Flag Day and became editor-in-chief of American Standard magazine, which promoted reverence for American emblems.
He was president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society and gave over 2,100 speeches on patriotism and the flag. He is known as the “Father of Flag Day.”
History of the United States Flag
In May of 1776 Betsy Ross sewed the first American Flag consisting of thirteen alternating red and white stripes and thirteen stars in a blue field. Over the years stars were added as each state joined the union, but the number of stripes was permanently fixed at thirteen in 1818.
In 1814 Francis Scott Key wrote a song about the flag. It was called “The Star Spangled Banner” and it became the national anthem. The first ever postage stamp featuring the flag was issued in 1869. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, although the words “under God” were not added until June 14, 1954.
Explorer Robert Peary placed a flag sewn by his wife at the North Pole in 1909.
The flag flown over Pearl Harbor on December 7th when the Japanese attacked, was also flown over the White House on August 14th, when the Japanese surrendered. In 1960 the final star was placed on the flag when Hawaii became the 50th state.
America’s space program gave astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin an opportunity to place the U.S. flag on the moon in 1969.
How to display the flag
The flag can be displayed at night if it is lit dramatically from below. If not lit, the flag should be briskly raised at dawn and lowered more slowly at dusk. If displaying Stars and Stripes with other flags, it should be raised first and lowered last. If displaying an all-weather flag, it can be flown during inclement weather.
When flying a flag at half mast, it should first be raised all the way to the top, held there for a moment and then lowered to half mast. When lowering, it should again be raised to the top and then lowered.
To read more about the U.S. flag code visit http://www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title4/chapter1_.html
Water District conservation tactics presented
Water conservation was one of the main topics of discussion at the meeting of the Laguna Madre Water District’s board of directors Wednesday evening, June 11. Bill Norris, of NRS Consulting, first raised the topic in his engineer’s report.
Among the methods he suggested were:
- Even/odd water days—this would reduce peaking quantities at both water treatment plants and sewage plants.
- A cost-tiered rate structure—penalize excess use with higher rates.
- An effluent incentive program—encourage use of a mixture of effluent and raw water for watering large areas. This would reduce demand, reduce consumption, and reduce the need for new sources of raw water.
- Annual funding for replacement of water and sewer mains—this would reduce loss from leakage within the system.
- Installation and maintenance of system valves—to reduce loss of water when lines are being repaired.
- A meter testing program at water treatment plants—to accurately account for water produced and used throughout the system.
- A restricted watering program for July—to reduce the need for rapid expansion of water treatment facilities and sewage treatment plants.
He also suggested an ongoing education program:
- A formal school program to teach children to grow up water-wise.
- Presentations to civic groups to teach adults what the district is doing to conserve water.
- Develop public relations that involve public participation on conservation.
- Education on the use of water and re-use applications. This would include dissemination of information on salt-tolerant grasses, rates and methods of watering techniques, and how different soil types affect outdoor watering.
General manager Gavito Sotelo reported that plans are already underway to arrange for district personnel to take presentations into the public schools.
He also presented two ladies from the district’s office, Jane Kilpatrick and Minnie Mata, to describe a new computer program the district is utilizing to help detect excess water usage.
The program monitors each individual meter and records hour-by-hour usage. “If your usage suddenly spikes, we see a red flag and notify the proper people,” Mata said. “You may have a leaking commode, or perhaps a leaking pipe between the meter and the house. With this system we detect it quickly and take whatever measures are necessary to eliminate the cause of the water loss.”
Sotelo also reported satisfactory progress in the program to provide incentives to the Point Isabel Independent School District to use a mixture of raw water and effluent for irrigation.
The same sort of arrangement, he said, was being negotiated with Long Island Village. “That effort is not going as smoothly [as with the school district], since they just elected a new board of directors over there,” he said.
In other business the board named the school district as their tax collector for the coming year.
Directors also passed a resolution that will allow Estrada-Hinojosa, the district’s bond counselors, to call two series of bonds: Series 1999, with $1,525,000 outstanding; and Series 2000, with $2,890,000 outstanding.
The refunding of those bonds will be financed by issuing a current series of bonds at a lower interest rate. The net savings is expected to be almost a quarter of a million dollars.
The resolution directs the bond counsel and the district’s financial advisor to present the resolution and the necessary financing documents to the board at its regular meeting of July 8.
Texas Police Athletic Federation fun and games
A police officer’s job is serious business, but on South Padre Island this weekend, Texas Police Games are the main attraction. Nearly 1,000 police, border patrol and firemen from across the state are going head to head in friendly competition.
The convention center is the primary location of activities, but the athletes are getting to see other parts of the Laguna Madre area as the game locations will take some to Brownsville and Los Fresnos. From archery in Port Isabel and Los Fresnos, golf in Laguna Vista and cycling and basketball in Brownsville and even fishing aboard the Osprey, the officers are enjoying exercise and the outdoors at this family style week of events.
Saturday morning’s beach volleyball event at Boomerang Billy’s seems to be one event most are looking forward to attending.
“It will be a beautiful morning out on the beach,” said one officer’s wife as she tried to entertain a young child during an afternoon basketball game. “There will be plenty to see out there.”
Sherlie Sowell, executive assistant for the organization estimated 950 officers have signed in so far this week and they expect more to come to the island until Sunday.
“We’ve had a very good turnout this year,” Sowell said. “Everyone is having a wonderful time.”
The Texas Police Games that we know today, are well organized competitive events that enable commissioned Police Officers the opportunity to compete with fellow police officers from the state of Texas, as well as on a nationwide level. The idea of promoting good physical condition, through competitive athletic competition, originated in California.
The concept of the Texas Police Athletic Federation, better known as the TPAF, was conceived in 1974 by officers Steve G. Baggs of the Texas Department of Public Safety, O.L. Cullum of the Ft. Worth Police Department and Tim R. Vought of the Dallas Police Department. These officers conducted the first Texas Police Recruit Championships in Dallas in April of 1975.
The group was established to foster physical fitness and comradeship among peace officers in the state of Texas and from other states by the organization and promotion of athletic events and competitions in which peace officers can compete.
The Texas Police Games are conducted annually and are open to all sworn peace officers, local, state and federal, who meet their organizations’ specific requirements, and who are primarily engaged in law enforcement activities which center on criminal apprehension and detention.
The Police Games, both state and international, have manifested numerous benefits for law enforcement officers in cities throughout the United States and for the citizens of the communities in which these officers serve.
The games have served to enhance physical fitness among police officers, an essential and integral part of police work.
Woman says Port Isabel does not enforce animal confinement laws
A dog’s life in Cameron County or anywhere in the Rio Grande Valley is usually far from easy, but one local animal lover said a state law passed last year prohibiting cruel confinement is not being enforced.
South Padre Island resident Elizabeth Glascock said a family that lives near a house she owned in Port Isabel kept a puppy that looked like a black Labrador retriever tied with a 4-foot rope, wallowing in its own parasite-filled waste.
During her involvement with the situation, she told the family she had reported the situation to the city animal control officer, she said. But the family told her, “Oh, we know him, he won’t do anything,” Glascock claims.
So she and her husband tried to help, Glascock said. They paid for veterinary care, a doghouse and a trolley system to allow the puppy to exercise, but eventually it jumped over a fence and hanged itself on its chain, Glascock said.
The dog “died alone and in terror and pain, and for nothing,” Glascock said.
Port Isabel Police Chief Joel Ochoa said the city does enforce House Bill 1411, relating to the unlawful restraint of dogs, which is now part of the Health and Safety Code. He and the city animal control officer will investigate Glascock’s allegations about the dog’s death, he said.
The animal control officer denies Glascock’s claim that she made a report to him at City Hall, Ochoa said. But records will be searched to see if a report was made and if any action was taken, he said.
“We certainly do want to enforce that law,” the police chief said.
Dogs living in terrible conditions can be seen in the back yards of many homes in Port Isabel and Laguna Heights, Glascock claimed.
Laguna Heights is unincorporated, so it is in the jurisdiction of Cameron County animal control officers.
Raquel Castillo, the county’s director of environmental health, said county officers do enforce House Bill 1411. The county has two certified animal control officers, two officers in training and one clerk who also cleans the county’s small animal shelter in San Benito.
The county is in the process of revising its animal care ordinance to bring it into compliance with the new state law, Castillo said.
Dylbia Jefferies, an attorney with the Cameron County Civil Legal Division, said the county’s animal control ordinance is very old and deals only with requirements to prevent animals from running loose, she said.
It will take a total revision to bring the county ordinance into compliance with current state law, she said.
A humane society employee in Port Isabel, who didn’t wish to be identified, said his agency leases the animal shelter from the city and operates it independently.
Shannon Harvill, former executive director of the Harlingen Humane Society, is now the chief animal control officer for the city of Harlingen. She said many people are misinterpreting H.B. 1411 as being stricter than it really is.
“There’s no law that says you can’t have your dog outside,” Harvill said. But the state law says that dogs can’t be kept outside in unsafe conditions, direct sun or with no access to water, she said. Chains must be at least 10 feet long.
But Harlingen city animal control officers enforce both the state law and the city ordinance, she said. “We can enforce both, whichever is the most strict.”
“The city ordinance says the dog has to have nutritious food, water and protection from the sun,” Harvill said. If there is more than one dog, then each dog that is not cared for properly is a separate violation.
“We have to issue a 24-hour notice (of violations),” Harvill said. “If it’s not corrected in 24 hours, it goes from a Cla
Senator Lucio’s accomplishments highlight speech
State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. always enjoys every opportunity to visit the crown jewel of the Texas coast. Thursday, Senator Lucio was the featured speaker at the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce Luncheon held at the Sea Ranch Restaurant.
“That is what you are,” he said. “Besides being the loveliest place on the state’s coast, you are the economic generator of Cameron County.”
Lucio, who sits on several senate committees, considers his position on the Senate Finance Committee to be his most important legislative assignment.
He listed some of his accomplishments over the past couple of legislative sessions. “We were able to get a school starting date after the fourth Monday in August,” he said. This was a compromise with other legislators who are heavily influenced by school administrations, he explained.
His original effort was to have schools begin after Labor Day, but he was happy to be able to gain the compromise, he said. “I’m going to keep working to have school begin after Labor Day, the way it did when you and I were growing up,” he said. “It’s better for families, and it’s certainly better for tourist economies like yours.”
Since the new law has been in effect, Lucio said, he has heard from several school districts and administrators who were appreciative of his efforts to change the starting date. “One administrator told me that after the law went into effect his district saved enough on energy costs to hire another teacher,” he said.
Lucio also authored a bill that put the Port Isabel annexation issue to rest, and another that extended South Padre Island’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to five miles. Currently, he said, he is working to curb the city of Brownsville’s aggressive annexation tactics.
Perhaps his most important works on behalf of South Padre Island are his efforts to help renourish the town’s eroding beaches. To help finance those efforts, he was the author of Senate Bill 388, which permits the use of funds from the hotel/motel tax to maintain the beaches.
He was also instrumental in obtaining $300 million in matching funds to pay for a scientific search for sustainable sand sources to replenish the beaches. He helped get another $215 million from the Texas General Land Office.
“My son [Eddie Lucio III] has been a big help since he was elected to the House of Representatives,” he said. Another friend of tourism in Austin is Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, he added.
The legislature will convene again next January and run through May, he said. “The second causeway to the Island will be one of our challenges,” he said. “Like you, I believe that causeway should cross [the Laguna Madre] from [State] Highway 510, not [State] Highway 100.”
Mayor Bob Pinkerton asked, since the Island has more at stake in a second causeway than anyone else, why the Island has no representative on the Regional Mobility Authority. Former Cameron County Judge Ray Ramon is on the authority’s board, but was incapacitated by a stroke nearly two years ago, and has not been replaced.
Lucio admitted he does not know all the authority board members, and that he was unaware the Island has no representation on it. “I passionately believe any commission that affects an area should have representation on it,” he said. “That will be my first priority after I leave here—to look into that.”
Another issue that will come up in the next legislative session, he said, is the Texas Department of Transportation. “They are under sunset review,” he said. “An audit has turned up accounting errors of more than a million dollars.”
The Rio Grande Valley needs an interstate more than the state needs a toll corridor, he added. The TxDOT Commission has no Valley representative, he said, even though the law establishing the commission specifically states that it should represent all areas of the state, both urban and rural.
Under the sunset review, he said, “the legislature could abolish the agency and appoint just one commissioner who is answerable to the legislature.”
When he was first elected to the legislature in 1986, Lucio said, the state budget was $37 billion. “Today it is $138 billion. Texas is a big state. It takes a lot of money to build roads and bridges, and I would prefer to increase taxes to pay for them rather than construct toll roads and bridges.”
Another issue he has been working hard at for years, and will keep pushing for in the future, is a medical school in the Valley, he said. “We have medical education here now,” he said, “including research facilities. But our aim is for a self-sustaining, freestanding medical school, and we’ll stay on top of that.”
Tom Hansen, owner of Scampi’s Restaurant and Bar, asked if we would ever have casinos in Texas. “That has to be changed by a constitutional amendment vote,” Lucio responded. “But I can promise you this: If and when it happens, South Padre Island will be a player.”
Port Isabel city manager retires under fire, Meza interim mgr.
Tuesday evening’s Port Isabel City Commission meeting contained all the elements of a good drama—mystery, unanswered questions, evasions, angry words and outbursts of raw emotion.
The meeting room was packed almost to capacity, since word had already leaked that long-time city manager Robert Garcia was under fire from commissioners.
The commission had held a four-hour closed session the previous Saturday, June 7, in which they evaluated administrative department heads, but took no action when they reconvened in open session. “It’s like coming to work in a morgue,” said one employee Monday morning.
“No, I’m not going to resign,” Garcia said Monday afternoon. “We’ve got a lot of things to talk about.”
But when he entered the meeting Tuesday evening the deck was already stacked against him.
The city has several so-called “restricted accounts”—accounts containing money from various sources that can only be spent on certain items.
For example, one account, controlled by the police department, contains the proceeds of money seized during drug raids, plus cash received from the sale of items used in transporting or selling illegal substances.
The total of all these off-budget accounts came to almost a million dollars in various bank accounts. Commissioners, while aware of the existence of most of the accounts, had no idea how much total cash was involved.
At least an hour of meeting time was devoted to questioning Garcia about where the funds came from, how they are spent, who authorizes the expenditures, and so on. The embattled city manager was not prepared to respond to questions about the details.
Several times he responded to questions by saying the answers were in his files, but he did not have them with him in the meeting room.
At one point former commissioner David Woolverton, presently serving on the city’s Harbor Committee, told commissioners they had a right to know the details of those individual accounts, which, he said, ought to be budgeted just like the city’s general funds are budgeted.
At that point Police Chief Joel Ochoa leaped to his feet and attempted to shout Woolverton down.
The chief said there was no way he was willing to disclose the individual sources of money, hinting they resulted from various operations against illegal drug dealers.
Some seizures are legal, even in cases where the suspect is not convicted by a court of law; and Ochoa was determined that the names of such people would not become public information, since the law presumes them innocent until they are convicted.
Also, small time dealers are often converted to become police informants in investigations designed to entrap higher-ups. At any rate, the issue was sensitive enough to provoke Ochoa to his outburst.
Another agenda item, approving payment of the bills, was the source of another round of hard questions for city administration. Commissioners wanted to know at what level the city manager sought bids for assorted services.
Commissioner J.J. Zamora noted that one firm appeared to be the payee on an unusually large number of checks, and he questioned why that one firm got so much of the city’s business. “Doesn’t anybody else bid on these things?” he asked.
“A lot of times, no,” Garcia replied. “Other companies after a while begin to decline to bid, because this one firm always comes in low, and others just stop trying to compete,” he explained.
After a long executive session, during which both the city manager and the police chief were called one after the other into private consultation with commissioners, the meeting reconvened in open session.
That’s when Garcia submitted his request to retire. Zamora moved that the city manager be allowed to retire with six months’ severance pay, six months of coverage by the city’s insurance plan, and that the city pay Garcia for his unused vacation and sick days. The motion was seconded and approved unanimously.
Museum director Eduard Meza was appointed interim city manager. “His department is one of the best-managed in the city,” Mayor Joe Vega explained later.
“I have enjoyed working with the commission,” Garcia said in his statement. “I appreciate the opportunity I have had to work for Port Isabel.”
Garcia did not return telephone calls Wednesday. A request to city secretary Susie Alcocer for a list of the off-budget accounts and their exact balances went unanswered late Wednesday.
Hurricane re-entry stickers available Saturday
by Sharon Campbell
Vehicle re-entry stickers will be issued from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, June 14 and next Saturday, June 21 at the South Padre Island Fire Department to accommodate residents and business owners with busy schedules.
Stickers are always available during regular office hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the fire department, but officials recognize that weekday workers may some have difficulty finding the time to acquire those important return stickers.
“It’s never too early to start preparing for a storm, and the stickers allow Island business owners and residents to regain access to South Padre Island after a major storm,” said Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Chief Bernie Baskett.
Only those business and home owners with vehicle identification stickers will be allowed onto the Island to check on property after a storm. Still, if Island conditions remain unsafe, no one will be allowed onto the Island.
Residents are entitled to two stickers per family, while business owners may obtain up to four stickers on a limited basis. To obtain a sticker, proof of residency is required, such as a utility bill or another document that shows a physical address; a driver’s license; and the license plate numbers of the returning vehicle. Stickers issued in past years remain valid and will be honored this year as long as the address or vehicle has not changed.
There are three check points motorists must pass before they are allowed Island access. They are the intersections of Highway 48 and Highway 100, FM 510 and Highway 100, and Garcia and the entrance of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge.
If you have a sticker they will be waived through, instead of having to produce various proofs of residency.
Strict requirements are imposed to maintain safety controls on the Island after emergencies and disasters.
Baskett requests that when selling a vehicle, the stickers be removed, and if possible, returned to the fire department. Removal of the stickers helps ensure that only those persons with legitimate interests are on the Island during an emergency period.
For information on hurricane preparedness, visit the emergency management Web site at www.spiemergency.com
Community worries about safety with constable in jail
Laguna Heights resident Robert Martinez is frustrated with what’s going on in this small community.
With an increase in crime and a minimal law enforcement presence, Martinez reached out this week to Cameron County Commissioners, specifically County Judge Carlos Cascos, requesting he meet with the residents to see how they can address crimes and other concerns.
“Bring back Mike Barbarena as constable,” Martinez told Commissioners Court. “There are too many problems (in Laguna Heights).”
Martinez is referring to the former constable who served as the precinct’s constable from the 1990s to 2004. Barbarena resigned from the position in order to run for sheriff, an election he lost.
With current Precinct 1 Constable Saul Ochoa under indictment on drug charges and sitting in jail, the running of the constable’s office is now in the hands of Lt. Robert Mora, who has been with the office since 2005.
“Things are going pretty smooth. We know what we are supposed to do,” Mora said Wednesday, while glancing over some paperwork that he needed to serve.
The majority of crimes committed in Laguna Heights are burglaries, Mora said. There’s about three a week with the majority of stolen items being lawn mowers and weed eaters, although break-ins of homes and apartments do occur.
Mora took charge the day after Ochoa was arrested by federal authorities last month in Port Isabel following a four-count federal indictment that charged him with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos has already filed a petition to get Ochoa removed from office. The petition states that Ochoa’s alleged conduct is grounds for removal from office under Section 87.013 of the Texas Local Government Code, which states an elected official can be removed from office if charged with official misconduct. As of Wednesday, no hearing date has been set for the petition.
Cascos said Commissioners don’t have the authority to fire or force elected officials to resign. Resignations have to be made by the individual accused of wrongdoing.
“My main deal was getting him off the streets,” Cascos said. “He needs to resign…we cannot make him resign because he has not been convicted of anything. Until he gets convicted then we can take the proper procedures.”
With Ochoa incarcerated, there is one less deputy constable to patrol precinct 1, which is a concern for Mora. There are three deputy constables assigned to the office. Precinct 1 covers Port Isabel, Bayview, parts of Southmost and Boca Chica beach.
“We are trying to do our best, but I need help,’’ Mora said.
Cameron County sheriff’s deputies and Port Isabel police have offered their help and will respond to calls if necessary, while issues at the constable’s office are resolved.
South Texas justice of peace must cease paddling in court
A Cameron County justice of the peace can no longer give parents the choice of paying a fine or paddling their children in open court, a state district judge ordered Wednesday.
Los Fresnos Justice of the Peace Gustavo Garza was sued by three families who say Garza left them with no real option when he told them they must pay a fine for their children’s transgressions or paddle them in open court.
Until District Judge Abel Limas can resolve that case, he ordered Garza to halt the paddling.
The lawsuit was initially brought by the parents of a 15-year-old Los Fresnos girl who appeared in Garza’s court in April for skipping school.
Garza presented her stepfather, Daniel Zurita, with the choice of paying a $500 fine or using one of two wooden paddles Garza displays in his courtroom. Zurita chose to paddle his stepdaughter, but said in an affidavit that he felt he had no choice.
Last week, Garza said offering paddling as an option was “lawful” and 98 percent of parents took that choice. He would not say how many children had been paddled in his courtroom.
Parents of two more children paddled in Garza’s courtroom joined the lawsuit this week.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has reprimanded judges for such displays in the past.
“It’s not OK,” Seana Willing, the commission’s executive director, said last week. “I’m not aware of any law that gives a judge the authority to administer corporal punishment or allow anybody to administer corporal punishment in his courtroom.”
Other justices of the peace said it was unacceptable.
Bobby Contreras, a justice of the peace in neighboring Hidalgo County, said he prefers community service in lieu of fines. “There are other ways to get to these kids,” he said.