DONNA – City Manager Carlos Yerena still has a job – for now.
But that fact wasn’t so clear until 5 p.m. Friday, when the Donna City Council was to convene for a special meeting where, among other items on the agenda, they planned to discuss her employment, as well as the possible appointment of an interim city manager.
He was almost certain that the meeting would end with Yerena being told that her services were no longer needed. Instead, the city manager sat quietly in his usually reserved seat at the far end of the dais as council and the city attorney waited for Mayor Rick Morales to arrive.
As 5 o’clock came and went, Yerena’s phone rang. It was the mayor, his voice coming through the small loudspeaker.
“There’s no meeting, uh, until further notice,” Morales said.
The city had received a temporary restraining order prohibiting the council from holding the meeting, Morales said, because of the city manager’s agenda item.
As council questioned the veracity of the order — City Attorney Robert Salinas said he was unaware of the restraining order — the Monitor asked who filed a request for TRO.
A woman seated in the audience replied, “Me.”
This woman turned out to be Rachel Martinez, a resident of Donna who later stated that she had no personal affiliation with the town manager.
However, Martinez said she was gravely concerned about the city’s direction, namely allegations that council members met in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
While the language of the TRO gives Donna a rough glimpse of the changing political tides, the lawsuit filed by Rodriguez in support of the TRO’s claim leaves little doubt about the concerns of residents like her.
“Members of the City of Donna Texas are going on a rampage and destroying our city,” the lawsuit reads, alleging Councilmen Oscar Gonzales, David Moreno and Jose “Joey” Garza” met in violation of the Law on public meetings” with the ultimate goal of micromanaging all city operations.
According to the complaint, the proposed ousting of Yerena is only part of a larger civil plot involving the trio of councilors – who form a new voting majority on the five-person council – to control the departments keys to the city at the highest levels.
The complaint also alleges that the municipal judge Donna Javier Garza participated in the conspiracy. The two Garza are brothers.
The alleged plot includes the dismissal of Javier Villalobos as city attorney and his replacement by Salinas at a special meeting that took place at noon on February 22.
It also includes plans to appoint a deputy police chief, as well as overturning a November 2020 order that cut the salaries of elected officials — including the city judge — to just $50 a year.
“They intend to place an assistant police chief as the current one is trying to uphold the law, and they intend to indemnify City Judge Javier Garza… (with) funds he does not has no right…”, we read in the complaint.
This is not the first change of power within the council in recent years.
Gonzales previously ran on a joint slate with the mayor and another man, Arturo “Art” Castillo.
But after the trio’s victory, Gonzales and Castillo switched allegiances and often clashed with Morales’ council priorities — including clashing with the mayor over city finances during the 2020 budget process.
Morales has found new allies in David Moreno and Ricardo “Richie” Moreno, pitting the two — who are unrelated — against his former running mates in the November 2020 election.
The mayor’s new slate prevailed, giving Morales a supermajority on the council with the votes of both Morenos and commissioner Eloy Avila Jr.
But last November, Gonzales returned to the fray, this time running against – and beating – Avila for the 4th spot on the board.
Since then, David Moreno has also changed his political affiliation.
When asked what had now made three of his former running mates come to oppose him, Morales replied, “You’d have to ask them.”
“I wouldn’t call it a change,” David Moreno said after Friday’s meeting, which council continued to hold, except for the items regarding the city manager.
David Moreno added that he is “pro-Donna” and not necessarily “pro” one particular board member or another.
“So the decisions I make will be in the best interests of the city and this community,” he said.
A hearing on the TRO preventing Yerena’s dismissal is scheduled for March 10.