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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Discontent WIth Corruption Fuels Run For Mayor

Garza cites corruption, wants to challenge status quo
The Brownsville Herald by Dave Hendricks - March 10, 2012

HIDALGO, TX — Fed up with small-town corruption, a retired Customs and Border Protection spokesman has quietly launched a mayoral bid, promising to end the Franz family’s 20-year lock on Hidalgo politics. Felix Garza, 59, originally filed to run for City Council but switched to the mayoral race after longtime Mayor John David Franz announced his resignation last month. Garza is running as an independent. Corruption pervades Hidalgo, Garza said, scaring away new businesses and eroding confidence in local police. Many residents avoid politics altogether, afraid they’ll be harassed or blackballed for opposing the ruling clique. “We cannot live in fear,” Garza said. “Our community is under siege. It has been under siege for 20 years.” Born in Chihuahua, a tiny community between Peñitas and Perezville, Garza graduated from La Joya High School in 1972. He joined the Marine Corps immediately after graduation and served as a military policeman in Germany during the Vietnam War. Garza returned to the Rio Grande Valley after leaving the Marines, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas-Pan American. He joined Border Patrol in 1981, eventually becoming one of Customs and Border Protection’s first full-time public affairs liaisons before retiring in December. Garza bought a home and moved to Hidalgo in 2009. Municipal elections in Hidalgo, a town of 11,000 on the Rio Grande, have been sleepy affairs for decades. A nasty falling out between Mayor Franz and his uncle, Rudy Franz, created a political schism last year. The opening created an opportunity for Garza, who’s challenging both camps with his independent mayoral bid. If elected, Garza said he’d work to restore public trust by cleaning up the Hidalgo Police Department and encouraging new businesses with economic incentives and a level playing field. To spur economic development along International Boulevard and South 10th Street, Garza said the city should offer economic incentives. Pharr and McAllen offer property tax abatements, among other enticements, to attract companies. “Everything we need as consumers, we either go to Las Milpas, we go to McAllen or we go to Mission,” Garza said. “So we ask ourselves, what has our city done in the last 20 years?” Instead of recruiting new businesses, Hidalgo’s elected officials have narrowly focused on protecting their own interests, Garza said, especially Rudy Franz’s taxi, towing and bus companies. On Feb. 28, the City Council narrowly rejected applications from three bus companies seeking vehicle- for-hire permits. Despite a favorable recommendation from police Chief Vernon Rosser, who said the companies met all requirements, the council voted 3-2 against granting the permits, with Rudy Franz’s allies voting no and Mayor Franz’s allies voting yes. Elected officials who voted no said they were concerned about traffic and wanted to wait until McAllen restructures bus access near the international bridge. After the meeting, Rosser told KNVO-TV that Rudy Franz controls Hidalgo and that speaking out against the local politico might end his career. In an interview, Rudy Franz denied Rosser’s accusations, saying the police chief might have been upset and wasn’t thinking clearly. Another priority, Garza said, would be restoring trust in the Police Department, possibly by replacing Rosser. “I think Chief Rosser has done well, but he could have done better,” Garza said, adding that he respects Rosser but questions whether the chief bends to political pressure. Any decision would come after a conversation with Rosser and consultation with the City Council, Garza said, and wouldn’t be personal. Asked about Garza’s comments, Rosser said he’s concerned about the department’s rank-and-file officers, not his job. “I don’t understand politics,” Rosser said. “And I’m not going to take a course on it now.” Regardless of the outcome on election day, Garza said he’ll stick with Hidalgo. “I will remain in Hidalgo for the rest of my life,” Garza said. “I’m not moving.”

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