Another Controversy in Calexico

By Mario Conde

After a long discussion at last Tuesday’s meeting, Calexico City Council decided to remove the Mayor’s Message and instituted and internet policy for the City.

The issue came before the Council after the Mayor Luis Castro’s message was posted on the City’s website describing the problems that City has faced and currently faces. Castro mentions on his message that Calexico is in a severe “financial & fiscal crisis” and that the City is carrying a tremendous amount of debt. “This crisis is mainly driven by past administrations incurring debt in hopes of rapid growth, as well as other wasteful spending, which I do not support. Prior years’ budget shortfalls have contributed to our problem.” Castro said.

Castro is also critical of the decision of lowering services by closing City offices on Fridays and that City expenditures have not been reduced since he became Mayor. “Furthermore, the last fiscal year did not see a reduction in expenditures. Operating expenses continue to be at previous year’s levels. Past administrations and City Managers have not focused on reducing expenditures, a practice which I have always encouraged.” He said.

The Council discussed two items at their Tuesday meeting regarding this message and if should be added to the final 2011/2012 budget document. Council members Maritza Hurtado, John Moreno, and Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Romero expressed their disapproval to the Mayor’s message saying that it was inaccurate and lacked of facts. Councilman Bill Hodge was the only one that supported Mayor Castro who was absent from this meeting since he’s on City business in Washington D.C.  Hodge said that Castro did not say anything wrong since his message was accurate even when the City is currently getting away from the fiscal crisis; Calexico is the only City in the valley that has furloughs and closes every Friday, he said. “The public looks up to the Mayor for answers about the State of their City. He made a decision to write a message to his constituents.” Hodge said and urged the three other council people not to support the two resolutions and continue with the freedom of expression.

Councilman John Moreno disagreed with Hodge saying that the message could have been said in a State of the City Address. Moreno said that Calexico has now moved away from the fiscal crisis and City Manager Rodriquez has worked with other department heads to improve the City. Moreno said that the letter is based on emotion and not facts and it was more like a campaign letter. Moreno said that Castro should retract that letter and asked if they want to paint and negative image of the City.

Councilwoman Hurtado agrees with Hodge on the freedom of expression part but questioned what this information is based upon. Hurtado said it was not factual and they are yet to see the final numbers for 2011-12 FY. Councilwoman Hurtado asked Rodriquez what will be the projected ending balance for June 30. City Manager Rodriquez said the end balance would be of $811,000 in the black for this fiscal year. Rodriquez said that they had a projected $17 million on expenditures but they were able to cut expenditures to $1 million dollars and that what made Calexico increase their revenues. Rodriquez said that they are not done yet and they will still work to increase services and maybe open City Hall on Friday’s by July 2012.  Hurtado finished by saying that if the message is attached to the budget people will look for it and people may not want to do business in Calexico. “The message should represent the City Council as a group.” She said.

Mayor Pro Tem Romero also agreed with his fellow council members that the message is not accurate and that it was political. He said that the Mayor’s message should be consensus of the Council and not of his personal opinion. After a long discussion, The Council voted 3-1 not include the Mayor’s message on the City’s final budget document.

The Council also approved the internet policy to ensure future decisions regarding approval of website content can be made in accordance with a standard policy that has been approved by the City Council. The proposed policy provides that the website shall not include content that: promotes hate, bias, discrimination, or defamatory content. Has a primary purpose of furthering the agenda of a political organization or a candidate running for office, or defeating any candidate for elective office. Violates any of the City’s equal opportunity policies, consists of personal home pages operated by individuals. Contains editorial content or statements of opinion, rather than factual information, and contains inaccurate or misleading information.

The proposed policy also provides that the City Manager or his or her designee shall be the final decision maker regarding approval of website content, unless the City Manager refers a website content issue to the City Council. The proposed policy also includes provisions related to the website’s purpose; non-public forums status; privacy of website users; security; content disclaimers, link to the City’s website, posting of events, accessibility, and indemnification.

The Council voted 3-1 with Hodge making the nay vote to approve the website policy and also removing the Mayor’s letter from the website.