The first meeting of the Poteet City Council with newly elected Mayor Denise Sanchez and Councilmembers Crystal Bautista and Jeremy Fernandez got off to a rocky start on June 1. Two agenda items, including the termination of Municipal Court Judge Bill Gamez and City Attorney Molly Solis, proved to be controversial as no legal grounds were given for the recommendations.
Criminal trespass warning terminated
On May 25, 2020, Mayor Sanchez, while serving as a city council member, filed a lawsuit against the City of Poteet, City Administrator Eric Jiminez, Police Chief Bruce Hickman, City Inspector Bill Lay and Municipal Court Judge Bill Gamez.
According to the lawsuit, Sanchez is being injured by the defendants in the following ways:
1. She is being removed or threatened with removal from her home during a contagious pandemic, when many other municipal matters have been stayed;
2. She has been targeted with selective, arbitrary and punitive enforcement of City ordinances and police powers because she is a vocal opponent of the leadership of the City of Poteet;
3. She has been banned from entering City Hall where residents pay their utility bills and engaging in other necessary municipal business, because she expressed her First Amendment right to question her government.
The City of Poteet attempted to remove Sanchez from her home due to safety violations uncovered by city inspectors. Both parties came to an agreement to let Sanchez stay in her home, however, a criminal trespass warning remained, keeping her from stepping foot into City Hall except for council meetings.
On June 1, council unanimously voted to terminate that criminal trespass warning against Mayor Sanchez.
Municipal court judge services
During the June 1 meeting, New Business called for terminating Municipal Court Judge Bill Gamez. It was noted on the agenda that Mayor Sanchez brought up the issue, however, that was not the case. It was mentioned that the recommendation came from the former mayor.
Mayor Pro Tem Nicholas Sanchez was asked to preside over the meeting due to the conflict of interest with Mayor Sanchez.
Gamez spoke his peace, mentioning he has never once been written up for an infraction nor had any issues with his services being brought up. He also explained that he received no notification of this move or legal grounds for his termination prior to the posting of the June 1 agenda.
Council has 91 days af- ter a new mayor is elected to either renew or cancel their contract with the sitting judge, otherwise, it would automatically renew. Rick Flores motioned to table the item. Bautista seconded with the motion passing unanimously. Council also unanimously voted to go out for Request for Qualifications (RFQs) for the position of municipal court judge services.
Terminating legal counsel
Newly elected councilman Jeremy Fernandez discussed terminating the City of Poteet’s legal counsel of Davidson Troilo Ream Garza, PC, including City Attorney Molly Solis.
“I was wanting to see about an attorney who actually won’t be biased and actually give legal advice to council and mayor across the board, equally. As well as cost efficiency and job performance,” said Fernandez.
Councilman Flores called for the facts to substantiate the firing. Fernandez responded that it was simply citizens watching meetings and seeing how Solis allegedly addressed council in a rude manner.
“I’ve been on council for three years. I’ve yet to see that,” said Flores.
When asked again for a reason for cause for firing by Councilman/Mayor Pro Tem N. Sanchez, Fernandez did not respond. Bautista reiterated that it was based on citizens saying so.
“When we talk about the performance of attorneys, everything has to be factual and stated as such,” said Flores. “So, to hear hearsay or go into public media, there has to be facts behind everything to put somebody on the agenda like this.”
Bautista agreed that there were no facts and asked if council could take the same action as they did with Gamez. “I would like more time to get to know them and see them in action. We’re new to this, so I can’t just jump in. Maybe it’s personal, maybe it’s not.”
Solis recommended council ask her for any legal recommendations on the motion. A lawyer with the Davidson Troilo Ream & Garza practice, Solis focuses primarily on municipal and public law work and defense of governmental entities in litigation matters. She serves as general counsel/ city attorney representing cities, special districts and other local governmental entities across the State of Texas. Solis is the City Attorney for the City of Dilley and Poteet and is Special Legal Counsel for the City of Robstown. Solis previously served as the City Attorney for the City of Boerne, an Assistant District Attorney, 81st Judicial District Attorney’s Office and as Assistant County Attorney in the Atascosa County Attorney’s Office.
“I will always give you legal recommendations that I can defend based on the statute and case law and what I can do in court for you. I’m from Poteet. I care about this city, and I am honored to have been the attorney this long,” said Solis. “However, a relationship between an attorney and a client is based on trust and confidence. If you do not have trust and confidence in my legal advice, then you do need to find someone else that you do. Like Gamez, I don’t do [recommendations] with a bias of any kind. I do it based on the law.”
N. Sanchez said terminating current law firm will hurt the city financially.
“It’s going to hurt the taxpayers’ money.”
He motioned against terminating the law firm with Flores seconding. Bautista and Fernandez were against, forcing Mayor Sanchez to break the 2-2 tie. She voted in favor with Bautista and Fernandez.
Flores asked Solis if she was given a reason for termination or if any discussion with the former and current mayor had taken place to which she said no.
Bautista motioned to take no action with Fernandez seconding.
However, due to the city’s contract, the council must vote to either keep or terminate the contract with Davidson Troilo Ream Garza, PC. They could not keep the current firm and seek other applications as they did with Gamez, so Bautista withdrew her motion.
N. Sanchez asked council if they were willing to risk the city’s financial standing by terminating the law firm based on hearsay. Mayor Sanchez responded that the current firm is costing the city money with their pending cases.
“The only pending lawsuit at this point is [Mayor Sanchez’s] lawsuit against the city,” said Solis.
Flores stated that it seems there is a conflict of interest at hand.
Fernandez motioned to table the item until the next meeting with Bautista seconding. Flores and N. Sanchez voted against, causing a 2-2 tie again. Mayor Sanchez broke the tie by voting to table the item.