Several Del Rio City Council members on Tuesday complained of a lack of communication between the city and the county, but Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. said Wednesday all they have to do is pick up the phone.
The council discussion about city and county communications began during an update of the city’s COVID-19 efforts, presented by City Emergency Management Director John Sheedy.
“I know that the city manager, Mr. Matt Wojnowski, we’ve had quite a bit of communication going on with the county, and the efforts going on between both entities, the city and the county, so I think we’ve got that line of communication wide open now. I know there’s been a lot of talk and communication between the city manager and the county judge,” Councilman District 1 Fred Carranza said.
He asked Wojnowski to speak about that communication.
“Yes. I touch base with the county judge at least once daily, oftentimes more than once, again, to see how we can partner with any of the efforts with COVID-19, including food distribution, with masks and gloves, et cetera, so yes, that communication line is open, and it’s daily, at minimum,” Wojnowksi said.
Carranza said he has also spoken to the county judge about the importance of keeping the lines of communication open.
“I just want to stress the importance of this being a mutual effort between the city and the county and the hospital and the school district and everybody else involved. I want everybody to know that we’re doing just as much as we can,” Carranza said.
Councilwoman Liz Elizalde De Calderon asked about a recent incident regarding a county food distribution event at the Brown Plaza.
Elizalde De Calderon said she wanted to know if the city would be able to provide any manpower aside from police traffic control to assist the county with its food distribution efforts.
“As I mentioned, I’m in daily contact with the county judge, and we can assist with manpower aside from traffic control for these food distributions. We’ve extended a helping hand, and that’s been noted by the county judge,” Wojnowski said.
Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado said she, too, wanted to know why the Precinct 1 food distribution event was moved to the San Felipe Cemetery.
“That was a misunderstanding. They decided to move it. There were some concerns about traffic, and the county decided to move it out of the city limits. As soon as I was aware of the misunderstanding, I contacted the commissioner and the judge to let them know there was no problem having a food distribution event inside the city limits,” Wojnowski said.
Salgado then commented about the county judge’s most recent declaration of disaster for public health emergency, which he signed Monday.
“I wish the county would have involved the city a little more in drafting this declaration because we don’t know what’s going to be on it until they just throw it at us,” Salgado said.
Salgado also said several of her constituents have questions about provisions in the declaration and are concerned about the $1,000 fine set for violating those provisions.
“Why hasn’t the county judge been more inclusive of the council?” Salgado asked.
“My concern is that we don’t know what all is going into these declarations until they’re already done and out in the public. It would have been nice if there was maybe some feedback from the city side, if the city would have more input, because after all, I think we do have a right to have input on here,” she added.
Salgado asked if anyone on the council has been asked for input prior to the declarations by the county.
Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano pointed out there has been “good coordination” between the city and county emergency management coordinators, Sheedy and Rowland Garza, who also serves as an elected member of the city council, and communication between the city and the county is taking place mostly at a staff level.
“You’re more than welcome to reach out to the (county) judge directly and give him the feedback from your constituents as well. There’s nothing that prevents you from doing that,” Lozano told Salgado.
He pointed out Councilman Raul Ojeda has attended several meetings at the emergency operations center and volunteered at one of the county’s food distribution events.
“What’s really a shame is the appearance that this is giving people, when the (county) judge goes on the radio and tells all the listeners that the city is not doing anything to help the county. It’s like the county is doing it all. The judge is including his commissioners, but there are seven of us on the council … When does it get to the rest of us? We’re not chopped liver. We’re part of all this. All I’m asking for is inclusion, to be part of what is going on,” Salgado said.
Lozano again urged Salgado to take the initiative to call Sheedy or the judge.
Carranza said he believed “the communication that’s lacking is coming from the city, not the county.”
Owens responded Wednesday to the council members’ comments about communicating with city staff and elected officials.
“I’d like to start off by apologizing to Fred Carranza, to Liz Elizalde De Calderon and to Rowland Garza, because they reached out to me, and I think they know everything that I’m doing because they’ve reached out, and I’ve called them.
“Lack of communication, all I can say is that they (the city) did not have anybody that was their point of contact, but I will tell you, I try calling Mr. Carranza once a day, and Liz, I’ve talked to her a couple of times, and I said I apologize because I’m trying real hard, because you can’t put the whole group together, and it’s not my fault that you’re not calling me,” Owens said.
The judge said one week ago, he was told his city point of contact would be the city manager.
“When you have council members complain that they’re not getting enough information, it’s not my fault. When you have a couple council members say they were not told and lack of communication, you give me somebody to talk to, I’ll talk to them. You give me somebody I need to visit with before I do anything, I’ll visit with them, but until you all do your job and give me that individual, I’m not going to waste my time trying to call everybody else,” Owens said.