Del Rio resident Charles Cropper says he just wants the city council to listen.
Cropper, who addressed the council during its 2018 budget and tax rate-setting cycle, attempted to make a presentation to the Del Rio City Council Tuesday during its first hearing on the proposed 2019 city tax rate.
As soon as Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano announced the opening of the public hearing on the proposed tax rate, Cropper approached the podium, carrying a box full of three-ring binders.
Cropper handed the binders to council members and asked they not open the binders until he had read his opening statement.
“Mr. Cropper, this is a presentation?” Lozano asked as Cropper continued handing out the binders.
“Okay, so just for clarity for council members, the limit for the public hearing is five minutes, for the presentation,” the mayor added.
“It’s impossible for me to do that,” Cropper said. “Is there a state law that says the public hearing is limited to five minutes? I don’t think there is a limit.”“We can go into executive session so we can ask legal counsel,” Lozano replied.
“I promise I will try my heartfelt best to do this in under 45 minutes. The material is going to go very rapidly, and I want this recorded in a public hearing,” Cropper replied.
The mayor announced the council would go into executive session at 6:44 p.m.
Before the council left the dais, Councilman Rowland Garza asked, “Is this presentation requiring us to take action on it, or is this something you can share with staff? Are you expecting a vote of some sort?”
“No. There’s a vote on an ordinance on your agenda tonight,” Cropper replied.
“So it pertains to an ordinance?” Garza asked.
When Cropper asked if he was speaking in a public hearing, Garza replied he was asking questions before the council went into executive session.
“This discussion concerns taxes and the budget. There are two public hearings on the taxes and one on the budget. I combined all of the discussions on the budget and the taxes together in this hearing, because it is the earliest public hearing you can do,” Cropper said.
He reiterated he wanted the material “to be recorded and known.”
“I’m begging you to let me do that. I don’t expect anybody to take any actions on my statements,” he added.
The council then met privately with City Attorney Suzanne West. The council reconvened at 6:54 p.m.
When Lozano returned to his seat at the center of the council dais, he asked if there was anyone else in the audience who wished to speak during the public hearing.
When another member of the audience indicated he would like to address the council about the tax rate, Lozano said, “For full fairness, the public hearing today will be allotted 30 minutes. Mr. Cropper, you have a full 15.”
The mayor also told the second man who wished to speak that he would have 15 minutes to address the council.
Cropper again approached the podium.
“Wait a minute. Where in state law does it say public hearings can be limited? I want a reference to that, please. I demand a reference to that. Please. It is my understanding of state law and with the comptroller’s office that public hearings for taxes and budgets cannot be limited, so, please, if there’s a limit, show me the law that says there’s a limit. Otherwise, I am executing my right under state law to speak my mind in this public hearing,” Cropper said.
When no one on the council spoke, Cropper said, “I’m assuming that the silence means we are not limited.”
“The reference that I gave you is adequate, and the time is still continuing,” Lozano said.
City Secretary Mari Acosta then told Cropper, “You are running on your 15 minutes.”
“Where is the reference for that? Prove it to me that there’s a limit to the amount of time. I am going to show you laws that your own employees are violating, and you are limiting me to discuss this. This is amazing.
“I am not going to speak without the reference to the limits. If I have a limit, I want the reference. Otherwise, this is an amazing event that’s going to occur, that I promise you this council will regret. I promise you. I spoke at length about the improper collection of the sales tax last year, and that’s just the beginning,” Cropper said.
He then turned to face the audience and said, “Everybody in here, you have a deposit on your utility bill. This city is supposed to return them, and they don’t do it.”
He again asked Lozano “for an unlimited period of time” or a reference to a time limit.
He continued handing out materials to the council members and said, “Plus, I promise you will regret this decision. I am aware of no law that limits the ability of citizens to speak in a public hearing.”
Cropper said he would read his opening and closing statements and said the council could review the material he had handed out on their own time.
“Sir, I don’t take the threat lightly. You made a threat. What did you say?” Garza asked, adding, “You’re threatening me and this council.”
“I am demanding that the council respect the law, and no one has given me a reference. No one has told me how the law limits these public hearings, and I find that ironic, because I am discussing budgetary problems and taxes where there are likely violations of the law. In fact, I know there are violations of the law,” Cropper said.
Former Mayor Dora Alcalá asked to speak and told the council that it was customary if someone wanted to give “a long, elaborate presentation” that other persons slated to speak voluntarily give up their time or portions of their time to that speaker.
Cropper then read his opening closing statements.
He read he believes “the hardest problem, that has plagued the city for decades,” is “contempt” by city employees.
After he finished reading his statements, Cropper said, “I am asking politely one last time, may I go through at least some critical items in my presentation, mayor?”
Lozano glanced at the city secretary, who was keeping time, and replied, “You have one minute remaining.”
“Mayor, I would like for us to make an exception and allow him. I think that everybody’s interested in hearing what this gentleman has to say. It might benefit all of us. Extend him, maybe, an additional 10 minutes,” Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado said.
“I promise you, I will try to be as fast as possible,” Cropper said.
“We need to go back to executive session, pursuant (to Section) 551.071, attorney-client privilege, at 7:19 (p.m.),” Lozano replied.
When the council returned from its second executive session, Lozano announced, “Mr. Cropper, continue with the 33 seconds that remain in your public hearing.”
Cropper, shaking his head, gathered his materials and walked back to his seat in the audience.
“Mrs. West, is there anything in the tax code that references allotted time for public hearings?” asked Councilwoman Liz Elizalde de Calderon.
“There is. The tax code provision that discusses the notice and the need for these hearings specifically says that the hearings the governing body must ‘afford adequate opportunity for proponents and opponents of the tax rate increase.’ That means it’s up to the council to decide,” West replied.