Standstill in Crystal City: Lack of quorum leaves important items unresolved

Mayor released from jail, refuses to go to council meetings

CRYSTAL CITY, Texas – It was a full house but a near empty council table in Crystal City Wednesday night.

The City Council meeting that was supposed to continue from Tuesday night didn't happen after only one member showed up, leaving the council without a quorum. Several items, including ordering a recall election, were left on the agenda, and a city plagued by scandals was left with unfinished business.

The meeting had been recessed Tuesday after Mayor Ricardo Lopez was arrested following a bizarre commotion.

He was charged with hindering proceedings by disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and possession of a prohibited controlled substance in a penal facility.

The last charge was added after deputies found a lone pill in Lopez's possession when he arrived at jail. Lopez said the pill was a painkiller medication for which he had a prescription. Zavala County Sheriff Eusevio Salinas said because it wasn't in a proper container, it was against the law.

After Lopez bonded out Wednesday evening, he said he didn't plan on coming to any more City Council meetings. The third member who had shown up on Tuesday, Councilman Marco Rodriguez, was not at Wednesday's meeting either.

The lone member who showed on Wednesday, Councilman Joel Barajas, is coincidentally the only one on the council not under federal indictment.

Lopez, Mayor Pro-Tem Rogelio Mata and Councilman Roel Mata are indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges. Rodriguez is charged with smuggling undocumented immigrants.

Speaking to reporters after a quorum failed to materialize, Barajas said the city can only stick to basics right now.

"There's no projects we can touch. There's no grants that we can go for or anything at this time," he said.

One item that remained unfinished was ordering a recall election. Voters had successfully petitioned to recall election Lopez, Rodriguez and Rogelio Mata, but a disagreement over how long they had to resign before facing an election started off the chain of events leading to Lopez's arrest.

Attorney Javier Villalobos, who represents one of the petitioners, said the next step would be getting a judge to order the council to schedule the recall election.

Other items left on the agenda were possibly ordering an election to fill the vacancy left by Roel Mata, who resigned last week amid the turmoil, and possibly appointing a temporary city administrator to replace James Jonas.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to suspend Jonas, the city manager, city attorney and lobbyist. Jonas was also indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges, and petitioners listed the cost of his contract as one of the reasons to recall Lopez, Rodriguez and Rogelio Mata.

Click through the interactive timeline below for more details on the Crystal City corruption case.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.