UVALDE, Texas – The swearing-in of Pete Arredondo and other recently elected Uvalde city council members Tuesday without a public ceremony was legal but sends the wrong message, an expert in local governance told KSAT on Wednesday.
“Now more than ever is the time for Uvalde city leaders to show accountability, responsibility and transparency on all their decision-making. Voters deserve nothing less,” said attorney Mark Anthony Sanchez, Sr.
Sanchez’s 25-year legal career includes representing a multitude of South Texas cities, housing authorities, school districts and public safety departments.
He said despite the firestorm of controversy surrounding Arredondo and his actions as incident commander during last week’s Uvalde school massacre, the proper approach would have been to go on with Tuesday’s specially called council meeting as planned.
“My advice to the mayor would have been: ‘Welcome to Democracy.’ The city council set an agenda for yesterday, May 31, 2022, for the express purpose of administering the oath at a public meeting. The city council didn’t do that. Instead, it opted to conduct the administration of the oath behind closed doors,” said Sanchez.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, who has so far not agreed to an interview with KSAT despite repeated requests to do so, released a statement Tuesday night confirming the council members had been sworn in without a ceremony.
That decision caused many people to publicly accuse the city of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
As a “home-rule municipality,” however, Uvalde was legally permitted to handle it that way, according to Sanchez. He said that model of local government can do anything authorized by its city charter that is not prohibited by the Texas Constitution or state or federal law.
The town’s charter requires newly elected officials to take office on the 24th day since the general election or as close as possible to that date, meaning Tuesday was the deadline to abide by the charter.
“In my opinion, it was a lost opportunity to show resolve and leadership in the face of unrelenting adversity. The city council instead opted to conduct public business behind closed doors,” said Sanchez.