By unanimous vote, the Weslaco City Commission formally accepted the resignation of District 4 Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla last Tuesday and immediately moved to set a July 16 date for the special election to find his replacement.
The vote itself was but a brief moment, nearly unremarkable but for the speed of its passage. For members of the commission, the lack of fanfare was simply the city moving past an unfortunate chapter in its history and getting back to business.
“We move on with the other projects and operating the city, you know, business as usual,” Mayor David Suarez said after the meeting,
“We’re shocked and we’re saddened with the outcomes of what’s going on right now. All we can do is move forward, accept Mr. Tafolla’s resignation and wish him Godspeed and pray for him and his family,” he said.
Suarez, who also serves as the chief of staff for Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes, declined to comment on the status of Tafolla’s employment with the county.
However, at an event later in the week, Fuentes confirmed that Tafolla’s employment as a “right-of-way agent” ended the day after news of his plea agreement went public.
“His (Tafolla’s) employment was terminated subsequent to his plea,” Fuentes said.
Back at City Hall, District 3 Weslaco City Commissioner Jose “J.P.” Rodriguez shared similar sentiments with regard to the city moving forward.
“I’m definitely looking forward to moving forward past some of the issues that we’ve been dealing with,” Rodriguez said.
“I think it’s important that we start the process of moving Weslaco forward again and cleaning up what really never should have happened in the first place,” said District 2 City Commissioner Greg Kerr.
Both Rodriguez and Kerr campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, spurred by what they perceived to be issues regarding the city’s $38 million water treatment rehabilitation project.
Those concerns ultimately proved to be valid, as Tafolla, their now-former commissioner, recently pleaded guilty to federal programs bribery in relation to the project.
Tafolla’s plea is just one cog in an alleged pay-to-play scheme that has so far involved half a dozen people, including former District 2 City Commissioner John Cuellar, former Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Rio Grande City school board trustee Daniel Garcia, Weslaco businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla and now-former Rio Grande City Municipal Judge Leonel Lopez Jr.
Lopez similarly pleaded guilty in late March.
“It’s taken a while, but it’s finally starting to come to fruition,” Kerr said of his and Rodriguez’s attempts to root out corruption.
“We’re starting to see the fruits of our investigation come together, and I think it sends an important message that if you’re going to try to take advantage of the citizens of Weslaco, that at least the current commission is going to put a stop to it, not let you do it,” he said.
For his part, Rodriguez is eager to see who steps up to fill the remainder of Tafolla’s unexpired term.
“I look forward to seeing the candidates in the upcoming special election,” he said.
“My hope and prayer, actually, is that we will have individuals that step up and decide to run and to serve the people with respect, but also with honesty.”
At least one resident in attendance at last Tuesday’s city commission meeting shared an equally optimistic outlook on Weslaco’s future and its future District 4 commissioner.