Edinburg resident demands mayor resign, Molina responds

Robert Solis attempts to file paperwork recall affidavit Edinburg City Hall on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — A local resident wants Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina to step down after being arrested late last month on voter fraud charges in connection with the November 2017 election which inducted him into office.

Robert Solis said the arrest of Molina and his wife, Dalia, last week has eroded the public’s trust in the mayor.

“There’s a public mistrust with arrests and accusations and the negative light that he’s (Molina) cast upon the city and himself,” Solis said outside Edinburg City Hall last Wednesday morning, where he planned to formally request the mayor resign his position. Failing that, he is prepared to initiate the process to call a recall election.

“We believe that he needs to either resign or we can have a recall election and let the voters decide what they think is best for the city,” Solis said.

But his attempt to deliver an affidavit seeking Molina’s resignation to Edinburg City Secretary Ludivina Leal hit a snag.

After making a brief stop at an informational kiosk inside city hall and learning that she was unavailable, Solis was directed to the city’s media relations department. There, a woman invited him into her office only to tell him he needed to deliver the affidavit to the legal department, located on the second floor.

Solis climbed the steps to find the door to the legal department closed. A moment later, another city staffer poked their head out the door. When Solis asked if he could come in, the person promptly said no and shut the door again.

“We had to wait there 5-10 minutes. Nobody wanted to talk to us. They shut the door on us,” Solis said afterwards.

Solis eventually went back to the informational kiosk to ask for the city secretary again. After a prolonged wait, a third staffer emerged from a back office to tell Solis that Leal had been contacted by phone and would be unavailable until the afternoon.

Solis ultimately returned that afternoon and was successful in presenting his petition to the city secretary, who marked the document with a timestamp.

“We submitted the petition for his resignation — Mayor Molina’s — and/or a recall. So now we have roughly 30 days to come up with signatures,” Solis said afterwards.

According to the Edinburg city charter, an Edinburg voter can petition for the recall of an elected official. However, the number of signatures required to make the petition valid depends on the number of voters who participated in the last election.

Solis must collect signatures equal to at least 25% of the people who voted in November 2017. He estimates that figure to be approximately 2,000 signatures.

If Solis collects enough signatures within the 30-day timeframe, the city secretary will then be obligated to present the petition to the city council and the mayor. If Molina does not resign within five days of that notification, the charter mandates the city hold a recall election to put the issue directly to the voters.

Two-thirds of voters will then have to cast their ballots in favor of recall in order for the mayor to be removed.

Asked if he or his petition were affiliated with Molina’s 2017 two political opponents, Solis said no.

In the past, Mayor Molina has asserted the allegations against him are the tied to a prominent Edinburg family — the Palacios family — against whom Molina has lobbed voter fraud allegations similar to those made against him.

Asked, too, if Solis has any affiliation with the Palacios family, he responded that he knows some members of the family.

“I’ve lived in Edinburg for 44 years, so, you know, of course I’m gonna know them,” Solis said. “Are they my friends? Yeah, some of them are my friends from high school, that I’ve known, but, I have friends on both sides,” he said.

Just one day after Solis filed his petition, Molina issued a statement regarding the charges he and his wife are facing. In it, he denied any wrongdoing.

“We respectfully deny any criminal wrongdoing and look forward to defending ourselves in the proper venue; that is a courtroom,” Molina said in last Thursday’s statement. “These charges will not affect my ability to perform the people’s work as your Mayor. I only ask that you respect our constitutional right to a fair trial and due process. Thank you.”

The statement, submitted in writing and in a short video, was released via email by Edinburg city spokesperson Cary Zayas.

Reached at city hall shortly after Solis submitted his petition, Zayas said the city’s legal department was reviewing the document.

“I can tell you right now it’s being reviewed by legal,” Zayas said as she walked across the foyer towards her office.

Zayas declined to respond to a question asking if statements she made outside Molina’s arraignment last week were official statements on behalf of the city of Edinburg. She did, however, say that the mayor had not asked her to speak on his behalf.

“He did not,” she said, before declining other questions and while beginning to push a door shut.

In an email sent this Monday, Zayas announced that Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa would be on hand at city hall to explain the recall process and update the public on the status of Solis’ petition.