Large slate of candidates seek seats on Donna city council

Nearly a dozen candidates have filed to run for seats on the Donna city council, a majority of whom had previous political ambitions.

Leading concerns among candidates for mayor and city council Places 1 and 3 are the hiring of a permanent city manager, water and sewage rates and ways to bolster the local economy.

Running on a slate known as Donna DNA are Simon Sauceda for mayor, incumbent Sonia Gallegos for Place 1 and political newcomer Adolfo Campos, who has served on the planning and zoning board, for Place 3. They are challenged by an opposing political group composed of former Donna Mayor Ricardo “Rick” Morales and newcomers Oscar Gonzalez, a road and bridge director with the county, and Arturo Castillo, an account supervisor with Donna ISD, respectively.

Mayor Irene Muñoz, Place 1 candidate Humberto Zavala, a police officer, and Beatriz Farias, a former councilwoman, seeking Place 3, are also running on another slate.

Campaigning independently are mayoral candidate Ernesto Lugo, a former school board trustee who owns healthcare-related businesses in Hidalgo County and Place 3 city council candidate Guadalupe “Lupita” Bueno, a secretary.

Current Municipal Judge Javier Garza faces no challengers.

Lugo — who is primarily funding his own campaign — said he will use his business background to curb “financial mismanagement” and “questionable contracts” within the city. He would use a portion of the savings toward repairing infrastructure and lowering utility bills.

“The legacy that the incumbents are bragging about is the legacy of poor economic performance, and that’s what I want to change,” Lugo said. “They’ve done too little, too late.”

The city has not had a permanent city manager in nearly two years, said Lugo who vowed to move forward with hiring a full-time city manager. Ernesto Silva currently serves as interim city manager.

Lugo was previously arrested in 2015 but later cleared by a Hidalgo County grand jury. He said he was falsely accused in a net of corruption at Donna ISD, where he previously served as a trustee.

“The fact is, it’s part of the corruption that I’m trying to fight here at the city-level,” Lugo said.

Current Councilman Simon Sauceda, a Donna High School teacher, filed to run for mayor, touting his nine years experience and accomplishments while serving on the council.

“I know people are very happy with the fact that we’ve lowered taxes for four years in a row,” Sauceda said.

He attributes much of the success to the hiring of Silva, who has served as interim city manager for nearly two years.

“Without a strong leader, things are not going to get done,” Sauceda said, giving credit to Silva and his staff for the city’s financial success.

When asked about the potential hiring of a permanent city manager, Sauceda said he would seek one at the year’s end.

Sauceda committed to considering a fixed water rate for residents over 65 and rein in taxes, if possible.

“We are doing everything in our power as a city council to address the issue of the water,” Sauceda said, adding he encourages discussion about the difference between North Alamo Water Supply’s billing and the city’s.

Morales — a former Donna mayor who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Harlingen — mirrored the issue of a locked-in water rate for residents over the age of 65.

Morales, who also served on council before becoming mayor, wants a cold storage facility and a solar farm near the bridge, more national chain restaurants and a “state-of-the-art” park near a high school.

Morales highlighted the opening of the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge and said he would leverage it to offset the cost of growth without raising taxes.

“Because of the bridge, you see the taxes going down; you see businesses moving to Donna,” Morales said.

Muñoz – who served as a council member before becoming mayor — is running with her team under the slogan “Experience. Trust. Commitment.”

Under her tenure, the city reduced its tax rate to the lowest it has been in 25 years, she said.

“ When I was running for mayor the last time, the biggest outcry was the tax rate,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz promoted the reduction of water rates, park improvements and street repairs as indications of the city’s progress.

“We put up over 130 lights within our city” within two years, Muñoz said.

Muñoz, Sauceda, Gallegos and Silva along with former Mayor David Simmons, Council member Jose Garza and the city of Donna were sued by a former City Manager Oscar Ramirez who accused the council of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. The lawsuit also accused Sauceda, Muñoz, Jose Garza and Simmons of ordering the reduction of water rates for certain customers such as Municipal Judge Javier Garza.

The lawsuit remains pending with an opinion on jurisdiction of the case expected on Oct. 23, according to Ramirez’s lawyer Katie Klein of Dale & Klein, LLP.

Though on opposing slates, Muñoz and Sauceda said the lawsuit would not affect their campaigns. Muñoz said the accusations are false.

In a federal lawsuit, former Public Works Director Juan Francisco De Los Rios accused Sauceda, Gallegos, Councilwoman Cathy Alvarado, Silva and Simmons of firing him for whistle-blowing on bribes for a multi-million-dollar city contract. The lawsuit remains ongoing in federal court.

Early voting will run from Oct. 23 through Nov. 3. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.