Mission makes changes to nepotism policy for advisory board members

MISSION — The city council approved an amendment to its nepotism policy that will allow council members’ relatives to serve on advisory committees, a practice that has been ongoing in the city for years.

As it stood, the policy stated that “an individual related within the second degree by affinity or within the third degree by consanguinity to the mayor, a council member, or the city manager, shall not be appointed to serve or be employed to any office, position, or service of the city.”

However, the council approved adding a line after that subsection stating it did not apply to appointments of advisory board members or volunteers.

Councilwoman Jessica Ortega-Ochoa said during Monday’s city council meeting that the issue was addressed after she inquired about having one of her family members serve on an advisory board.

“I posed the question to our city attorney because I wanted to do the right thing,” she said. “Currently, the way the policy is written, they couldn’t, yet we’ve already set precedence because it has already been happening for years.”

The initial proposal was to amend that section of the policy by removing the language that stated that family members could not “be appointed to serve.”

Ortega-Ochoa clarified that the proposed change would only apply to advisory board members who are not paid.

Mayor Armando O’Caña also noted that relatives of council members already served on advisory boards including his son and brother.

However, while Councilwoman Norie Gonzalez Garza didn’t disagree with the intent, she objected to amending the personnel policy manual and suggested creating a separate policy for advisory board members instead.

“I think there’s another way to handle this,” she said. “I think that if we don’t have a policy that directly refers to advisory boards and/or volunteers, then that’s the route that we should take and open up and create a new chapter.”

She added that making the change under the chapter regarding employment practices could cause confusion or be misrepresented.

After discussing the matter in executive session to confer with counsel, the council agreed on the additional line that it did not apply to advisory boards.

O’Caña acknowledged that appointing relatives to advisory boards was a long-standing practice and said it was allowed by state law.

“Historically speaking, the city of Mission has had that practice even with the previous administration,” O’Caña said. “It’s been a practice that’s been happening; I think the intent of this ordinance is to balance it out and align it to the state’s standard.”

“This is an alignment for the practices that we’ve been using and historically in the city of Mission,” he said.

Councilman Ruben Plata was the sole opposing vote, expressing his discomfort at discussing personnel matters during regular city council meetings and suggested those discussions to be held during workshops.

During the meeting, the council also approved the creation of a subcommittee to assess and evaluate the municipal court to expand services to the committee.

Plata and Councilman Gus Martinez were appointed to the subcommittee along with City Manager Martin Garza and City Attorney Abiel Flores.

“We’re looking at operations and the complaints (from) our citizens are about accessibility to the judges,” O’Caña said about the need for a subcommittee.

“The current schedule is not serving the needs of the community at this time so that’s why the committee is going to review the schedule, review the services, expand the services,” he said, adding that he also hopes to create a separate juvenile court.

The subcommittee is expected to present recommendations at the next city council meeting.