FIRINGS RESCINDED, MEETING CHAOTIC
GALENA PARK – One day after being sworn in as the new mayor of Galena Park, Esmeralda Moya issued orders to make sweeping changes in the administration and the way City Hall was run. In a stunning move, she fired 3 top administrators and changed the locks on the municipal building.
However, reaction came immediately from the City Administrator Robert Pruett, who stated that the city charter did not give the mayor authority to fire employees, except with the consent of city council.
Moya had fired Pruett, City Attorney Jim DeFoyd, and demoted Police Chief Jonathan Rader.
Monday’s Council meeting was called to try to resolve the actions of the mayor that Pruett deemed illegal, but an executive session scheduled for 4:00 p.m. was boycotted by Moya, who claimed the agenda was not correct. Immediately after, the meeting was reconvened in public session, with all parties present, including an outside attorney Jim Hightower, whom the council had hired to advise them on the legal interpretation of the city charter.
Hightower, of the firm Olsen and Olsen, gave his opinion on the charter, and said that the mayor does not have “unilateral” authority to fire employees, nor to change locks in the building.
After hearing this legal opinion, Councilman Simms took charge of the meeting. He moved and it was passed unanimously that he had the authority to sign checks, and that the mayor did not have the right to fire the employees unilaterally, and they voted to rescind the firings. Moya said she objected and vetoed the vote, but the councilmen voted to override her veto.
As Moya struggled to control the meeting, she stated that she had acted on the firings because that was what the people wanted, and that was why she was elected.
She said that the public was tired of the old way of running city hall, and wanted change. She also hinted at mismanagement, perhaps corruption, was prevalent in the city government. As an example, she confronted councilman Simms about his health insurance, paid for by the city for 12 years at a cost of over $160,000, when it was meant only for full-time employees which she pointed out did not include council persons.
Attending the meeting was a standing room crowd of about 150 persons, and most of them seemed to be supporters of Mayor Moya. As each vote against her was cast, they chanted or yelled “No No No” or “You forgot who elected you.”
After the chaotic session was over, Simms left with a police escort. A crowd that had gathered outside was asking people to sign a petition to recall the elected council persons, and about 200 signatures have been collected, with the crowd planning to continue a door-to-door campaign for more.
The next day, Tuesday, City Hall had returned to a quiet round of business as usual, but the next council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday night, July 15 at 6:00 p.m. promises to continue the drama.