It is one thing to read about quid pro quo in the machinations of government — the veritable sausage-making of politics.
It’s quite another to watch the rapid-fire salsichónes flying from Mayor Pro Huckster Charlie San Miguel at the City Council dais, a man who believes with his every fiber that everyone in Council chambers last Monday evening was blind to the political expediency that motivated naming an equipment and toy shed in North Central Park after a child whose life was cut tragically short by brain cancer. That’s the quid in his morbid use of an innocent child’s name for political gain.
The quo is that by doing so, San Miguel likely neutralized the child’s aunt, Priscilla Treviño Villarreal, who is known as La Gordiloca and who not long ago said that she, like San Miguel, had aspirations to run for Mayor in the upcoming November 6 General Election.
It appears that the local tragedy-chasing phenom with a Facebook following of 90,000 has abandoned a mayoral run and will now direct her talents to San Miguel’s campaign as dragon slayer and soquete slinger.
San Miguel, often a no-show or a late-show at City Council meetings, arrived at Monday night’s meeting as though on cue, after most of the public comments that derided actions that were about to unfold, actions La Gordiloca foretold like prophecy in an earlier Facebook post.
Mellie Herford, speaking to San Miguel’s empty seat earlier at the dais, asked him to name the small park fixture “for all the angels taken from us.” She called San Miguel “the worst type of politician, one who exploits the suffering and death of a child for political gain.”
Cynthia Vasquez followed Hereford, mincing few words at the public podium, calling San Miguel’s proposal “taking advantage of people’s deaths.” Referring to the recent slaughter of one-year old Dominic Hernandez and his mother by a Border Patrol supervisor, she asked, “Why not Dominic? His death impacted the whole community.”
San Miguel arrived in time, however, to hear from community activist Luis Cisneros, who offered condolences to the family of Kataleya Treviño, the child for whom San Miguel proposed to name the shed/kiosk.
With grief in his voice, Cisneros said, “I am the father of a baby boy that is buried,” and continued, “but I would never have considered somebody using his name for political favors.”
Cisneros said that San Miguel running for Mayor and the person on the receiving end made the gesture questionable. Directing himself at the entire council, he said, “ I’m sorry some of you have stooped so low as to your personal integrity and your character. You throw them out the window because you want to continue with your political career. Run on your record. If you’ve done a good job, run on your record.”
San Miguel began his sales pitch for the shed to be named Kataleya’s Fun Zone by calling her aunt Priscilla Treviño Villarreal to the podium. Treviño Villarreal spoke in English void of her trademark V-word on Facebook. Her devotees may have had to rush to Google to find the meaning of the word “plethora” that she used in her part of the public exchange/transaction with San Miguel.
The harder San Miguel pitched his see-through Machiavellian scheme, the more red-faced he became, the huckster in him rising to full tap dancing mode.
District IV Council member Albert Torres, who sometimes offers a first impression that he knows right from wrong, asked if the City Council-appointed Naming Commission should not have a voice in the name on the toy shed. That first impression is a ruse, however, because as soon as Torres’ political anemometer reads wind speed and direction, he races to his safe place, the clammy open arms of his four bretheren who with him constitute the Council’s gang of five.
BRICKS FOR SALE FOR THE OTHER DEAD CHILDREN
Scampering to keep the discussion alive, San Miguel spoke of memorial bricks parents could buy in the name of their dead child, bricks to be placed around the Kataleya’s Fun Zone toy shed. When he felt the general disgust of those in the audience, the discussion morphed to free bricks from his district priority funds.
Both Council members Altgelt and Vielma began their remarks with condolences to Treviño Villarreal for the loss of her niece.
Altgelt said, “Some in public comments said this might be politically motivated, and I was hoping that to rebut that you might say how about we follow Council member Torres suggestion that it go to the Naming Commission. I like the idea for maybe a name that would honor all the babies that have gone before their time,” to which Treviño Villarreal replied, “Well, that’s why he mentioned the bricks, the thing about the bricks. Each parent….I know what it is to lose a child, and since a lot of people on my Facebook page know who my niece was, my 90,000 followers followed me every time I would go live. It’s not about me, it’s about her. Like I said, I came to you as Priscilla Treviño, not La Gordiloca. I mean, people can have their opinion about what I say on social media, what not. I come to you as a citizen, not a social media page. So, I mean, Kataleya’s Fun Zone is what I like. I told Mr. San Miguel I would prefer it to be in the park where we grew up, where we knew everybody. It’s not the only thing. I have done so much for the community, so much for the kids. This year would be the eighth year I take gifts to the kids at Bethany House. Every year Mr. Alex Perez knows about it. He’s helped me out, and Mr. Balli as well. There’s more than a hundred things I have done for my community. Also Wimberley, Arlington, and Corpus Christi. I mean, I’ve done so much that gets unrecognized, and people don’t know about these things, and I’m talking about before I became La Gordiloca. Like I said, it’s not about me,” she said about herself.
Altgelt interjected, “I thought maybe you’d consider all the other babies.”
She said, “We are. With the blocks, the bricks.” Treviño Villarreal, like a shopper who’d found a deal at the quid pro quo outlet store, wasn’t about to water down San Miguel’s promise.
Council member Vielma suggested the matter be referred to the Naming Commission “to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” She said, “We heard from several comments today, about four or five people in public comments, and I think since there were comments about whether this is political or not, whether or not you are running for office. To avoid that from this beautiful project you’ve come to us with, I would also echo that we remove the name and to have it for all the little angels because we don’t want it to be cast aside. We want to honor all the kids that shouldn’t have died before their time.”
San Miguel retorted, “Well, we’re doing that!”
“It’s singling out her niece’s name,” Vielma countered.
District VIII Council member Roberto Balli, who has a knack for sniffing out an opportunity, even one composting in the wormy, fetid loam of Laredo politics, offered the Council and a greater Laredo of disgusted taxpayers a plethora (there’s that word again!) of his views. He said that the naming was not for a facility. “It’s a small kiosk. I don’t think we need to go to the Naming Commission,” he said, calling San Miguel’s chanchullo “a noble thing.” Balli said naming it for the deceased child was far better than “naming it for a dead politician,” though no one had mentioned a dead politician’s name as a choice for a toy shed.
And speaking of naming rights, Charlie San Miguel will be remembered for naming the North Central Park pool for his parents (I’m sure they voted for him), and now the Fun Zone shed in NCP (unknown whether those 90,000 FB followers are bona fide voters.)
He will be remembered, too, for his penchant to try to fill in the precious green spaces of North Central Park with things that don’t belong in a park, like the Veterans Museum (that cost him a few votes); and for supporting developers over the environment when the Monaco Subdivision developers and engineers ripped a gash through the Shiloh Trails.
(DISCLAIMER: The author of this sidebar is City Council member George Altgelt’s mother.)
After Monday’s City Council meeting, the Gordiloca was poised to lob lodo at District VII Council member George Altgelt.
She alleged on her Facebook page that he “purchased a Polaris with taxpayer money and keeps it hidden somewhere. Why (sic) you carry the key on your personal key chain??”
Altgelt, who for the past year has physically worked on a cycling, walking, and birding trail adjacent to the Max Municipal Golf Course with City crews and trail consultant Ryan Spates of Austin, has used a UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) in the course of surveying, planning, and clearing trails.
The City Utilities Department purchased the UTV in 2016. “It is purposed for work on the trail and is parked at the Max. The City Parks and Leisure Department has ordered numerous accompanying brush clearing tools, as recommended by Mr. Spates,” Altgelt said.
The Councilman said that since construction commenced on Phase One of the trails, the UTV has been used to remove accumulated trash from the river vega and other hard to get to places, as well as to pull out golf carts that have rolled off into the different hazards at the Max. He said one of the most valuable features of the UTV is its ability to shuttle tools and people back and forth to the worksites.
Altgelt said he and City staff have used the UTV for the annual Father McNaboe Park Cleanup and Fall Festival. “It is an indispensable piece of equipment for the enhancement of District VII. It is not a sport or recreational four-wheeler,” he said.
Altgelt said that although the Max remains an ongoing fiscal concern for the City of Laredo — to the tune of about $650K annually to maintain and operate — it has the potential to be a venue for other outdoor activities.
In 2017, Altgelt brought forward an agenda item that Council approved, for Request for Qualifications for an engineer/consultant to design a canoe/kayak put-in and take-out to further enhance outdoor recreational activities at the Max.
“I began the slow process of master planning the Max to make it profitable so that it would not burden the City budget any more than minimally necessary,” Altgelt said, adding, “As the concepts of multi-use hike/bike/birding and equestrian trails began to develop, members of the City’s Park’s staff and I attended a trail-building workshop. It was determined early on that the City possessed neither the necessary equipment nor the adequately trained personnel, and so a trail consultant was hired to survey, train, and assist with the building of the first phase of the Max multi-use trail. Proper equipment to get the job done was ordered.”
He said that the clubhouse at the Max will be the start and end of all adventures to check people in and out for safety purposes and to take advantage of the great restaurant and other facilities.
No good deed goes unpunished
“During the construction of Phase One of the trail, I came out of the brush at the 18th Hole covered in sweat, dust, and debris to find Council member Vidal Rodriguez cologned and dressed in full golfing regalia putting in his last shot of the morning along with several of his friends — all who golf for free since its one of the perks of a City official.
Rodriguez jokingly inquired, ‘que andas haciendo?’” Altgelt recalled.
“Soon after that Council member Charlie San Miguel asked to borrow the UTV for use in the WBCA Parade. I told him the UTV was for work purposes and that the keys were locked up. I advised him to ask Council member Alex Perez to borrow the UTV that is assigned for his use at Slaughter Park. Mr. San Miguel instead chose to use a Jeep with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted to it,” he said.
San Miguel would ask Altgelt again to borrow the UTV for his annual Kite Festival, and he got the same answer. San Miguel has since ordered an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) with City funds for his remaining six months in office.
According to Altgelt, “The District VII UTV was never an issue until Council member Rodriguez laid eyes on it, San Miguel wanted to use it, I said no, and I called them both out on Frontera Radio on their voting records for trying to change the voting date to make City elections less democratic, making it exponentially more difficult to recall a City Council member, voting against Council member Rodriguez’s removal for having been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, and San Miguel’s assault on our parks, among numerous other things.”
The District VII Council member said that La Gordiloca’s account of the keys to the UTV clearly reveals her source of misinformation and that her Facebook post is in direct response to the public outcry regarding San Miguel’s quid pro quo exchange with her.
“The District VII UTV remains stationed at the Max and has never been utilized for personal use. Nor has it as never left the city’s possession. It is a quality product that will remain in service of expanding the City’s trail system for years and years to come,” Altgelt affirmed.