District VI City Council member Charlie San Miguel believes the eight years of his Council tenure, including a year as Mayor Pro Tem, have prepared him well to serve as the City’s mayor.
He will face off in the November 6 General Election with incumbent Mayor Pete Saenz, U.S. Navy veteran Avelino Juarez, former Council member Roque Vela Jr., and political newcomer Randall Walden.
“What I have learned over the years is that a lot of the City’s good works are a result of collaborations between the City and Webb County, the school districts, and federal and state agencies. There is more to offer when we work in unison. A lot of good people make things happen,” he observed.
He characterized the citizenry of Laredo as “a very beautiful people who have a genuine heart. They are from all walks of life and from all economic levels,” he said, adding that he wants better paying jobs for Laredoans and that he feels “a responsibility to make this happen” by bringing more manufacturers “to this side of the border.”
He continued, “We have the talent here that deserves better pay. We are striving to raise the floor to $13 an hour.”
San Miguel said the City could easily build on the multi-million dollar automobile manufacturing trade that crosses into and back out of Mexico. “There could be more assembly done here. Companies that locate here will find an impressive quality of labor and a great work ethic. Much of the work of inviting companies to locate in Laredo will rest on the City’s newly established Economic Development Department. We have to offer incentives to locate here,” he said.
According to San Miguel, the City Council needs to place the City in a position to connect the sports venue tax to a more general use that could yield economic development benefits. “Our use of it is very limited, however, if we position ourselves convert it to a 4A/4B tax , then some monies could be used for other business investments that could draw new business here. Those investments could be land acquisition, utilities infrastructure, educational training through universities to better prepare a workforce. We would need permission from the state to go to a referendum to change the use of the sports venue tax. The referendum is the public’s permission to go forward,” he said.
Despite the failure of the arena and baseball stadium to operate without City subsidies of about $1 million each, San Miguel said he is working toward a new multi-sports complex that will also be funded by the sports venue tax.
“We all pay into it. We need it. Other communities that see the value of tournaments see this as an economic development tool,” he continued.
San Miguel said he did not vote for the baseball stadium now known as Unitrade Stadium. “It was a bad investment, but we are going to make it work by working with the Tecos. We have a performance-based management agreement with them,” he added.
The District VI Council member observed that the role of mayor wields less power than that of a member of the City Council. “But there’s a welcoming aspect to that, too. The main objective will be to get the Council to work together,” he said.
Regarding his affirmative vote to keep Vidal Rodriguez seated as the District II Council member, despite Rodriguez’s conviction for illegally accessing the protected juvenile records of an opponent and then publishing them, San Miguel said that ousting Rodriguez would have left South Laredo without representation. “I also based myself on the opinion of the City’s hired outside counsel, Ryan Henry, that this was not a crime of moral turpitude. That’s why I voted to have him stay,” he offered.
“I’m not perfect. I have many imperfections,” he noted, citing a 2005 arrest for reckless driving when his vehicle went off Country Club Road. “No one was injured. I had to replace a few trees, but that was the extent of it,” he explained.
He said that among his goals, if elected mayor, is to increase communication between the City Council and the public through City Council meetings held two per quarter in different Council districts. “This makes us more accessible and welcoming to the public,” he said.
“In addition to better paying jobs across the community, I want continued transparency in government across the board. You see this now in purchasing, construction, and engineering, which is why the City was awarded the Transparency Star by the State Comptroller. Contractors need to be accountable to the engineering department for work progress and timely completion. We are stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
He said he wanted to break the cycle of poverty by initiating educational programs for young students like San Antonio’s Project Quest. “This volunteer-based after school tutorial effort has had incredible success helping kids with the subject they need to focus on. The rec centers across town are the perfect place for this. The kids work at their subject, finish their homework, and then they get to play,” he said.
He said that initiating work on the Ethics Ordinance five years ago “was one of my proudest moments as a Council member.” He said he had placed it on the agenda to get a update from a committee that had studied the ethics ordinances of other cities.
“None of the committee wanted to delay the creation of an ethics ordinance and its commission. As you can guess, opposition came from then-city manger Carlos Villarreal and his group. It went to referendum, and we moved on it, adopting the ordinance and creating the commission,” he said.
When I met with San Miguel for this interview, we visited at a coffee shop on Saunders that he said was precisely at the crossroads of his youth — where Las Cruces neighborhood meets the Retama.
He was greeted there by a young man who had completed an ACTS retreat, a former police officer, a U.S. letter carrier who had been a lifelong friend, and several patrons of the coffee shop.
“Walkability is not a new issue to me. It’s how we got around the neighborhood and shopped at the corner store,” he reflected.
San Miguel attended public schools and is a 1986 graduate of Nixon High School. He studied at UT-Austin for three years and graduated from UT-San Antonio with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. He also completed a year of medical studies at the Universidad de Monterrey.
He and his wife Gaby have three children — sons Carlos Alberto Jr. and Roberto Carlos, and daughter Mia.
He taught science at Nixon and at Alexander high schools before establishing a home inspection business and a construction company. “We just about lost it all in the 2008 mortgage crisis. It was a humbling, eye-opening experience to lose all we had worked for,” San Miguel said, adding, “It almost cost me my family.”
San Miguel said his is one of the 49 families that helped establish the Catholic parish of San Martin de Porres.
He is president of Archangel Builders, LLC, a fiber optics cable company that services Central and South Texas.
Of the allegation of nepotism lobbed at him for taking a lead in pushing to fruition the Firefighters Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) when his two sons are firefighters, San Miguel countered, “The State Attorney General made it clear that this does not constitute nepotism. More than one Attorney General has issued this opinion, based on the fact that the decision on the firefighters CBA affects a large group of people, in this case 400-plus firefighters.”
He concluded, “Spin can be a great disservice, especially when there is a political agenda. You can spin something to death.”