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Mayor calls for town hall meeting on Davis memorial

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez proposes a town hall meeting to hear the public’s opinion on the relocation of the Jefferson Davis Highway Memorial during tonight’s City Commission meeting. BRITNEY VALDEZ/THE RIDER PHOTOS

The Brownsville City Commissioners tabled action on the relocation of the Jefferson Davis Highway Memorial after Mayor Tony Martinez proposed a town hall meeting to allow residents to express their opinion.

The proposal was made during tonight’s commission meeting, in which about 100 people attended.

“I just want to have people voice their opinion or voice their views,” Martinez said after the meeting. “Let’s take a look at it. Let’s do something that’s in a positive way.”

The mayor said he did not have a place in mind for the memorial’s relocation.

Antonio Castillo, a high school history teacher, started a petition to relocate the monument, which has more than 5,280 signatures.

Last week, someone defaced the memorial, located in Washington Park, by writing “No Trump,” “No KKK” and “No fascist USA” with red spray paint.

The monument pays tribute to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Ben Neece, District 4 city commissioner, told The Rider he has asked the mayor to put him in charge of the proposed town hall meeting.

Neece echoed the mayor’s statement to allow community members to voice their opinion on the issue.

Asked if he had a relocation spot in mind, Neece replied, “I have been receiving a lot of emails and the majority of them are asking it to be moved to the [Brownsville] Veterans Park because in 1957, all soldiers that fought in the Civil War were given status as U.S. veterans. All of them on both sides.”

Cesar De Leon, city commissioner at-large “A,” (right) apologizes for his comments in a leaked audio recording in which he uses racial slurs against two Cameron County employees. Also shown is Jessica Tetreau, District 2 city commissioner.

Neece clarified he was not making a decision ahead of time, but the biggest input he has received was to relocate the memorial to the Brownsville Veterans Park, which is located at 2500 Central Blvd. 

Similar to Neece’s input, Cesar De Leon, city commissioner at-large “A,” told The Rider he has suggested moving the memorial to the Brownsville Veterans Park.

“What we tabled for is [to have] a town hall meeting, [so] we can get input of the community,” De Leon said. “If you ask me, I think it should be relocated to Veterans Park because all Civil War veterans are veterans of the United States military. It didn’t matter which side they fought for.”

De Leon also provided a message regarding an audio recording in which he uses racial slurs against two Cameron County employees.

“I am deeply regretful for all the statements,” he said. “I am deeply regretful that I hurt so many people. … I am deeply apologetic. It just breaks my heart that this had to happen and I want the community to know that I will keep moving forward and working for this city.”

De Leon also apologized during the city commission meeting.

In spite of De Leon’s apologies, 311 people, including Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz, Sheriff Omar Lucio, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) and state Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-San Benito), signed a petition to have him resign from office, which was published in Sunday’s issue of the Brownsville Herald.

The Citizens Against Voter Abuse organized a protest before the city commission meeting asking for De Leon’s resignation.

Ben Neece, District 4 city commissioner, speaks about the relocation of the Jefferson Davis Memorial during tonight’s meeting. The city commission tabled action on relocating the memorial and proposed a town hall meeting in the near future.

During the city meeting, Neece said he does not believe De Leon is a racist and should not resign. 

Several Brownsville residents addressed the city commission regarding the leaked audio recordings during the public comment period.

Brownsville residents Rene Cardenas, Erasmo Castro and Catalina Presas, a realtor, voiced their opinions regarding the situation.

“Because of the actions of one commissioner, we have federal, state and county leaders releasing statements,” Cardenas said during the meeting.

Castro said he and several residents strongly condemn the statements made by De Leon. He said the commissioner’s comments “in no way reflect the culture and values of the city of Brownsville.”

Presas praised De Leon for taking responsibility on the comments he made.

“It takes a great man of great courage to step up to the plate and to own it, and [De Leon has] done that today,” Presas said.

She said she expects all of the city commissioners to do what is right and move forward.

In other business, the city commission:

–tabled the action to appoint a member to the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. after a 2-2 vote.

–approved receiving the Commission Audit Committee report regarding the operations of the Fire Department and EMS Ambulance Services. Ricardo Longoria, District 1 city commissioner, cast the sole dissenting vote.

–approved a resolution to authorize the filing of an application for financial assistance from the Texas Water Development board for storm water management project improvements.

–awarded a five-year contract to CRI Carr Riggs & Ingram of Brownsville to audit the city’s financial records for Fiscal Years 2017-2021.

–approved the observance of César Chávez Day on April 2, 2018.

–Leslie Medrano and Britney Valdez contributed to this report.

About 100 people attended tonight’s city commission meeting.

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