CONSIDER THIS: Rio Hondo’s Media Blackout

Managing Editor

Michael Rodriguez

Michael Rodriguez

If Rio Hondo should ever escape the dark cloud of controversy that has long been cast over the sleepy community, it’ll happen because its leaders embraced challenges rather than running from them.

Take, for instance, Rio Hondo City Administrator Ben Medina, who expressed anger Friday when San Benito News staff writer Heather Cathleen Cox called to inquire about whether the domestic violence charge against Place 5 Commissioner Joseph “Joe” Lopez would affect the elected official’s seat on the Commission.

In an irritated and raised voice, Medina scolded our reporter and referred to Lopez’ case as “old news” before declining to make further comment beyond providing general information about the municipality’s operations.

When considering that the News exists to keep the communities within its coverage area informed, Medina – by extension – was short-tempered with the public. So if Medina dismisses the media amidst one of the more controversial stories in the city’s recent history, people will instead interpret such behavior as an act of dismissal of the citizens’ concerns. Such dismissal is grossly misplaced if, after all, it’s the people who pay Mr. Medina’s salary and who are entitled to answers to all which may affect their tax dollars.

Besides, an ongoing criminal case in which a sitting commissioner is a suspect is most certainly not “old news” but continues to be relevant so long as: 1.) The case remains open and a subsequent trial is expected; 2.) There’s question as to how the municipality which said commissioner serves may be affected; and 3.) Said commissioner’s status with the elected body is unclear.

There are also questions as to whether a conflict exists in the influence that Lopez – who is currently being investigated for a crime – wields as a decision-maker for a municipality and its police force. What’s ironic, however, is that if Medina’s treatment of our reporter was designed to discourage us from covering the story – and therefore answering those questions – then not only did his efforts produce the opposite result but they also alerted us to something far more sinister: a government-enforced media blackout.

Too many times have City of Rio Hondo employees, administrators and elected officials dismissed not only our reporters but other journalists in the Rio Grande Valley when faced with tough questions.

Consider the following:

• At one point, we were asked to submit our Freedom of Information Act requests via the mail, which would have considerably slowed the response time that Rio Hondo City officials are required to meet;

• In 2011, Rio Hondo’s then-city administrator, Hipolito Cabrera, refused to speak, meet or even make eye-contact with me despite repeated attempts on my part just to say “Hello” to the man;

• Last year, former Rio Hondo Mayor Alonzo Garza was quoted as saying, “That’s none of your business,” to another newspaper reporter when asked about his tax delinquency, which is everyone’s business;

• Around the same time, Rio Hondo’s then-City Secretary Linda Chullino refused to divulge whether a candidate in the municipal election had withdrawn from the mayoral race – a refusal which served only to stifle freedom of information as opposed to preserving what city secretaries are obligated to safeguard: public record.

Yet many still wonder why voter turnout remains abominably low in a community where its city leaders have created such a disgraceful track record.

If those I mentioned here seek to reverse the city’s stigma, I suggest setting a standard of integrity. Lead by example and I guarantee that people will flock to the polls, but give them a source of shame and you’ll force them into bouts of apathy.


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1 comment

  1. Hear, hear. Rio Hondo officials cited should be ashamed and read up on the Streisand effect.

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