By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Plenty can happen in a week.
Since my last entry, officials from the City of Rio Hondo have been more forthcoming concerning Place 5 Commissioner Joseph “Joe” Lopez’ domestic violence charge. City Administrator Ben Medina went from scolding a News reporter for inquiring about the matter to not just cooperating with local media but providing us with a comment, as well as satisfying our public records requests.
After expressing my dissatisfaction of the treatment we incurred last week, it’s only fair that I use the same space where I made my criticisms known to offer praise of Medina’s handling of the matter. I realize Lopez’ charge is a sensitive issue for the City, especially since the municipality’s police department was the agency that responded to the initial call, and I therefore acknowledge a predisposition to practice caution in such matters.
However, instances such as the scolding remarks Medina made to our reporter can be avoided through reasonable cooperation with the media. I’m optimistic that Rio Hondo City leaders understand this, and I’m equally hopeful that they’ll trade secrecy for transparency. Here’s to hope.
In other news, there’s something that City of San Benito officials can learn from the approach their counterparts in Rio Hondo adopted when fielding media inquiries about a controversial matter. To put it bluntly, San Benito leaders have slowly regressed from candid to clandestine when faced with questions about the problems experienced at Water Treatment Plant No. 2.
To recap, Plant No. 2 was long-promised to be the City’s answer to growing water consumption needs. Priced at $17 million, the plant was proposed as part of a $32 million water/wastewater improvement project – this deemed necessary as per a state mandate.
It was a bit pricey, granted, but we were told that increased water rates would help pay for what was touted as a state-of-the-art facility with bells and whistles (i.e. solar panels). But at $17 million, it better work.
Well, Water Treatment Plant No. 1, as we have come to find out over time, not only continues to operate at either full or near-full capacity but has had to relieve the newer, multi-million dollar facility on several occasions. The instances which Plant No. 2 was rendered inoperable included a lightning strike in recent years and the current membrane malfunction.
Why is this of any significance? Rewind to about 2002 or 2003, when the community was told by City officials that Plant No. 1 was antiquated and would eventually be incapable of servicing San Benito. Much of this was based on projections that San Benito’s population would soon boom, and water consumption would therefore increase.
The only problem is that none of this really happened the way the City had explained.
U.S. Census data shows that San Benito has only seen a minimal increase in population, and Plant No. 2 – for all its bells and whistles – could not even withstand the elements because it did not come equipped with a generator. Now that the membrane is experiencing problems, Plant No. 2 is again inoperable, and coming to its rescue is the facility that was supposed to be incapable of treating and providing water to the city.
I’m not necessarily saying that City officials lied to the community, but it’s safe to say that they were wrong about many things those 11 or 12 years ago.
Enter the current administration and elected officials, who have inherited this mess for better or worse. Still, like the situation in Rio Hondo, I acknowledge San Benito City officials’ predisposition to practice caution on this matter. However, and like the situation in Rio Hondo, reasonable cooperation with the media will serve San Benito far better than the alternative: leaving the public to make its own determinations in the absence of official response.
And yes, like the situation in Rio Hondo, I’m hopeful that San Benito City leaders will also trade secrecy for transparency. Here’s to hope indeed.