By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Ready or not, change has come to San Benito. It’s evident in new leadership present within every major public institution that serves the city, from municipal government to the school district. Challenges, however, are in overabundance while public distrust and unrest remain prevalent. Such is the case with every community, granted, but how these public servants will bear the city’s burdens may define their tenures for years to come.
Let’s take a look at some of the problems our new leaders currently face at entities that have the largest influence in San Benito.
Mayor Celeste Sanchez, who’s proven to be a mover and a shaker in this the first year of her inaugural term, has already incurred a messy legal battle against several engineering firms and contractors over the city’s problematic Water Treatment Plant No. 2. This is a $17 million facility once hailed as a state-of-the-art game changer in the municipality’s ability to treat and meet increased demand for consumption, and yet the plant sits inoperable due to a membrane malfunction. With lawsuits sure to drag out in the courts, the debacle will be a test of the Madam Mayor’s mettle.
Consider this: Sanchez has the luxury of distancing herself from the plant’s woes since its malfunction occurred prior to her election, yet her history with the facility dates back to pre-construction era – when she served on a steering committee that stressed the need to build a new plant – and can consequently be attached to its headaches. In addition, Sanchez’s multiple terms as City Commissioner spanned the plant’s construction phases and its launch, which could serve as added reason to indefinitely link her to its problems. But know that Sanchez has been vocal in the past with regard to previous concerns – the most notable occasion being a lightning strike that rendered the plant, which had no backup generator installed, temporarily powerless. And there are many who are unaware of how instrumental Sanchez was in the city eventually releasing more details about the situation.
There’s much more to examine, but the aforementioned is enough to surmise that Sanchez is in a unique position in which her public handling of the matter could help or hurt one of two things: her mayoral relevance or the city’s image. This would make any and all decisions that come across her a veritable Sophie’s Choice.
Good luck to you, Mayor Sanchez. Here’s to grace under pressure.
In contrast, Marc Puig’s first days as superintendent of schools for San Benito CISD will be relatively less turbulent being that the new Board of Trustees has not proven as controversial as in years past. Still, there’s plenty Puig can expect on his plate in terms of school district politics. Superintendent Antonio G. Limón, who will be Puig’s predecessor, was a polarizing figure because of his actions and inactions in several cases. I would recommend that the new superintendent research the last 10 years, perhaps 20, of San Benito News stories to bone up. He’ll do himself a great disservice if he decides to consider the staff and trustees’ accounts of the strife and controversy the district experienced; opt instead for an unadulterated narrative sans ulterior motives, which will no doubt be found in anyone with a vested interest to bend Puig’s ear.
Consider this: A community does not simply heal from the blood baths that plagued elections, scandals and highly-publicized arrests of district officials and educators – many of which included alleged crimes of moral turpitude – at the sight of new faces leading the fray. A fray is still a fray, quite obviously. It takes years for those wounds to close, and the citizens will always be the first to remind that they have not forgiven or forgotten. So don’t pander or become an apologist. Just lead. Knowing this, Puig’s aim should not be to win over employees. Care for them, yes. Fight for them, of course. But the education of the city’s children and earning the public trust are what should drive him. Right or wrong, Puig will do well so long as those priorities are fought for with the same fervor that the job, and the people, demands. My best goes to you, Mr. Puig; that you succeed where others failed, and that you do so with humility and resolve in your heart.
For Jacob Lopez, I reserve faith in his ability to helm the editorial department at the News. It’s true that this piece will serve as my penultimate column in a publication that I love. Another opportunity elsewhere has finally pulled me away, but before my final entry is published on Dec. 8, understand that it’s with a heavy heart that I leave. Informing my publisher, a man I consider a mentor, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; but knowing that Jacob is quite capable of filling my shoes is a comfort. To our readers, I ask that you embrace him as he embarks on this new journey, one that I hope will land him the managing editor’s chair. Be to him what you were to me – a guiding light amidst so much darkness in this city.
Consider this: Next week will be my last at this newspaper, but my time here was enough for the News to forever be a part of me, so much that there’s ink running through these veins. As I plan my final days in this newsroom, know that I take with me the spirit of San Benito – a city I’ll always call home.