FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2013
Contact: Jerad Najvar, 281-684-1227
Friday Court Hearing Pivotal in
City of Hidalgo’s Liberation From Power Broker Rudy Franz
HIDALGO, TX. – Today a Hidalgo County district court will hold a hearing that will effectively determine whether long-time power broker Rodolfo “Rudy” Franz may maintain his monopoly on bus transportation from the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge into McAllen. Franz is not only the captain of the “Concerned Citizens of Hidalgo,” or “Red Team,” which has controlled city policy through systematic intimidation for decades, but also currently sits on City Council. He has sued his own City, two fellow councilmembers, and a rival transportation company to protect his own business interests from legitimate competition.
While the immediate issue before the court concerns a city permit granted to S to N Transport, a bus company now competing with Franz for business, a ruling against Franz has the potential to send ripples throughout the entire Rio Grande Valley, where similar systems of machine politics, perpetuated by official harassment of political opponents, is commonplace.
For more than a decade, Franz’s company STS Transportation has been the only bus company permitted by the City of Hidalgo. Franz also owns 7 of the 14 city issued Hidalgo taxi permits, and until June of this year Franz and his wife owned the only towing companies approved for the Police Department’s non-consent towing rotation. However, after a five-year effort, on September 23, 2013, S to N Transport finally secured the City Council’s approval to provide bus services. This contested vote represented a major victory against Franz’s political machine for a city accustomed to official reprisals for anyone who challenged its authority.
S to N did not get to this point without a fight. Councilman Franz first sued two political rivals on the City Council, Guillermo Ramirez and Gustavo Sanchez, alleging “political retaliation” and seeking an injunction to prevent them from voting on the permit. Franz was initially granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) on August 12, but when that case was removed to federal court and the order expired, Franz filed another lawsuit—this time adding the City itself as a defendant—and secured another TRO.
After retaining Najvar Law Firm, a political and constitutional law firm based in Houston, Ramirez and Sanchez persuaded the judge that no court may enjoin members of city council from voting on legislation, the job for which they were elected. See Editorial, “Judicial restraint” (The Monitor, Sept. 10, 2013). This ruling finally allowed a vote in City Council, which approved the permit September 23.
On September 24th, 2013, the day after the approval, Franz filed another request for an injunction to prohibit S to N from operating under the newly-approved permit. Still lacking any basis in the law, the court granted this third TRO on September 24, further delaying competition in the bus market until a hearing on Franz’s injunction request. That hearing is now set for Friday, November 1. In the meantime, S to N finally began operating this week, since the TRO expired October 25. Friday’s hearing will determine whether S to N will be enjoined from operating until this case is resolved. Franz’s obvious goal is to enjoin S to N until Hidalgo’s May elections, when he hopes to reassert Red Team control.
This case presents an opportunity for the Hidalgo County District Court to restore the rule of law to Hidalgo infighting and achieve justice for S to N Transport, which has complied with all legal requirements and is finally providing riders boarding at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge with a choice of bus companies.
But this case is important beyond the concerns of the immediate parties. Franz’s Red Team operates in Hidalgo much the way political machines operate in other towns throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Most commonly, through their political control of city councils and various government-entity employers, these political machines punish opponents by pulling strings to affect adverse employment actions. A few examples from Hidalgo:
- After former Hidalgo Police Chief Vernon Rosser recommended the approval of three vehicle-for-hire permits in February 2012, which the Red Team-controlled city council rejected, Franz nonetheless retaliated by personally orchestrating Rosser’s exit from office. See Dave Hendricks, “Hidalgo power broker forces out longtime police chief” (The Monitor, May 14, 2012).
- Councilman Gustavo Sanchez, who also serves as the popular boys’ basketball coach at Hidalgo ISD, was demoted to elementary gym teacher without explanation in May. Sanchez had publicly opposed the Red Team in school board elections that month, and although the Red Team lost control, the outgoing school board executed Sanchez’s demotion on its last day in control. See Dave Hendricks, “Hidalgo school district demotes basketball coach without explanation” (The Monitor, May 22, 2013). Understanding the system he is fighting, Sanchez was unfazed, and an investigation by an interim Superintendent—not under the thumb of Rudy Franz—found no justification for the demotion and restored Sanchez to his position.
- Councilman Guillermo Ramirez suffered a similar reprisal in 2011 after he opposed Rudy Franz’s political team in a city bond election. Since Franz’s Red Team held tight control over the school board at that time, Ramirez was reassigned, with a reduction in salary, without explanation.
These are just a few representative examples of how these machines coerce voters and maintain their illegitimate grip on power. Despite the adversity they have faced throughout this process, Ramirez and Sanchez have stood their ground in making decisions in the best interest of the city, and S to N has remained persistent. But political retaliation is not just directed at councilmembers and other high officials; these machines also intimidate ordinary school district employees. How many others have had their livelihoods threatened by Rudy Franz and his allies over the last few decades, but have been fearful of speaking up?
A victory for S to N tomorrow will send a strong message throughout the Valley, where scores of towns and cities have their own Rudy Franz dictating policy and harassing residents, that business as usual can change.
Details for Friday, Nov. 1 hearing:
Judge Mario Ramirez Juvenile Justice Center
1001 N. Doolittle Rd.
Edinburg, TX 78540
Court coordinator: Regina Moreno
Defendants’ attorney will be available for media inquiries following the hearing. The case is Palmas, et al. v. Sanchez, et al., No. C-4917-13-K, in the 449th Dist. Ct. of Hidalgo County.
Jerad Najvar practices political and appellate law and is founder of the Najvar Law Firm in Houston. He represents Councilmember Guillermo Ramirez, Councilmember Gustavo Sanchez, and Juan Munoz, owner of S to N Transport, defendants in the Palmas case.