Zapata County Commissioners Court Apologizes For Large Self Pay Raise | October 10, 2021

During the Commissioners Court meeting on Friday, October 08, 2021, the topic of a substantial salary increase that was previously voted on by Zapata County Commissioners without the knowledge of the County Judge was brought up and petitioned by the citizens of Zapata, Texas. 

The topic was first brought up by Precinct 3 Commissioner, Joey Solis: “Since the last budget meeting, I have talked to many constituents regarding the commissioner position salary increase.  Although we can no longer amend the budget, and I voted in favor of the raise, I also decided to sign the affidavit to reduce my salary to what it was back in 2020 to $41,676, so I want to thank everybody for being out here so just for the record, I will be signing the affidavit.” 

Precinct 2 Commissioner Olga Elizondo directly responded by saying “Same here, commissioner, I will be doing the same thing.”

Precinct 1, Commissioner Paco Mendoza stated “Now that we know that there are so many of you that are against this and it was perhaps an irresponsible decision on our part, we are here to make things right.  So I too will also reject my salary increase for this budget.” 

Precinct 4 Commissioner Norberto Garza said “I will do the same thing Judge, I will sign the affidavit… I will do whatever it takes.”  Judge Joe Rathmell responded by saying “All Commissioners Court including myself will be at our current 2020 salaries and applaud the Commissioners for reconsidering.”

County Judge Joe Rathmell:  I want to make sure that I was part of the record.  I know initially I said I was not going to accept it.  You know, unfortunately, the budget was filed prematurely.  I had a medical trip that I had to take my wife to and in the interim; the auditor’s office filed the budget without my affidavit and without my signature which upset me considerably… But I included an item to make sure that the public knows that for the record my affidavit will be in the minutes because it’s not included in the budget which is not correct.

Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque:  “As an elected official, I as well will sign the petition.  I feel that my guys work their butts off and our main priority is security and safety of our citizens.  Whatever my guys receive as raises, I’m happy, but I do think that all of them should get an equal raise including the deputies and my brass.  Because, believe it or not, we are out there 24/7 and I am going to put it up to the court, but for me, I am going to work along-side them.  And in my office, we are all equal so I’m going to leave it up to you guys to do the equal raise for my guys, but I will sign the affidavit and will still be protecting Zapata County to the best of my ability.”

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Public Comments:

Alicia Garcia Richards:   “I do want to say thank you to each and every one of you for doing what the responsible thing is for the county.  And I want all of you to know that I personally feel you’re very deserving of it.  I know all of you work really really hard.  The issue is the financial condition of the county.  I’ve lived here all of my life growing up and oil and gas is a primary industry here and unfortunately the last few years we’ve seen what’s happened.  And deficit budgets and we are all living through pretty hard times and I know it’s hard for y’all individually too to not be able to take the raise so I appreciate what you are doing for the county… There has been some complacency on the taxpayer’s parts and we just need to be a little bit more diligent with what’s going on in the county and here at the court.  And I think what happened here is that a lot of constituents were unaware of the raise going on… I know there are a lot of people that might have wanted to be here but they are at work and are unable to make meetings so I’d suggest that If possible, that when discussing items as important as the budget and has such a great effect on taxpayers.  That perhaps if you could have a second public hearing after hours at 5 or 5:30.. I think that would be helpful because there are people here that care and are concerned, but they can’t be here at 9 o’clock in the morning.”

Juan Garza:  “A lot of people around here in this small community are asking themselves:  Who gave you all the right to raise your own [salaries] such a high percentage?  I’m not disagreeing with y’all to have a raise, what I am disagreeing is the percentage that you all gave to yourselves which is way too high.  That is almost 25% of your regular salary… that’s too much money, especially in the times of the situation as right now… A lot of retired folks… 20 or 30 years ago… they’re not here anymore… There’s nobody playing golf anymore, there’s no retired people anymore here… The lake is empty; we don’t have any more tourists.  The motels that we have built… they’re empty also.  So you see there’s no revenue coming in to this community… “

Steve Sanchez:  “Why do you all have such a high opinion of yourselves?  Don’t you have any common sense?  How can you expect to have an increase in salary when you all have provided…nothing to increase or provide Zapata with a good environment.  Since 1995 I’ve seen less services and more increase on you all’s [salaries]…   You do not have a little bit of decency for hard working people, you don’t speak out for them, you don’t help them… Use common sense please.”

Michael Finger:  “I am pleased that you all rejected the raise in your salary, but if the money had been there, you would have gotten it.  I don’t know of any company that pays their employees [raises] 20% at a time… And you raised the taxes as high as you can without a vote by the people… for the appraisal to increase them… We need to hold you guys accountable for your actions.”

Jennifer Thatcher:  “I know that there were jokes made, we were criticized for voicing our concern that is one thing that I want to address with you.  You know as a voter, I have the right to check you.  I do.  I pay taxes, I vote, we vote you in… But, nobody has justified the salary increases and I would like to hear it from everybody… Why would $50,000 in a community in 2019 where the census said the median income was $33,000?  And you guys were making above that income, $42,000 which is a lot… I hope this is a humbling experience to the commissioners because you know we have several positions coming up for election…”

Sarah Rathmell:  “It’s just so frustrating to sit there and to listen to commissioner Elizondo say: ‘I don’t have a justification, I didn’t listen’.   Commissioner Mendoza say: ‘If only I had known that a twenty percent pay increase was wrong’.   Commissioner Solis say: ‘Well, other people get more and we haven’t had a pay raise in fifteen years.’  So if the average of pay raise for a county of our size is $42,000 and you are at $42,000 for fifteen years, that means that fifteen years ago, you were vastly overpaid.  The position was vastly overpaid…  What happened in this court on that Monday was that you all showed your contempt for every voter in this county.  You thought we weren’t paying attention.  And every other time that you have unjustly, irresponsibly raised salaries twenty percent at one time you have gotten away with it.  And that I hope that you understand that will no longer be the case.  We have a group of committed citizens that will take our county back from these corrupt clowns that sit on the commissioners court. “

The above quoted excerpts were taken from the video streamed live to the Zapata County, Texas YouTube channel in the video titled “Zapata County Commissioners Court – 10/08/2021“.