Resignation became effective Saturday

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

Following months of controversy, Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez officially resigned from office Friday.

Saenz-Lopez submitted her letter of resignation to the city administration late Friday evening, and the resignation became effective Saturday at midnight.

In a letter addressed "To my fellow citizens," Saenz-Lopez thanked the residents of Alice for their support of her over the years.

"I am proud to have met so many wonderful people and to have worked with so many dedicated employees," Saenz-Lopez wrote. "I am most proud, however, to have served the greatest citizens in the world; the citizens of Alice."

Saenz-Lopez said she took her leadership role seriously, and listed accomplishments including the passage of a $9.6 million bond for water and wastewater infrastructure, lowering taxes and building economic development.

Saenz-Lopez also directly addressed the criticism she has received over the Puddles/Panchito controversy, and spoke of a court hearing on the issue scheduled for Monday.

"I know these past few weeks have been difficult for all of us, including my husband, my sister, and the Gutierrez family as well. On Monday the courts will decide the fate of Panchito," Saenz-Lopez wrote. "I do not know what they will decide, but I can tell you that I did at the time what I thought was best for Panchito and what I felt was right in my heart."

Saenz-Lopez said she was resigning to save the taxpayers the burden of a recall election, which would have been held within the next two months.

"The expense and discord of a special election would go against everything I have fought for as your mayor," Saenz-Lopez wrote.

She also apologized for the negative attention her ongoing legal battle with the Gutierrez family has brought to the community, and asked that citizens continue to support city employees and the city manager.

"I am sorry for the division that the events of these last few weeks have caused. It was never my intent to bring any negative exposure to our city," Saenz-Lopez wrote. "God bless you, and remember Alice is Buena Gente."

The Alice City Council unanimously requested the mayor's resignation on Jan. 21, and members praised the mayor's decision to step down.

"My concern has been with the residents of Alice, and with the mayor's resignation I believe she feels the same way. I believe in her heart, her thoughts were in the citizens' best interests," Mayor pro-tem Juan Rodriguez said. "She served her city well for a long time, and she did the responsible thing, I think."

With the mayor's resignation, Rodriguez said he will serve in her place.

"Now we need to move forward and take on the challenges and responsibilities that lie ahead," Rodriguez said. "I'll step up to my responsibilities as the mayor for the time being, until the council feels it's time to call a special meeting to formally appoint a mayor."

Council member Shane Valverde was also supportive of the mayor's decision to resign Friday.

"I wish her the best in her future endeavors," Valverde said. "I think this is the best thing for the city, so that we can start moving forward and bringing closure to all this."

Council member Leo Escobar said he was "relieved" by Saenz-Lopez's decision.

"I'm relieved. I think it was the right thing to do on her part," Escobar said.

City Attorney Joe Torres said Friday the city charter has two apparently conflicting instructions of what action is to be taken in the absence of a mayor. Section 17 of the charter states that in the event of the mayor's resignation, the mayor pro-tem becomes the acting mayor, and the council appoints an individual to serve in the vacant council position.

Section 18 of the charter, however, states that in the absence of the mayor or a council member, the remaining council members are to appoint an individual to fill the vacant seat.

Before the mayor's resignation Friday, a special council meeting had been announced for 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the recent submission of a recall petition for the mayor. The recall election will not take place now, Torres said, but the council will address the issue of what action to take next at a future meeting.