Three weeks ago one Texas town became a national laughingstock. Crystal City was raided by the FBI for alleged corruption within the city’s top officials. The city manager, the mayor, the mayor pro-tem and almost every single member of the city council was indicted.
Now, the media circus has left town. But the question remains: who’s in charge?
The rural city has roughly 7,000 residents, with a median income of $24,500. Unemployment is nearly at 12 percent. Its schools are on the brink of being decertified. How can a town keep functioning when most of its officials are under federal indictment?
The Standard called up the one person who didn’t get indicted out of the blue, to get some answers. We didn’t wake up Joel Barajas, but Barajas is busy. It sounds like he’s driving somewhere. Brown says he can hear the bell that reminds passengers to wear their seatbelt.
“According to the way things are now, the mayor resigned last week, but he’s still um – even though he resigned he’s still, he’s still the mayor,” Barajas says.
So the city has a mayor, but technically it doesn’t have a mayor.
Barajas says he wouldn’t say he’s the highest-ranking elected official in Crystal City right now.
“I’m saying we don’t know where we all stand,” he says. “We are going on as a community. We’re taking care of things that need to be done, that need to be addressed and get done. (We) can’t make any decisions on new projects and that nature, but pretty much everything else – we are running smooth and taking care of the local and a daily basis of city business.”
But there were reports about the tap water running black. Some of the pictures made it look like it was black as oil.
“That was already taken care of, thank God,” Barajas says. “We got some samples they sent to the state, they sent (them) back and found everything was fine.”
Not everything’s “fine,” though. There is still the issue of all those indicted city officials whose positions have to be filled.
“The mayor pro-tem, he yesterday talked to a city clerk and he wanted to have that meeting,” Barajas says. “I’ve been wanting to have that meeting all this time.”
But the mayor pro-tem had also been indicted.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Barajas says. “So his role as a city council member he’s at this time … still in office.”
In order to dismiss the indicted officials, the city council would have to have a quorum. But to get a quorum, they’d need the indicted officials.
“As a person, I feel that that they should resign and they should have no authority,” Barajas says. “But we do have to have one more meeting so we can discuss the issues that we need to discuss like … the vacancy of (mayor).”
The city council also needs to vote to have an election on the May ballot for a new mayor. There’s also the matter of appointing an interim administrator for the city.
Crystal City shouldn’t expect anything from the state. For as long as most officials can remember, there’s never been anything like a Crystal City-style meltdown. As most state lawmakers will readily admit, in a state that sometimes legislates by crisis, there’s never been a reason for the state to create the kind of mechanism which could right a city so wronged.
For now, the lone un-indicted councilman of Crystal City, Texas, Joel Barajas, says the city is just doing everything they can at this time.