Chapala Mayor Javier Degollado and a cadre of his department heads received a less than cordial welcome in Santa Cruz de la Soledad when they showed up Wednesday, April 6 to kick off the local government’s new community outreach program.
The initiative called El Presidente en tu Colonia (the Mayor in your Neighborhood) has been designed as a public forum where constituents can make direct contact with the officials who can address public issues and personal grievances that fall within their purview.
The well-intentioned effort back-fired, however, due to a volatile mix of sloppy organization and pent up anger over a host of local problems long ignored by the powers that be.
As the event got under way, Degollado received villagers one-by-one, listening attentively to their concerns and complaints. But as the minutes ticked by and folks noticed there was no apparent order for getting the mayor’s ear, the crowd of nearly 100 villagers became increasingly impatient.
A segment of the group had showed up to express indignation over the mayor’s decision to hand-pick Ema Sandoval as the town’s acting administrator. Waving hand-lettered banners, they began voicing their demand for a public referendum on the matter. Others responded by shouting out words of support for Sandoval. Two women came close to exchanging blows over their opposing views.
Throughout his six months in office, Degollado has consistently dodged questions on if and when his government will allow townspeople to cast ballots on the selection for delegados (administrators). In any case, he insists that it would be up to the city council to ratify or overturn the people’s choice.
The mayor has made it clear that he considers himself to be the ultimate government boss, that department directors are in charge of managing public services in every corner of the municipality and that the delegados are essentially limited to serving as intermediaries between city hall and the people they represent. It is a posture that does not sit well with those used to their town chiefs holding some degree of executive power.
Another issue that cropped in Santa Cruz involves a heated conflict among local ejiditarios over the sale of communal lands to private parties and the involvement of activist Mario Ferrer, who became an advocate for one side while serving as a city hall employee. Degollado ordered his dismissal early this week for poor performance and engaging in a conflict of interests.
A major moment of tension arose when Santa Cruz resident Alvaro Rene García raised his voice concerning a personal beef with the mayor over the rental of his elderly mother’s property. He claimed that he been denied access to eight scheduled appointments to discuss the matter in private.
As tempers flared and the scene turned ugly, a half-dozen police officers moved in on the crowd until public security chief Adán Domínguez stepped in cool down the situation.
All the while, a maintenance crew busily kept up painting and repair tasks at the Delegación office and town square.
A repeat of the program originally scheduled for Ajijic on the following day has now been postponed until next week.