Hurrah for Herrera!
City Secretary and elections administrator Teresa Herrera gave the Palestine Police Department a civics lesson last week. On Friday, she ordered it to remove a story from the Unidos website that profiled Grizelda Castillo, one of three candidates for the District 4 city council seat.
As a taxpayer-funded group under the police department, Unidos is subject to city campaign regulations. They prohibit city employees or agencies, during work hours, from participating in partisan political activities.
Unidos may – and should – encourage people to vote, but it cannot influence whom they vote for. Every public official should understand the rationale for the rule: A group funded and sponsored by a government that represents, and taxes, all the people must remain neutral.
Police Chief Andy Harvey doesn't seem to get it. In a text message Monday to the Herald-Press, he called the controversy over the Unidos posting “nonsense.” Then he really rambled off the rails, suggesting the people responsible for it were attempting to “diminish the positive work the city is doing in the community.
“The fact that the city finally has a diverse candidate pool is great for our city,” he wrote. “This should be celebrated, not condemned.”
Equating the enforcement, however, of city campaign regulations with condemning a diverse candidate pool is illogical. Who is condemning a diverse candidate pool? Certainly not Herrera. She's a member of Unidos and a leader in the city's growing Hispanic community.
Herrera's principled decision had nothing to do with diminishing the great work Unidos does as a resource center and outreach group. Nor does it detract from the credit Harvey deserves for initiating Unidos in Palestine to improve police-community relations.
Now, Harvey's unreasoned remarks about the Unidos posting could divide the community, as well as raise questions about his judgment. A police chief, more than anyone else, should understand the importance of applying regulations and laws fairly and impartially.
At issue was a March 26 Herald-Press profile of Castillo, “First Latino seeks council seat.” If Unidos had posted a story that profiled all three District 4 candidates – Castillo, incumbent Joe Baxter, and former councilman Joseph Thompson – it would not have violated city policy.
Posting a story and photo only of Castillo, however, suggested the publicly funded and sponsored organization endorsed or favored her.
Palestine is fortunate to have a clerk and elections administrator who understands the city's campaign regulations, and the ethical principles behind them. Last week, she also demonstrated the integrity to apply the rules rigorously and uniformly, even to an organization she strongly supports.
Hurrah for Herrera!