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Othal E. Brand Jr. confirms run for McAllen mayor

November 24, 2016

McALLEN — Othal E. Brand Jr. announced Wednesday he will run for mayor of McAllen. Brand, son of iconic Mayor Othal E. Brand Sr., said the city is not the same as when he was growing up, and that the city’s current problems are from within.

“The folks on the second and third floors downtown,” Brand said at a brief news conference Wednesday at his North 23rd Street office, referring to the city staffers who work in City Hall in downtown McAllen as the problem.

Brand, who simultaneously serves as general manager and board president of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District 3, is the first person to announce for mayor. However, as of Wednesday, no one had filed campaign treasurer paperwork yet with the city, the first formal step towards running. The deadline to file to run will likely be late January or early February, depending on when the commission sets a definitive deadline.

Current Mayor Jim Darling plans to run for re-election, which is on May 6. Darling will have a re-election campaign kickoff in January. Three commission spots will also be up in May’s election: District 1 Commissioner Richard Cortez, District 2 Commissioner Trey Pebley and District 3 Commissioner Hilda Salinas. None of the three commissioners have yet announced whether or not they are running for re-election.

During a two-minute announcement Wednesday, followed by a roughly eight-minute question-and-answer session, Brand said he’ll focus on accountability and transparency, something he thinks the city has lacked. When asked for specifics, he said he has a long list that he’ll gladly share one day. However, he cited the 2015 holiday parade and the city not releasing how much it paid singer Enrique Iglesias. The city did not release the figures because of a confidentiality clause in the contract.

This led to state Rep. Terry Canales recently announcing a bill for the upcoming 2017 legislative session to strengthen the state’s public information law by prohibiting any person or governmental body to enter into a contract that would prohibit the disclosure of expenditures for an event paid in part or in full with taxpayer money.

Though this bill was spawned from the 2015 parade, Canales has often praised the city of McAllen for being a champion of transparency.

Without mentioning her by name or the specifics of the situation, Brand brought up the city’s handling of former City Auditor Cathy Jones, which resulted in Jones suing the city in September 2015 and Jones and the city entering into a $137,000 settlement in May.

In February, the city commission voted to amend the ordinance as to the scope of duties of the city auditor. Commissioner John Ingram was the sole opponent of the ordinance, which now states that the auditor must earn approval from the audit committee. This could limit free reign as to what the city auditor investigates. Ingram said this would not hold government accountable.

Ingram was suspicious about a crossed out section of the ordinance, which current City Auditor Abraham Suarez was proposing to be removed.

“The working papers are to be kept confidential in conformance with industry practice and only released by order of the audit committee, board of commissioners, mayor, or court with proper jurisdiction,” the crossed out section read in part.

Ingram questioned its existence of that part of the ordinance. He said he has a copy of the exact same ordinance from June 2014, where those lines are not found.

“I don’t think citizens should trust government,” Ingram said after the Feb. 22 meeting. “I don’t think we should be trusted at all. I think we should be held accountable by an independent internal auditor. If I were a voter, I wouldn’t trust me. I wouldn’t trust anybody on this commission.”

While Brand didn’t go into detail about this or the parade, he said he will eventually go into detail about how he intends to be transparent and how the city should be held accountable. Brand plans to “spend the amount of money necessary” on his campaign. He said it will depend on whoever else is running against him, but that he will run “just as hard and harder.”

Brand said that he knows the community because other than a brief year-and-a-half period, he’s lived here his entire life. When asked about Darling, he mentioned how his father hired Darling to be city attorney in 1978. Brand embraced his father’s longtime presence here.

“I can’t say how it sways for or against me — I don’t have a clue,” Brand said about his father’s legacy impacting his chances for mayor. “But they say there’s honor in a good name and I believe my father left me that. And I believe he left McAllen a good name.”

While Brand acknowledged he has plenty of his father’s traits, he said he’s his own person.

But regarding Darling, he said the mayor has done a lot of great things in a lot of areas over the many years he’s been city attorney, then commissioner, now mayor. But Brand said his running for mayor says plenty about where he thinks the city is and where it’s heading.

With the holiday season coming up, Brand plans to ramp up his campaigning in January.

mferman@themonitor.com