Kelley Commentary: Is the City-County Relationship in Flames?

John Kelley

Analysis & Commentary
By John Kelley

A number of observers wondered how the relationship between the strong personalities of Mayor Paulette Guajardo and County Judge Barbara Canales was going to mesh. Well first impressions were that they were getting along well but we’ve been given information about where it is today and it seems to be headed in the wrong direction.

Covid Vaccines

Canales seems to be running somewhat roughshod over the City. In a conflict between her and Guajardo over expansion of the vaccine sites throughout the city, Canales ignored City recommendations for additional sites. Guajardo reportedly said there been multiple shouting sessions with Canales over the issue.

Port/County Land & Authority Encroachment

Meanwhile the Port of Corpus Christi has been pushing legislation that would take away regulatory rights and authorityfrom the City. It also would allow the Port to compete in commercial and residential development with the City. When the port pulled back on the effort because of City objections the County filed a bill which would allow the Port to give himdevelopment rights to County property specifically the old county courthouse, land in the SEA District, North Beach and on Mustang Island to the Port. Canales personally pushed the measure which would encroach upon City prerogatives and statutory authority.

North Beach Development

Making the deal smell even worse is the fact that Canales domestic partner, Doug Allison, is both a consulting attorney for the Port and attorney for one of the main developers on North Beach, Lynn Frazier. Canales meanwhile sets on the TIRZ#4 Board for North Beach.

The stage is set for fireworks next Tuesday March 16th at the TIRZ #4 meeting before the regular Council meeting. The recent engineering report on the canal feasibility demonstrated that the project would cost much more than $40 million possibly in the hundreds of millions and face multiple obstacles, none of which Council seemed to have an appetite for. 

Besides Mayor Guajardo and the City Council members that are on the board, there are several community members including former City Councilwoman and County Commissioner Carolyn Vaughn and County judge Barbara Canales. Both have been fierce canal advocates up to this point. In addition canal advocate Carrie Meyer was replaced by the new Council on the board with businessman Ken Berry who is reported to be totally against the canal idea.

Sean Strawbridge

City Council unhappiness with the City’s representatives on the Port Commission as well as a CEO Sean Strawbridge regarding aggressive Port expansion in both their property holdings and authority was clear at their meeting last week before Council. The Port’s moves are supported by Canales even though it has strained City/County relations. Strawbridge’s paternalistic attitude of “I know what’s best for you even though you don’t think so.”, along with City Port Commissioners acquiescence to his strategy has fueled distrust among City Council members.

Who is Mayor?

In unusual departure from tradition, that had to be approved by Guajardo, newly appointed City Port Commissioner RajanAhuja was sworn in by Barbara Canales, County Judge. Ahuja sponsored one of the first fundraising events for Canales in her run for County judge.

What’s more important than your Legislative Agenda?

Further complicating the City’s position with the Legislature,Guajardo had requested and been granted a two hour meeting on the City’s view on pending legislation with State Representative Todd Hunter last Monday. Hunter, Chair of the all-important Redistricting Committee also sits on the International Relations & Economic Development and State Affairs Committees. 

With the Legislature dealing with multiple crises and a frenzy of legislation, extra time is scarce. Yet Guajardo “the full-time Mayor” had her assistant call the morning of the meeting and cancel because she was too busy. I’m sure the Port/County team wasn’t too busy to talk to State Legislators. A phone call to City Manager Peter Zanoni about the City’s lobbying efforts was not returned.

Even though the annual County Budget is only $90 million compared to the City’s of $900 million, so far it looks like the “full time Mayor” may end up being the County Judge’s poodle.

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