Victoria city attorney's comments under scrutiny (Video)

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

June 4, 2013 at 1:04 a.m.
Updated June 5, 2013 at 1:05 a.m.

Several residents are asking the Victoria city attorney for an explanation about a comment he made that they consider racist.

Mary Lou Canales was the first to bring the comment up during Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

She is concerned about the words City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz chose May 21 while speaking with former Mayor Will Armstrong. The comment was broadcast on the city's television channel.

"I just need some clarification from the city attorney ... why he said, 'Just be sure to sign it in Spanish,'" Canales asked.

However, Gwosdz did not answer her question Tuesday night.

"Public comment is not a time for members of this council to respond to the public," Gwosdz said. "It's time for the public to share their ideas or statements to the council."

In video footage of the May 21 meeting, while Councilman Jeff Bauknight signed paperwork to take office, Gwosdz and Armstrong were in the back of the frame signing more paperwork to accept the results of the May 11 election.

Gwosdz instructed Armstrong: "Just be sure to sign in Spanish."

"Huh?" Armstrong asked.

"Just be sure to sign it in Spanish," Gwosdz said louder.

"That's Spanish," Armstrong said after signing one document. "And I sign - "

"Here in English," Gwosdz said.

The council is required to sign English and Spanish versions of election ordinances. The ordinances are translated into Spanish by a certified translator with the elections office.

After Tuesday's meeting, Gwosdz said he made the comment in an effort "to add a moment of levity to an overly stressful meeting."

Clara Ramos, a Victoria resident, said she considers the comment racist.

"I find it more as a mocking than anything, like he's mocking the Hispanics," she said. "How does someone sign in Spanish?"

Benny Martinez, the area director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the community will wait for an answer.

He said he would not tolerate racial remarks.

Mayor Paul Polasek said the situation is "unfortunate."

"I think it's been misunderstood," Polasek said. "I don't think there's any intent to be derogatory."

Ramos would not comment whether she had a plan of action to follow up.

Before the council cast its final votes Tuesday on an ordinance to fund the June 15 runoff election, Councilman Emett Alvarez asked whether Gwosdz wrote the Spanish ordinance already.

"I was curious what the citizens had to say about signing in Spanish," Alvarez said. "I don't see Mayor Armstrong's name in Spanish. I don't see what that's all about."



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