The fate of a cite-and-release ordinance could be affected by the recent resignation of Place 5 City Council member Jocabed “Joca” Marquez.
Marquez, who was elected in December of 2018 to serve a three-year term and sat on the Criminal Justice Reform Committee, had been a primary supporter of the ordinance, scheduled for a vote April 7.
March 9, Marquez submitted a letter of resignation to the city clerk, citing new employment plans that would require her to move out of San Marcos. Marquez said she wished to prioritize the emotional well-being of her daughter.
In the letter, Marquez stated: “Depending on my availability, I may elect to continue performing the duties of my office as a council member between today’s date and the canvassing of the votes for the May 2 special election.”
After the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the council voted to postpone the May 2 special election and is expected to reschedule the election for a later date. Marquez was not present during the March 31 city council meeting.
The ordinance, pushed by local grassroots organization Mano Amiga, is supported by groups like MOVE Texas, Texas Rising, Latinas Unidas, RFK Young Leaders, Black Women United and Texas State’s NAACP chapter.
The ordinance seeks to guide San Marcos Police Department officers’ discretion, allowing them to issue citations for class C misdemeanors and some cases of class A and class B misdemeanors instead of making an arrest. If passed, it will be the first cite-and-release ordinance in the state of Texas.
As per any ordinance, the reform will need to be voted on twice in two separate city council meetings. A major concern is whether Marquez will be able to attend both votes amid her new work schedule.
During a March 3 discussion of the ordinance, four members of the council stated they supported the then proposed ordinance moving forward as an official ordinance, while Mayor Jane Hughson and council members Ed Mihalkanin and Saul Gonzales had concerns over the specifics of the policy.
Chairman of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee Council Member Mark Rockymoore, and supporter of the ordinance, said Marquez’s exit risks the possibility of the vote being tied.
“We can only trust that she will do her best to be present for the votes,” Rockymoore said. “If she cannot be, then the vote will be tied, given the current stance of individual council members, unless someone changes their position between now and then.”
According to Rockymoore, if the vote is tied, it could delay the ordinance significantly. The council has received criticism from Mano Amiga and other members of the community on the amount of time it has taken for the ordinance to come before the council.
Mano Amiga Policy Director Eric Martinez said he is concerned Marquez’s exit will jeopardize the organization’s yearlong efforts.
“An immediate concern is whether Joca’s abrupt departure will jeopardize a yearlong campaign for a cite-and-release ordinance on behalf of Mano Amiga,” Martinez said. “Now it’s unclear whether we can count on her vote, and there is the serious probability that her vacancy will soon be occupied by someone who does not share our values,” Martinez said.
After the announcement of Marquez’s resignation, San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission Vice-Chair Mark Gleason announced he would be a candidate for Marquez’s vacant seat. Gleason has ran for city council twice where he lost to Marquez in 2018 and to Maxfield Baker in 2019.
If enacted, San Marcos would be the first city in Texas to adopt a cite-and-release ordinance. According to Gleason, he is not sure whether San Marcos is ready to be the first, also arguing the ordinance would be too limiting of officer discretion.
“This has been state law since 2007, that we can do cite-and-release. No city in the state of Texas has an ordinance requiring it but I don’t know if we’re ready to be that first one. I think it really does bind (San Marcos Police Department’s) hands,” Gleason said.
City council is expected to have its first of two readings of the cite-and-release ordinance April 7 during a virtual meeting at their regularly scheduled time.