McALLEN--The city’s new drainage fee, city spending and business relationships were all topics addressed at the candidate forum Thursday evening at the McAllen Public Library auditorium.

Timothy Wilkins, a local business man, Javier Villalobos, an attorney and Dr. Joseph Caporusso are all looking to replace the seat left vacant by now-former city commissioner Richard Cortez.

The forum--organized by Futuro McAllen--was moderated by Mark Hanna, publisher of the Rio Grande Guardian. The panelists were Mitchell Ferman, a reporter with The Monitor, Monica Stewart with Futuro McAllen and Davis Rankin with KURV.

It only took the first question for things to get interesting. In response to the public question, which asked the candidates what qualities make them most qualified to serve in the city commission, Villalobos and Caporusso listed their former jobs and credentials. Wilkins, however, decided to take that time to point out some differences between him and his fellow candidates.

He mentioned how Caporusso is partner of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and said that he’s in support of a health care district (proposition 1), which he said he’s opposed to because it burdens property owners. Caporusso later denied that he was in favor of the proposition.

He also called out Villalobos for taking a job as Donna’s city attorney, at a time when cities in the Valley are competing for traffic in their international bridges. “I am one of the ones that brought that bridge to the City of Donna years ago,” Villalobos later said, in response to Wilkins, adding that it’s a testament to his experience in “the municipal arena.”

“These are things you really need to consider,” Wilkins said. “I have zero conflicts when it comes to the City of McAllen other than I fight property taxes.”

When asked how he would address conflict of interest, Caporusso said the public should trust his judgement as an elected official, pointing out that in his previous position in McAllen ISD school board he’s appropriately addressed conflict of interest concerns.

“I was the first to announce that I’m a proud partner with DHR,” he said. “I am wise enough to recuse myself and make the right decision no matter what the cause.”

The City of McAllen recently added a $1.50/month drainage utility fee. The fee, which will be implemented as of March 15, comes after the city has lost a significant amount of money from their general fund after a decrease in sales tax revenue.

“We have needs here in McAllen,” Caporusso said. “Unfortunately the current budgets don’t supply enough money for those needs.”

Villalobos also stated that in the city’s current situation, he would have also supported the drainage fee. Wilkins was not directly asked for his views on the drainage fee.

However, Wilkins was vocal on how he felt McAllen should negotiate with investors. He said that often when outside companies look for where to establish in the Valley, they compare bids among the surrounding cities. He suggests an application fee would be a good way to make sure they “have some skin in the game” before they go off and make deals with other cities.

He suggests the city invest in a grant fund to support “local ‘mom and pop’ shops, instead of people from out of town.” Wilkins is also the owner of Sofie’s ‘SS’ Saloon in south McAllen.

Wilkins later illustrated McAllen’s growth with a doughnut. In which the center is empty and all the attention is on the outside, implying that all of the growth is in the surrounding areas.

After several questions about voter apathy, all candidates agreed that more should be done to increase voter turnout in McAllen, and the region as a whole.

The forum, like mosts of their events, was live streamed on Futuro McAllen’s Facebook page. Early voting began Jan 3 and voting will be open--with the new voting machines--until Jan 20.