There’s a new billboard in the town of Anthony, a big one that pokes hard at the police department. Former Mayor Adrian Baca is behind it, and he’s taking on the police and Anthony’s unelected Town Council.
Towering over the town’s busiest intersection at Doniphan and Franklin, the 44-foot-long billboard resurrects the banner of the Rio Grande Gazette, the weekly newspaper Baca once published, and poses the question, “Is Anthony Texas a Speed Trap?”
That investigative editorial and another hard-hitting piece are posted on the Gazette’s webpage as well as Facebook. Baca also plans to print up paper editions this weekend and send them to 4,000 households in Anthony, Texas, which has an official population of 5,665.
“They have 17 officers, which is ridiculous, and they give tickets all day long,” Baca told El Paso Inc.
Two of the officers serve as resource officers at Anthony schools when they’re in session.
Addressing Anthony Mayor Ben Romero and Police Chief Carlos Enriquez, Baca’s editorial asks them, “Are you aware that some area residents are fearful that the Anthony Police Department will retaliate against them if they question their traffic citations or any other charges your police force files against them?”
The neighboring city of Anthony, New Mexico, has a significantly larger population, 9,337 people, and a smaller 11-officer police force, the editorial notes.
“Excessive enforcement promotes anxiety, uncertainty and inefficiency,” Baca’s editorial states. “We call on the mayor’s office to address our concerns and clarify whether officers are instructed to concentrate on issuing tickets to raise additional revenue.”
Anthony’s new budget, which took effect Oct. 1, projects $400,000 in income from court fines, a 24% increase over last year and the town’s third largest source of income behind property and sales taxes.
The council adopted a $2.7 million budget along with a 5% property tax increase at a 10-minute evening meeting that no one else attended on Sept. 26. Baca also makes an issue of the lack of public participation and elections in Anthony.
El Paso Inc. asked Mayor Romero if Anthony is a speed trap.
“I would ask does Anthony have a speed trap or does Anthony have a speeding problem?” Romero replied.
Anthony may be a small town, he said, but it gets a lot of traffic from New Mexico because people from Berino, Vado and Anthony, New Mexico, use Doniphan Road to reach amenities, jobs and the Interstate 10 access on the Texas side, and they tend to speed in large numbers.
“Sometimes, we just count traffic, and what we find is more than 50% are traveling one to 14 miles an hour over the speed limit,” he said. “I get calls from people complaining about the traffic.
“They’re asking for speed bumps. At one time, people said Anthony was the speed bump capital of the world.”
The town tried speed limit signs coupled with radar devices that told drivers how fast they were driving, but that was no deterrent to speeding, he said.
Chief Enriquez said he has done speed surveys to track how fast the traffic is going on Doniphan.
“The last one I did was in March 2018, and I only clocked people going 10 mph over the limit in an hour span, and I got tired of keeping track because I had 248 vehicles going 10 miles plus over the limit.”
Baca retired from public office in 1985 after one term as an Anthony councilman and four terms as mayor. At 85, he’s not planning to run again, but he would like to.
He’s the town’s biggest property owner and business operator, with three shopping centers in Anthony. He’s always been controversial, and right now, he’s not happy with the police department or Town Hall.
It’s unclear whether he intends to revive the newspaper he ran from 1990 to 2005 or will put it back to sleep after publishing the two or three editions he has planned.
One reason to keep it going, Baca said, would be to stir public interest in Anthony’s government, police department and particularly the town’s elections – the last two of which were canceled for lack of candidates.
Anthony is supposed to conduct elections every May. A mayor and four council members serve staggered two-year terms. Elections are to be held every year with three seats, including the mayor’s, open one year and two up open the next.
But the Anthony Town Council canceled the last two elections because only one person filed to run for council. That was this year when Luis Alfaro filed for the seat of Councilwoman Joanna Rivera, who decided not to run again.
Because he was a qualified candidate with no opponent, Alfaro took office automatically in May without an election. So did Mayor Romero and Councilman Enrique Chavez, neither of whom filed to run for re-election.
First elected in 2016, Romero said he would have been up for re-election in 2018 as a councilman, but didn’t have to run or even to file as a candidate because he didn’t draw an opponent. So he stayed on as a carry-over.
Because no one up for re-election drew an opponent, the Anthony council canceled the 2018 elections.
Council members elected Romero mayor pro tempore, and in January of this year, Mayor Martin Lerma suddenly resigned from office, citing health reasons.
On Feb. 26, after the filing deadline for candidates had passed and the election was canceled, the council officially named Romero as mayor. The council has yet to fill his empty seat on council.
It was the same for Councilmen Enrique Chavez and Alvaro, neither of whom actually filed to run but who will serve their next term as holdovers.
“So as we did in 2018, we did again in 2019 again,” Romero said, noting that the city saved about $10,000 by not holding the election.
That means none of the four members of the Anthony Town Council was elected to the term in office he’s now serving.
“The mayor was elected as councilman in 2016 for two years, and now he’s going to be the mayor till 2021 without an election.” Baca said, “How can he do that?
“They kept the election a secret. They didn’t advertise it. No one knew.”
Baca’s thinking about using his billboard to advertise information about the 2020 election well in advance.
“I think that once we get this going, there will be people coming out of the woodwork to run,” he said. “I’m sure there will be.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.