A Rinconvenient Truth
New Municipal Ordinances in Rincón, March 2019
In its latest ordinary session, held on March 26, the Municipal Legislature of Rincón approved six ordinances and four resolutions that will allow Mayor Carlos López Bonilla, among other things, to request funding proposals to complete the construction of the municipal hotel Ojo de Agua, resolve a lawsuit with a former municipal employee, and seek professional services for the subdivision of lots in Cerro Miramar.
With this first report on the work of the Municipal Legislature of Rincon, A Rinconvenient Truth aims to give readers a window into the legislative work of their municipality. On the last Tuesday of every month, at 7:30 p.m., the eleven municipal assembly men and women, as they are colloquially known, meet on the second floor of town hall to decide what the new ordinances and resolutions of Puerto Rico's surf capital will be.
The Municipal Legislature carries out this deliberative process in a similar fashion as the senators and district representatives do at the state level in the Capitol. Yet, its decisions are limited to Rincón's residents, businesses, territories, and municipal government.
Ordinances are legislative measures that require the approval of the Municipal Legislature and the mayor (fines, public order code, etc.). Once approved, the ordinances become part of the permanent statutes of Rincón and will remain in effect until the Municipal Legislature repeals them.
On the other hand, resolutions are legislative measures that, if approved, cease to exist as soon as the municipality complies with the objective established therein (debt issuance, transfer of funds, appointments, etc.). That is, resolutions will not be part of Rincón's permanent statutes.
Rincón aims to complete the Ojo de Agua municipal hotel
In virtue of Municipal Ordinances Number 14 (2015-2016) and Number 47 (2014-2015), that same legislative body approved the construction, in two phases, of Ojo de Agua, a municipal hotel with 16 rooms on Calle Parque a few steps from town square. Once completed, the original plan was for Ojo de Agua to be administered by a private entity in service of the municipality of Rincón.
The first phase of the project began in September 2015 and ended one year and $1.15 million later. In October 2016, its second phase began thanks to a municipal loan of $1.5 million authorized by the then Government Development Bank (BGF, in Spanish).
However, in March 2017, after completing 25 percent of the work, the contractor stopped the project due to lack of payment. By then, the BGF no longer had the liquidity to disburse the rest of the loan to the municipality. No further work has been completed on the hotel since that time.
According to the recently approved Ordinance Number 15 (2018-2019), Rincón plans to finish phase 2 of Ojo de Agua, but has not managed to obtain financing for these purposes from private banks, savings and credit cooperatives or the state government, explained the municipal administrator Francisco Mercado to the local legislature during the ordinary session.
For this reason, the new ordinance dictates, the mayor must issue a request for proposal to "gather the funds necessary to complete the construction, provide the furniture, have a responsible operator to administer and operate the facilities according to the terms and conditions that the town approves."
This strategy, the ordinance anticipates, must include a long-term lease that allows the investor to recover his or her investment and the municipality to meet the goal that was proposed more than three years ago.
William Ventura Matos vs. Municipality of Rincón
By approving Resolution Number 26 (2018-2019), the Legislature of Rincón authorizes López Bonilla to submit a transactional agreement to the settle a lawsuit William Ventura Matos, a former employee of the mayor, filed against the municipality at the District Court (TPI) of Aguada in December 2015.
Ventura Matos, who served as Rincón's municipal project manager until Lopez Bonilla fired him in June 2015, filed a lawsuit against Rincón claiming illegal termination and retaliation. The plaintiff alleged that the mayor had fired him while he was still reporting to treatment at the Corporation of the State Insurance Fund (CFSE) for injuries sustained during the job, which constitutes an illegal dismissal under Puerto Rico Law 115 of 1991.
The Municipality of Rincón, on the other hand, argued that it had laid off Ventura Matos for failing to meet the mayor’s expectations. The court record also shows that the mayor's office claimed López Bonilla had every right to terminate the project manager's contract, since Ventura Matos was part of his office's appointed rather than staff personnel.
The TPI determined that the Municipality of Rincón "was bound to answer for the damages and losses caused by the dismissal" to Ventura Matos in October 2017. The mayor appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals of the Arecibo-Aguadilla Region, which confirmed the decision of the district court in July 2018. The defendant then tried to take the case to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, which decided not to intervene in October 2018 – an action that has the same effect as confirming the TPI’s initial decision.
Having won on that front, Ventura Matos demanded Rincón pay him $185,000, a sum equivalent to 30 months’ worth of salary and marginal benefits that he did not earn until returning to the labor force in January 2018, but the municipality was not willing to pay that amount.
However, the resolution of the Municipal Legislature suggests that both parties were willing to enter into an agreement of $120,000 that would cover the damages caused by the illegal dismissal and fault or negligence on the part of the Municipality of Rincón (Article 1802 of Puerto Rico’s Civil Code).
If Aguada’s District court approves the deal and both parties sign it, the municipality must pay the $120,000 to Ventura Matos to put an end to the almost four-year-long legal battle.
Parcellation of lands in Cerro Miramar
The Legislative Assembly also authorized the mayor of Rincón to hire a licensed surveyor to measure, segregate and parcellate the area known as Cerro Miramar, behind the Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church.
As indicated by Ordinance Number 16 (2018-2019), Cerro Miramar is the home to "families that lack property titles on the lots where they have built their residences and lived, some of them, for several generations." However, this land belongs to the municipality, so the responsibility to measure, segregate and parcel these plots falls on the Municipal Government.
At the end of this process, residents of Cerro Miramar are expected to have property titles, a document that will expedite future claims in the case of natural disasters.
Other Municipal Ordinances and Resolutions
Ordinance Number 17 (2018-2019) allows the mayor to receive Mayda Porrata Tirado’s donation of the mixed construction structure located at Cerro Miramar, with a value of $4,000. The municipal administrator Francisco Mercado told the Legislative Assembly of Rincón that, once maintenance is done, this plot may be given to a low income family to establish its residence.
Ordinance Number 18 (2018-2019) requires that the mayor clarifies the deeds of the four properties that the municipality acquired from brothers David and Angela Galatzán Fraticelli with the Land Registry. Ordinance Number 20 (2018-2019) clarifies other topics about this deal.
Ordinance Number 19 (2018-2019) authorizes the mayor to grant the Housing Department an explanatory note for the state entity to complete the parcellation of land in Cerro Los Pobres, a community overlooking town hall from the east.
Resolution Number 27 (2018-2019) enables the finance director of Rincón to transfer credits between the municipality’s accounts to make payments for professional services related to the parcellation of land at Cerro Miramar (Ordinance Number 16) and the settlement with William Ventura Matos (Resolution Number 26).
Resolution Number 28 (2018-2019) authorizes the graduating class of the Manuel García Pérez School, Unity Class, to use the grounds of Barrio Punta’s baseball park as a parking lot on May 16 and 17 to carry out its fundraising activities.
Resolution Number 29 (2018-2019) allows the mayor to file a proposal with the Food and Nutrition Services Program of the Department of Education for the latter to allocate the necessary funds to continue, through the next fiscal year, the services of the Rincón Infantil Child Care Center in Barrero, where eight employees look after 24 children between the ages of three to five.
A Rinconvenient Truth will keep you posted on the work of the Municipal Legislature. However, if you want to learn more about any of the topics discussed in March’s ordinary session, send us your questions via our contact page.