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Hispanics want a voice in Williams
About 30 people gathered at the Williams Farmers Market and Bazaar last Friday evening to discuss, among other things, the need to organize and gain Hispanic representation on the Williams City Council.
Councilman John Troughton Jr. attended the meeting and addressed the crowd after leaders spoke about the need for people to come together.
"We started off with the main objective to start a committee. Our main goal would be to have a more united community, not just representing Hispanics on the City Council, but to get people involved in the community to help with what the city needs," Eloy Torres said through translator Santo Jauregui. Both men have become spokesmen for effort.
"Our goal is not to separate the communities, but to unify," Torres said.
The group organized the meeting after a Williams City Council public hearing about raising water rates. Most intended to protest the increase and to get clarifying information, but the language barrier led to frustrations and misunderstandings in the crowd.
"It's nothing against the City Council. We just want to be more united and represented. Since the Hispanic community is so large, we want to help them. We want the council to know our needs. There is a lack of communication between the community and City Hall," said Jauregui.
Troughton addressed the issue as Jauregui translated his message.
"I was concerned that they didn't understand what was going on because of the language barrier and I wanted to clarify what we were trying to do and why we were trying to do it," said Troughton.
"I'm interested in what they have to say. They're a large population in this town."
He explained the tax structure, finances and the reason for the high cost of the base sewer service.
"I wanted to explain to them ... the need for the water and the fact that most of their bill was from the five-year raises for the sewer. The state, they mandate these things, but they don't furnish any money," Troughton said.
Williams is paying off an $11 million debt for a new wastewater treatment plant, upgrades for which were required by the state because it was not meeting certain standards.
For the last five years, ratepayers have seen an increasing base rate to pay off the debt.
"We have to take care of the existing system along with building a new water supply," said Troughton.
"The reason I got involved in this was because of the sewer five or six years ago. That's why I ran for City Council. Frankly, in my opinion, we haven't been keeping up with the maintenance and the system is getting old," he said.
Troughton said he thought his message was understood.
"I saw some heads going in the yes motion. I think they understood. They understood that we need this water," he said.
At one point, a member of the crowd asked the councilman if he thought having someone on the City Council would help Hispanic community.
"Do you think we'd have more power there if we had a representative?" the man asked.
"Well, yeah," said Troughton.
He explained there will be three positions available in 2014 on the council.
Troughton could only recall one Hispanic individual ever sitting on the City Council: Virginia Frias.
Frias was appointed to the City Council and served from 2004 to 2006, and was then elected to a full term of her own.
Frias stepped down "for personal reasons" in January 2007, the first month of her elected term.
"She is the only one that has been on and that is something we need to work on," said Jauregui. "I don't have the time and maybe that's the reason why someone from the Hispanic community doesn't run."
"A big percentage of people, we come here to work. We are one of the poorest counties. We have to work seven days a week in the summer," said Torres.
"That's why rich people get involved, because they have the time. Poor people can't do it," added Alberto Valasquez, another organizer.
Leaders in the community say that the Hispanic community needs to take a more active role in the city.
"It's our fault, too," said Valasquez.
The organizers who led the meeting are developing a committee and are hoping to find leaders to run for City Council in 2014. They are also planning to engage the Hispanic community in other civic activities, such as volunteering at the schools.
"We want the community to get involved," said Valasquez.
"We know that the more time we put in, the more good things will come. Monthly meetings is one of our first priorities," said Torres.
The next community meeting will be March 29 at 7 p.m. at the Williams Farmers Market and Bazaar.