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Gilbert Eguia believes that his home town is poised to make change that may affect generations of local families, but that it can only happen if the people take action collectively.
The 39-year-old Dilley native was elected mayor this month and took office Tuesday, May 11, vowing to bring transparency to city government and to answer the people’s call for change.
Eguia has unseated long-serving Mayor Mary Ann Obregon, besting the incumbent in a three-way race for the head of the council table by a mere 27 votes. Eguia received 214 votes in the May 1 election, challenger Gilbert Ortiz took 27, and Obregon 187 in the preliminary tallies.
Obregon had served as mayor for more than two decades, but Dilley’s new mayor describes the period as a time of stagnation during which the city did not do enough to capitalize on the burgeoning economy of the interstate trade corridor.
“I decided to run for mayor because it seemed like the entire community was of a consensus for change,” Eguia says. “We need to inject new ideas into the city’s long-term goals. We need direction.”
Eguia has served on the city council once in the past, a two-year term that ended in 2019. A 2000 graduate of Dilley High School, Eguia has taken higher education courses at the University of Texas at Austin, Palo Alto College in San Antonio, and at Central Arizona College. He describes his qualifications as varied, running the gamut from property management to the hospitality industry.
“My main policy drive in this effort was for leadership,” the mayor says. “It felt as though there was a lack of structure in city government, that it was reactive instead of proactive. Too many issues were being tabled, and that is a sign of stagnation.
“I hope the people of Dilley understand that I am bringing accountability, respect, authority, transparency and honesty to this office,” Eguia says. “I know that politics in small towns can be bad. People want to hide things. I bring a direct approach to this. I’m not afraid to tell people the good as well as the bad. I’m not afraid to stand alone.”
Eguia is quick to admit that the city council has a full platter of issues to address in the new administration. First and foremost, he believes, is a drive to reboot the economy. The city’s financial stability is only possible when sales tax revenues are boosted, which means new businesses will have to be attracted to the community, current businesses encouraged to grow, and a number of new options examined.
“We have to find other sources of revenue to make this work,” Eguia says. “If we are going to attract new businesses to Dilley, we have to have a working infrastructure to help them get started. Our utility systems have to be capable of handling the demand and ready to expand. No one is going to come here if we can’t give them enough water.”
The mayor believes it is time Dilley re-examined its liquor restrictions and considered allowing bars and other places of entertainment to open. He knows there will be resistance to the idea, but wants to float the concept nonetheless.
“In the past, local government had a stake in actually not growing,” Eguia says. “Certain people in positions of authority held sway over the business, and they didn’t want the competition. This was at a time when traffic on the interstate was growing, and we got left behind because we resisted the development. We got left way behind.
“We could see this position as a blank slate,” he adds. “We have to see the good side of this. We should be ready to listen to new ideas. Are we the San Marcos of the south? I know it sounds absurd, but we are positioned perfectly for the sort of development that San Marcos experienced. We are halfway between two massive urban areas, but we don’t offer enough retail or business.
“There are literally millions of dollars’ worth of trade going up and down that interstate every minute, and none of it stops here,” Eguia says. “Why not? Because we haven’t welcomed it. We don’t offer anything to make people want to stop and do business here. We have a few truck stops, but it’s just not enough to keep people here. Everyone drives to Pearsall, Uvalde, even San Antonio and Laredo, because they don’t want to be here.
“We need entertainment, places to eat and drink, places for people to enjoy their leisure. People would be happy if they had things to do,” Eguia says. “We can thrive as a small city, but we have to be realistic as well. There’s nowhere for new people to live. Our infrastructure has to go beyond basic utility services. We need housing.”
Eguia rejects proposals that the city reduce its law enforcement budget. Spending over a million dollars a year on the small municipal police force, he says, sticks in the throat of the hardworking families whose taxes and utility fees support the force while crime continues unabated.
“What we need in law enforcement is value for money, but that doesn’t mean cutting the budget or reducing the force,” Eguia says. “I know it may seem counterintuitive to some people, but I think people will gradually understand that adding to the force, helping the police do their job more effectively, providing the tools and resources they need, will give the people what they ask for in law enforcement.
“I know what issues the police department faces,” he says. “I know there is crime out there. The people need safe neighborhoods. They want to know that their properties are protected and that their children are safe in their neighborhoods or on their way to school. Giving the police department the equipment and the power to really make inroads in crime prevention is what may get us those results.”
Eguia says he is prepared to face the city’s issues, that the multifaceted challenge will require the council’s collective skills. There can be no more time, he says, for political infighting.
“We can’t make progress if we are consumed by petty issues,” he says. “The people have to know that the government they chose for their city is doing the job that is expected of it. I’m ready to stand up for my town, and I’m ready to work with anyone who brings positivity for Dilley to the table. Setbacks happen, and the challenges are steep, but I believe in what I’m doing.”