CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As the legal process between the Jones family and Nueces County officials drags on behind closed doors in regard to Padre Balli Park's fate, one county commissioner is indicating that Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales acted unilaterally in regard to the case.
6 Investigates has been digging into documents surrounding issues at the heart of the problem.
A Jones family attorney sent a letter to Nueces County demanding action regarding its use of Padre Balli Park several months ago. The letter claims the county violated an agreement struck in 1949 -- and now the family has threatened to revoke the county's use of the land, jeopardizing public access to nearly 400 acres of parkland.
Problems between the family and the county arose after Canales signed a deed-restriction document in October 2020 that would provide 15 acres of wetlands mitigation for a private developer. Because the developer's project would displace wetlands, they are required to mitigate, or replace, a certain amount of wetlands.
County documents indicate Baker Wotring LLP was hired in January 2020 to provide mitigation work for the county, and that firm developed the deed-restriction document. Canales said she signed the document on the firm's advice.
“I signed a document titled 'deed restriction,' upon the advice of counsel, that was authorized by the commissioner’s court,” she said. “Our counsel was hired by commissioner’s court, and with the approval and direction of the county attorney, and that counsel asked me to sign a document that was labeled 'deed restriction.' ”
But Pct. 2 Commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez said Baker Wotring was not hired to develop a deed-restriction document, but rather to develop policies on wetlands and mitigation.
“We didn’t authorize that,” he said. "We authorized him to work on Nueces County policies on dealing with mitigating wetlands.”
“So, the attorney was paid $18,000, and we’re thinking he had done those two things for us, but he did not do those things for us,” Gonzalez added. “What he was doing during those months was trying to get wording for the restriction that was signed by the judge (Canales), and not even the county clerk signed off on it because it wasn’t right.”
Gonzalez said that he didn’t receive a draft of the mitigation plan until March, and when he asked for a draft from 2020, one was never provided.
“This really upset me because from the beginning it was wrong," he said. "We never approved any kind of signature from her (Canales) to sign anything. It should have gone through us. The attorney should have gone through commissioners' court, and he admitted it to us — that he had done wrong.”
Documents also obtained, some from Canales’ staff, indicated the deed-restriction document would need to be voted on by commissioners' court — a point Canales disputes.
“The deed restriction is a statement," she said. "It’s a recitation of facts, and that document was to go to the corps of engineers, which it did, and then — if, and only if — certain action would be taken in the future, on a hypothetical basis, then it would go to Coastal Parks Board. That’s the proper process. It would not have come to commissioners' court. Coastal Parks Board would have potentially acted on any action.”
KRIS 6 News spoke to two members of the Coastal Parks Board, who told us that the decision surrounding Padre Balli and the deed restriction did not involve them.
The Coastal Parks Board previously shot down the idea in 2016, on the advice of the county attorney, that any such plan would interfere with the Jones family rights.
Last month, Canales and commissioners John Marez and Roberto Hernandez voted to accept a resolution that reads — in part — to “resolve an issue and avoid a dispute regarding the Padre Balli Park, the Court hereby authorizes Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales to sign and finalize the Notice Regarding Deed Restriction.”
We asked for clarification on this resolution from county attorney Jenny Dorsey, and she said nothing has been filed with the county clerk, and she could not provide any further clarification on what the resolution may be.
Gonzalez says going forward, he believes things need to be corrected.
“No more," he said. "We’ve got to stop. Things have to be done the way they are supposed to be done, according to policies and procedures."