CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales appeared during the public comment portion of Tuesday's regularly scheduled Corpus Christi City Council meeting to plead the council to reconsider aspects of the controversial Corpus Christi-Nueces County Health Department split.
Canales made her plea during the three minutes given to Corpus Christi residents, saying she was approaching the podium as "Nueces County judge, and Nueces County emergency manager and private citizen here, as well."
Acknowledging and addressing each councilmember by name, Canales called the transition to a separate city health department and country health district "a rushed process" that could hurt county residents.
"I’m here to ask you for one simple thing, and that is on behalf of the people that I represent humbly and respectfully — if this podium were lower, I would swear to God, I would get on my knees and beg you for this one thing, and that is time," she said. "Bishop, Driscoll and Robstown need you to give them time. Please, I ask you, for six months."
Zanoni, addressing the comments, said the concerns are unfounded.
"We have made a pledge all along, and the council has made that with me, that there will be no interruption in service to anybody in Nueces County as we transition," he said. "We have committed all along that it’s probably gonna take us beyond that timeframe for the full transition, and it’s not gonna be an overnight transition, rather a gradual time."
Zanoni said after meeting weekly with health department employees to plan out transition details, it's evident the shift will take time.
"We have three goals that we’re reaching to obtain for the community that have been lying in waiting a couple of decades," he said. "That includes better health outcomes for the community, better use of taxpayer dollars when it comes to healthcare service and better work environment for both city and county employees."
He said that goal hinges on services to both the city and the county being fluid.
"The 90th-day trigger that’s in the contract is January 18th, but we have committed all along that it’s probably gonna take us beyond that timeframe for the full transition," he said, "and it’s not gonna be an overnight transition, rather a gradual time."
Canales also said the current health department can be improved with efficiency and modernization. She argued that urban counties such as Harris and Lubbock provide public-health services to the major cities they serve.
"If we’ve learned anything in two years, we’ve learned that we need to invest more, not less," she said.
But ultimately, Guajardo and Zanoni agreed the process will move forward in the time needed.
"There’s no rush here," Zanoni said. "This is a very thoughtful, thorough process that involves every employee."
Digital content producer Tim Griffin contributed to this story.