But some mayors say local governments should have more law enforcement authority, not less.
Some of the $1.4 billion in U.S. security aid for Mexico, known as the Merida Initiative, ought to be used to support cash-strapped municipalities, Gutierrez said. And municipal courts should be empowered to prosecute drug crimes, he added.
Like Vergara, Gutierrez doesn't have bodyguards. He said he had not been threatened since receiving a pair of puzzling text messages shortly after taking office in 2006.
But threats against mayors aren't always discreet. In Ciudad Juarez, someone posted signs threatening Reyes' life in February. His police chief, Roberto Orduña Cruz, had quit after similar posters warned that a police officer would be killed every 48 hours unless the chief stepped down.
Reyes has stayed on. Calderon responded by sending thousands more soldiers and federal police to the northern border city.
In Ixtapan de la Sal, a town of 38,000 known for its hot thermal springs and pastoral surroundings, Vergara's slaying remains an unnerving memory.
Days after the shooting, authorities arrested 14 suspects, saying they were part of an organized-crime ring that hoped to sell drugs locally. Some claimed to be members of La Familia, a trafficking group based in neighboring Michoacan. The case is still working its way through the courts.
Fuentes, the wounded councilman, said he gets spooked every time a car approaches rapidly from behind. "These are people who have no conscience," he said through silver-capped teeth.
Oscar Tovar, appointed to fill out Vergara's term, insists that his town is safe for residents and the thousands of visitors who flock to its spas each weekend.
"There is no problem," he said. "We're peaceful."
But on a recent morning, as he ventured to a rural community to distribute food parcels, Tovar seemed to have taken a lesson from the slaying of his predecessor. Keeping watch as the new mayor doled out the boxes were three men in casual wear: his bodyguards.