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La Joya board meeting draws sparks

pt-square logoThe first meeting of La Joya Housing Authority since federal investigators picked through documents at both the office and the executive director’s home drew sparks when one board member said they weren’t doing enough to support the agency.

“Things happened over the holidays and we never sat down and discussed it,” said Board Member Frances Salinas De Leon on Tuesday evening. “I didn’t see any action. I didn’t see anyone addressing it.”

She said she tried to get in touch of Chairwoman Abby Garcia at the time, but De Leon only has Garcia’s work number. She sent an email, but said she didn’t get a response until Tuesday. In the meantime, De Leon said, she called up a friend with the Bexar County Housing Authority and found out about an informal meeting Friday for area housing authority attorneys and directors to discuss issues.

Garcia said the meeting is last minute and those with jobs would have a hard time making it. As for holding a special meeting to discuss the federal investigators, she asked, what’s the point? Garcia said she called J.J. Garza, executive director, and the staff at the housing authority and told them to call her if they needed anything.

“We needed a meeting exactly for what? Just to question him?” Garcia asked.

Board Member Mary Salinas added, “He couldn’t tell us anything.”

The board should be proactive, De Leon said.

“I think it’s important as a board that we’re aware,” she said. “We can’t help him, we can’t support him, we can’t do anything if we don’t have the ammunition. We don’t know what’s going down; he doesn’t even know really know what’s going down.

“We need to take care of ourselves as an authority. We need to show that we know what’s up, we know what’s going on and we want to know more. We’re not sweeping it under the rug.”

De Leon said she would attend the meeting in San Antonio and give a presentation to the board on what she finds out at the next meeting.

After the meeting, Garza said the visit from federal investigators was one of several to housing authorities across Texas.

“They’re checking a lot of housing authorities,” he said. “In my case, there were complaints; there were allegations. People said this, people said that. They did question me. They just wanted to know if there was anything going on that I thought I knew. And I said, ‘Nope, I don’t know.'”

Meanwhile, Garza said, the La Joya Housing Authority is dealing with the same cut in funding as other federal housing programs. Garza announced at the meeting that the 2013 federal subsidy was cut from about $203,000 to $166,000.

To compensate, he’s had to make cuts to materials and supply budgets and have employees wear multiple hats. Over the past two years, Garza said the number of employees at the agency has dropped from six to four.

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