La Joya Housing Authority fires executive director

LA JOYA — Following his indictment for wire fraud La Joya’s Housing Authority has voted to fire its executive director.  The action came nearly a month after the board of directors suspended Juan J. “J.J.” Garza without pay.

 

Garza attended the Dec. 16 special board meeting when he was terminated from the position he held for 17 years. During the same meeting the board voted to fire the authority’s auditor.

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Garza was arrested in September by federal agents in connection with an alleged bid-rigging scheme that occurred between July 2012 and March 2013. The indictment states Garza and a local contractor submitted false construction bids to the Alamo and Donna housing authorities receiving payments under a company called Crane Construction and a person named Carlos Orillanas.

 

Garza’s attorney, Gustavo Acevedo, told the Progress Times he argued during an executive session concerning his client’s employment that Garza should not be fired because the indictment had nothing to do with Garza’s role as the housing authority’s executive director.

 

“He was just doing his job here and there’s nothing in his performance as executive director that would arise a cause for termination,” Acevedo said after the hearing. “There’s no evidence he’s neglected his duties here as housing director or acted incompetently in his duties, all of which are listed in his contract as grounds for termination.”

 

Mark A. Sanchez, an attorney hired by the housing authority last month to handle issues related to Garza, disagreed with Acevedo. The San Antonio- based attorney presented the board an audit report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on the housing authority’s financial data for fiscal year 2014.  The report highlighted several findings that Sanchez said led the housing authority to receive a “troubled” rating from HUD.

 

The audit noted uncollected rents had increased by 465% in write offs from the previous fiscal year because the housing authority did not enforce its rent collection policy. According to Sanchez, the role of enforcing that policy fell on Garza.

 

“I don’t know what’s worse, the actual criminal indictment or this indictment of an extraordinarily unacceptable level of incompetence and a neglect of duties that has placed the housing authority in harm’s way,” Sanchez said.

 

HUD has given the housing authority until Jan. 31 to reconcile other issues found in the audit. Sanchez said terminating Garza’s employment was a step in the right direction toward addressing those concerns.

 

“The findings show Garza has essentially left the housing authority unattended and failed to execute even the most basic job responsibilities as an executive director and now we’re paying the price,” Sanchez said following the Dec. 16 hearing. “How can Mr. Garza continue one more day of employment with this record of incompetence?”

 

In a phone interview after the hearing, Garza said he has no hard feelings for board members he’s worked with but said he and Acevedo are planning to fight his termination.

 

“My contract with the housing authority was a two-year contract and I’m going to fight for that final year,” he said.

 

During the meeting the board also voted to fire housing authority auditor, Luis Orozco, for failing to submit the current audit to HUD. This led to HUD giving the housing authority a zero rating in September when the audit was due. The board also requested reimbursement of the $7,500 it had paid Orozco for the audit.

 

Orozco did not return a call for comment made Wednesday.

 

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