Despite opposition from the president of McAllen’s Tea Party and one city council member, Mission’s city council has approved a resolution supporting state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa’s bill to control who can serve on the board of directors of the Agua Special Utilities District. The district provides water service to more than 15,000 residents in the cities of Palmview, Peñitas and Sullivan City and portions of Mission and La Joya and rural portions of western Hidalgo County, per the resolution.
Senate Bill 814 would prohibit an Agua SUD board member from working for another taxing entity such as a school district. Of the seven directors on the Agua SUD board, four are employed by the La Joya Independent School District including the school board’s president, Oscar O. “Coach” Salinas. Hinojosa has said the school district board politically controls the water utility. His bill also would require one utility director come from each of the cities for which it provides water.
According to the resolution, the bill “is meant to address perceived and potential conflicts of interest at the AGUA Special Utility District by banning the employment of individuals who are elected officials of an entity that employs an AGUA director, or who are related to that elected official…This resolution would promote accountability, transparency and stress free work environments at all levels of government.”
Since the bill was filed the cities of La Joya, Peñitas and the La Joya school board have passed resolutions in opposition to the bill. According to a published report the Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court supported the bill by a 3-2 vote.
Monday Mission’s city council voted 4-1 passing a resolution supporting the bill with Dr. Armando O’Caña voting against it. O’Caña made a motion for the council to vote against the resolution but the motion failed for the lack of a second. O’Caña did not state his reason for opposing the bill during the meeting but earlier, during a call to the public, Jim Barnes, a member of the citizen’s watchdog group, Objective Watchers of the Legal System and president of the McAllen Tea Party, urged the council to defeat the resolution supporting the bill.
Barnes described the bill as “a big government overreach” that should not be considered. He said if residents within the utility district have a problem with how the utility is being run they can vote in new directors. And if residents believe illegal activity is occurring within the board of directors residents can contact authorities and request an investigation, Barnes said.
“If we allow the state of Texas to tell a small utility district how to run a business when are they going to start telling the City of Mission how we can and cannot conduct our business,” Barnes said. “I don’t think the resolution…should be passed.”
The state’s legislative website shows the last activity provided about the proposed legislation was in February when the bill had been referred to the Senate’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. If passed as written, the bill would go into effect Sept. 1.
Also Monday the council approved a resolution in opposition to President Donald Trump’s call for the abolishment of the Community Development Block Grant program. The resolution states over the past five years CDBG grants have provided $4.48 million for “housing rehabilitation, home delivered meals for homebound seniors, senior activities, utility/rental assistance for seniors, disabled and those at risk of becoming homeless, medication and hearing aid assistance, medical equipment, rehabilitation services for adults and services for abused and battered children.”
The resolution calls for Congress to fund the program for no less than $4.5 billion in the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.
Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said in a recent interview that while he supports Trump’s efforts to cut the nation’s $19 trillion debt he doesn’t think it should come at the expense of the elderly and disadvantaged. If the program is abolished Salinas said he would support replacing the grant money from the city’s general fund.
In other business Monday, the city council approved spending $15,296 to purchase 23 wall-mounted, chilled water fountains for placement in various city parks. It also approved spending $48,482 for the same kind of ornamental lighting used in the Conway Avenue beautification project for Oblate Park in the city’s center. The council also approved spending $15,000 for 15 aluminum picnic tables for Oblate, Bannworth and Hollis Rutledge Sr. Parks. The council also authorized spending $10,888 to purchase three LED baseball scoreboards for Lions and Jaycee Parks baseball fields.