Cronyism concern raised at latest La Joya school board meeting

Despite concerns of cronyism expressed by a member of the public, the La Joya School Board of Trustees has approved a nearly $400,000 plan to hire a Mission company to replace air filters in district schools and buildings. And the employment of a district worker remains unclear following her conviction in connection with straw gun purchases.

 

The question of cronyism was raised by Palmview resident Mary Hernandez who expressed concern about an item on the board of trustee’s Wednesday agenda to award a $377,000 contract to a newly formed Mission-based company, Dezvia, to replace air filters across the district. During the call to the public portion of Wednesday’s meeting Hernandez said the contract should raise eyebrows because the company is operated by Jovanna Hernandez, a counselor at La Joya Early College High School, and Ramon Segovia, a former Palmview city manager who was fired recently for alleged incompetency. Hernandez provided the Progress Times the company’s Certificate of Formation that lists Segovia and Hernandez (no relation to Mary) as business managers.

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“This contract is being awarded to a former [Palmview] city manager who is very closely associated to a current school board member who was also a former Palmview city manager, both of whom have left the city in a bad financial situation,” Hernandez said, referring to current school board member, Johnn Alaniz, who served as the Palmview city manager before Segovia was hired in 2013. “It is very obvious this contract is meant to compensate his friend since [Segovia] was recently terminated.”

 

Segovia was fired in June following a management review that showed the city lacked proper policies and procedures and highlighted several departmental deficiencies such as a lack of proper Human Resource policies, job descriptions and hiring procedures. The report concluded the deficiencies were due to Segovia’s inexperience and recommended he be fired.

 

Hernandez questioned if hiring an outside firm to replace the filters was necessary when the district already had maintenance staff that could perform the task of inspecting and replacing air filters in the district without spending additional money.

 

“It is simply frivolous and unethical for our district to be misusing taxpayer’s hard earned money to provide these types of contracts to friends,” Hernandez said.

 

Neither Segovia nor the district’s lawyer, Jaime Muñoz, were available to comment on Hernandez’s allegations. The board unanimously approved the project without discussion.

 

In other business, the fate of La Joya ISD employee Rebecca Lynne Gonzalez remained unclear Wednesday despite an item on Wednesday’s agenda entitled, “Action on superintendent’s recommendation to terminate at-will employment of Rebecca Lynne Gonzalez.”  Following a closed executive session on the matter the board unanimously voted to “move forward” with the recommendation without confirming if Gonzalez’s contract with the district was terminated. Following the meeting Board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas declined to comment saying no official action was taken.

 

Gonzalez, a clerk at Enrique Camarena Elementary School, pleaded guilty on Aug. 28 to making false statements on federal paperwork when she bought a pistol in December 2015, according to court documents. During her detention hearing Aug. 28, agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives charged Gonzalez with buying guns for Lombardo Bazan-Barrera, a local businessman who was arrested in May.

 

Bazan-Barrera has been accused of enlisting others to make “straw purchases” – a criminal act in which a person who is prohibited from buying firearms uses another person to buy a gun on their behalf – of four handguns. The ATF investigation of Bazan-Barrera began in January 2016 when 16 handguns and 2,000 rounds of ammunition were found in the spare tire of a pickup truck driven by a man authorities identified as Joseph Gonzalez. According to Bazan-Barrera’s indictment and criminal complaint, two conspirators told investigators Bazan-Barrera had given them money to purchase four of the pistols found in Gonzalez’s pickup truck.

 

According to federal court documents, agents ultimately linked 39 guns to Bazan-Barrera, including 11 weapons Gonzalez purchased at local gun shops. They also linked the straw purchasing scheme to guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico.

 

Gonzalez faces up to 10 years in federal prison and is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 9. She was previously placed on unpaid administrative leave following her Aug. 28 hearing.

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