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La Joya hires public relations consultant, pays her $12,000

The city of La Joya hired a public relations consultant last month — and promptly paid her $12,000.

Sylvia Garces Valdez, 37, of La Joya, will maintain the city website, write news releases and manage social media accounts.

20180706 sylviagarcesThe city paid her $12,000 on June 13, the same day Garces signed the public relations contract. La Joya also agreed to pay her $2,000 per month until June 2019.

“Smart lady. She’s a local person,” said La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, adding that Garces is very involved in the community. “We looked at a couple of other people, but she’s head and shoulders above everybody else.”

Garces couldn’t be reached for comment.

La Joya wanted a consultant who could update the website and keep residents informed about city business, Fito Salinas said. The city website, which hasn’t been updated in years, includes inaccurate information about the City Commission and links to a non-existant Twitter account.

La Joya is also the only city in western Hidalgo County that doesn’t post meeting agendas online.

“We’ve had some very positive meetings and nobody attended because nobody knows there’s a meeting,” Fito Salinas said. “So we want to make sure the whole city knows about it.”

The La Joya Independent School District website lists Garces as a science teacher at La Joya North Academy. She earned nearly $56,000 during the 2017-2018 school year, according to district salary records.

Garces is also a big supporter of the Salinas family, which dominates La Joya politics. The City Commission appointed her to the La Joya Housing Authority board last year.

She frequently posts photos on Facebook with La Joya school board Trustee Frances A. Salinas, the mayor’s daughter, and City Commissioner Mary Salinas, the mayor’s wife.

Garces also supported Victoria “Vicky” Cantu, the wife of La Joya school board Trustee Alex Cantu, when she ran for the South Texas College board.

La Joya hired Garces to handle a wide range of public relations work.

Along with maintaining the website and managing social media accounts, Garces will attend city meetings, prepare reports on local events and provide updates to the City Commission, according to her contract, which the city provided to the Progress Times under the Texas Public Information Act.

The contract includes a confidentiality clause, which prohibits Garces from discussing her work without approval from the city.

“All information and reports, data, findings or information in any form prepared, assembled or encountered by or provided by Consultant under this Agreement shall not be disclosed to or discussed with third parties without the prior written approval of La Joya,” according to the contract.

La Joya paid Garces a $12,000 retainer when she signed the contract. The city also agreed to pay her $2,000 per month, cover any expenses and provide Garces with an office.

“We got a very good deal,” Fito Salinas said, adding that $24,000 per year is relatively cheap for a public relations consultant. “Compared to other cities.”

The nearby Agua Special Utility District pays KM International, a company owned by former Hidalgo County spokeswoman Karina Cardoza and political consultant Mike Robledo, nearly $7,000 per month for public relations work.

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