Update: After this article went to press, the Agua Special Utility District released a copy of the contract.
The utility board approved a two-year contract with CSJ Group, the engineering firm owned by Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz, on Sept. 19.
Under the agreement, the utility district will pay $17,500 per month for Saenz to serve as general manager. In addition to serving as general manager, Saenz will keep working on several pending engineering projects.
The two-year contract starts on Oct. 1, 2018, and ends Sept. 30, 2020.
The Agua Special Utility District spent the past week negotiating a new contract with Interim General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz.
Under the new contract, Saenz will become the permanent general manager and complete pending engineering projects before transitioning to an administrative role.
“He’s done a hell of a job,” said Director Lloyd Loya, who represents Peñitas on the seven-member utility board.
Negotiations between the utility district and Saenz remained ongoing when the Progress Times went to press.
Details about the draft contract weren’t available.
Saenz took the top job in December 2017, when Interim General Manager Richard LeFevre abruptly resigned citing an unspecified “genetic medical condition.” The job came with a $11,000 monthly salary, which board President Roger Hernandez approved in January.
It also came with responsibility.
The utility district provides water to more than 15,000 people in western Hidalgo County and a small part of Starr County. Sullivan City residents depend on the utility district for sewer. And the utility remains in the midst of a $42.2 million sewer project in Palmview, which requires constant communication with the Texas Water Development Board.
Along with addressing customer concerns, the general manager supervises about 60 employees and controls a $10 million budget.
Turnover at the top bedeviled the utility district for the past two years.
Executive Director Julio Cerda resigned in September 2016, when the utility board started making major changes. Members replaced him with Executive Director Oscar Cancino, who resigned in September 2017.
Both Cerda and Cancino offered to stick around and provide a smooth transition. The board rejected both offers, accepting their resignations effective immediately.
After Cancino left, the board eliminated the executive director position and returned to a general manager model.
Members appointed Richard LeFevre, the owner of LeFevre Engineering & Management Consulting, to the new position. He lasted less than three months.
The turnover prompted state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa to write a sternly worded letter to the board in December 2017.
“The TWDB is very concerned that they have $45 million in projects invested in Agua SUD, yet there is a clear lack of leadership and confusion about who is making decisions on the management of these projects,” Hinojosa wrote on Dec. 19, referring to the Texas Water Development Board.
All seven members of the utility board signed a response in February, informing the senator they already had an interim general manager in place and planned to recruit highly qualified applicants for the permanent position.
It’s unclear how hard they looked.
At least a dozen people applied for the job, including former General Manager Francisco R. Flores, Hidalgo City Manager Julian Gonzalez and former Sullivan City Manager Juan Cedillo.
Within a few months, the utility board had settled on Saenz.
“He’s done a great job. He’s always at the office,” said Director Homer Tijerina, who represents rural Hidalgo County residents. “The district is moving in the right direction on projects and what needs to be done to serve our customers.”