The La Joya Housing Authority board hired an executive director Tuesday, setting the stage for a high-stakes fight with Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas.
The board approved a three-year contract with Cristi LaJeunesse — the executive director of the Kenedy Housing Authority, which manages public housing programs for a handful of small towns across South Texas — and agreed to pay her $4,000 per month plus travel expenses.
“She’s got a lot of experience,” said board Chairwoman Maricruz Sifuentes, adding that LaJeunesse will help La Joya comply with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations. “That’s what she does: She works with housing authorities that are in trouble.”
LaJeunesse will commute from San Antonio to La Joya.
“I will try to be here at least five days out of the month,” LaJeunesse said. “Solid days. We get here at 8 a.m. We leave at 7 at night.”
LaJeunesse started working for the La Joya Housing Authority as a consultant.
She assisted Executive Director Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud; Interim Executive Director Melissa Armijo, who resigned after clashing with the board; and Interim Executive Director Frances Salinas, the daughter of Mayor Salinas and City Commissioner Mary Salinas.
The board fired Frances Salinas after reviewing bank statements that showed thousands in ATM withdrawals and unauthorized spending. Her attorney said all expenditures were approved by the board.
“I’ve had a longstanding relationship with this agency. And in these last two years, since January of 2017, I’ve had more of a physical presence in this office than J.J. or Frances — either one had, living here locally,” LaJeunesse said. “I’ve had more of a presence coming from San Antonio then they did when they actually resided here in this community.”
The La Joya Housing Authority board didn’t advertise the executive director position.
“I think we have more than enough local people that can be the director here instead of going to San Antonio,” Mayor Salinas said. “And for five days a month? That’s ridiculous.”
Mary Salinas said LaJeunesse had been angling for the executive director position.
“That’s what she wanted all along,” Mary Salinas said. “From the beginning.”
Mayor Salinas, who appoints the five-member housing authority board, may attempt to void the decision and remove LaJeunesse.
On Tuesday morning, the board consisted of Maricruz Sifuentes, Sylvia Garces Valdez, German Reyna, John Pena and Jose Luis “Puma” Rodriguez.
Mayor Salinas appointed Garces Valdez to the board on Sept. 12, 2017, according to city meeting minutes. Mayor Salinas appointed Rodriguez to the board on Oct. 9, but he hasn’t attended a single meeting.
When the mayor appointed the remaining members of the board and when their terms expire isn’t clear.
Mayor Salinas held swearing-in ceremonies for Sifuentes and Pena on Feb. 1, 2016, according to housing authority meeting minutes. The minutes don’t include any mention of them being reappointed.
City meeting minutes from January 2016 November 2018 don’t include any reference to German Reyna joining the board.
“I believe all those meetings are illegal,” Mayor Salinas said.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, Mayor Salinas appointed Jorge Bazan to the housing authority board Tuesday afternoon. He didn’t attend the meeting Tuesday night.