Potential conflict of interest could complicate La Joya Housing Authority case

The La Joya City Commission hired a San Antonio-based law firm last week — and created a potential conflict of interest.

During a meeting on Jan. 31, the City Commission hired San Antonio-based law firm Sanchez & Wilson to represent La Joya in a case against the La Joya Housing Authority.

LaJoyaHousingAuthorityLogoSanchez & Wilson represented the housing authority when the mayor’s daughter, Frances A. Salinas, served as interim executive director. Attorneys for Sanchez & Wilson don’t appear to represent the housing authority in any pending cases.

“But neither have they been discharged,” said attorney Tim Daniels of San Antonio, who currently represents the housing authority. “Nor has the housing authority consented to Sanchez & Wilson representing adverse parties.”

Attorney Albert E. Tovar of Sanchez & Wilson, who attended the Jan. 31 meeting, didn’t respond to requests for comment. La Joya City Attorney Kennedy Salinas said he didn’t know that Sanchez & Wilson had represented the housing authority.

Rules published by the State Bar of Texas warn attorneys about representing new clients against former clients. The potential conflict of interest could complicate a lawsuit the housing authority filed against the city in November.

It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits that cost the housing authority thousands and paralyzed the board.

Tension between the housing authority and Mayor Salinas started in October, when the board fired his daughter, Interim Executive Director Frances A. Salinas.

Frances Salinas, though, hadn’t properly posted the meeting agenda, which violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. When the board attempted to correct her mistake by holding a new meeting and terminating her again, Frances Salinas slapped the housing authority with a lawsuit.

The board eventually managed to call a new meeting on Nov. 1 and terminate her.

Hidalgo County Court at Law Judge Albert Garcia awarded the housing authority $20,000 in legal fees.

After the housing authority fired his daughter, Mayor Salinas attempted to stack the board with supporters.

Mayor Salinas had appointed Jose Luis “Puma” Rodriguez to a position reserved for housing authority tenants, but Rodriguez apparently never took the oath of office and didn’t attend any board meetings.

The mayor also appointed Jorge Bazan, the brother-in-law of City Attorney Kennedy Salinas, on Nov. 13; Arnold Ochoa, the former La Joya school board president, on Nov. 20; and John J. Peña, a local businessman who had served on the board for years, on Nov. 20.

Along with appointing new board members, Mayor Salinas pushed board Vice President Sylvia Garces Valdez to resign. City Attorney Kennedy Salinas sent Garces Valdez a letter, warning that her work as a public relations consultant for the city posed a conflict of interest.

The housing authority responded by requesting a temporary restraining order against the city, Mayor Salinas and all four people he appointed to the board. As a result, the housing authority board hasn’t been able to hold a meeting since Nov. 29.

The potential conflict of interest posed by Sanchez & Wilson representing the city could further delay the case.

Tovar, the attorney with Sanchez & Wilson, performed a variety of legal work for the housing authority in 2017, according to invoices the Progress Times requested under the Texas Public Information Act.

Among other tasks, Tovar prepared a legal opinion that stated the housing authority board, which is appointed by Mayor Salinas, could employ his daughter without breaking any laws. He also researched whether or not Mayor Salinas could accept Section 8 tenants while his daughter served as interim executive director.

After meeting with Tovar in executive session on Jan. 31, the City Commission hired Sanchez & Wilson as “special legal counsel” to represent La Joya.

The case is scheduled for a temporary injunction hearing on Feb. 15.

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